Freaks and Geeks. ER. Brokeback Mountain. Mad Men. What do this cult favorite TV series, top-rated medical drama, Oscar-nominated film and four-time Emmy Award-winner have in common?
Just one thing — actress Linda Cardellini.
I’ve been catching up on the most recent season of Mad Men in the last few weeks and have loved seeing Cardellini as Don Draper’s married neighbor and mistress Sylvia Rosen. I’ve loved the 38-year old actress since she played Lindsay Weir, the awkward teenager at the center of the classic TV show Freaks and Geeks, and seeing her in this very different role on the AMC drama got me thinking about the wonderful and strange trajectory of her career. After all, how many people can say they’ve been a part of four such different iconic cultural touchstones?
Aside from a few guest spots on shows like Step by Step and Boy Meets World, as well as an eight-episode stint on a show called Bone Chillers, she didn’t have many credits to her name when she landed the iconic role of Lindsay Weir on NBC’s Freaks and Geeks. Perfectly capturing that awkward moment in adolescence when you are trying to figure out who you are and who are you meant to be, she made an indelible impression in the short-lived Judd Apatow show. In a show that made stars out of James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and others, Cardellini’s hilarious, heartbreaking performance stands out.
It was three years after Freaks and Geeks ended before she got another regular television gig, but when she did, it was a biggie. ER was a Top 10 show when she joined the cast in 2003 as single mom Samantha, and she stayed with the show until it ended in 2009, ultimately appearing in 126 episodes. Unlike Lindsay, Sam was a full-grown woman, albeit one that was forced to grow up fast because of her young son. Once again, she brought tremendous heart to her performance.
Though she had appeared as Velma in the film version of Scooby Doo and had a small part in Legally Blonde, she hadn’t had a role in a critically acclaimed film. That changed a few years into her ER run when she scored the part of Cassie, the woman who Ennis (Heath Ledger) dates after breaking up with his wife, in Brokeback Mountain. Though the movie gained most of its acclaim for director Ang Lee and stars Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams, Cardellini gave a soulful performance in this iconic film.
And then, after ER ended, silence from the actress. Well, not exactly silence, as she had voice roles in several television shows including The Goode Family and Gravity Falls, but we didn’t see her again until she showed up in the season premiere of the sixth season of Mad Men, playing an entirely different role than Lindsay, Nurse Sam and Carla. I’m only a few episodes into the season, so I don’t quite know where her character arc is taking her, but even in the first couple of episodes I’m intrigued by the layers of complexity she’s revealed in Sylvia Rosen, and what she’s brought out of Don Draper.
And so…hats off to Linda Cardellini for carving out an intriguing and wonderful career for herself. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
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