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“Suncoast” star Laura Linney on playing a mom whose grief gets the best of her

“Suncoast” star Laura Linney on playing a mom whose grief gets the best of her

Writer-director Laura Chinn explains how Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's split led to a critical moment for the movie, which is loosely based on her own life.

The legal case surrounding the life — and eventual death — of Terri Schiavo captivated the country in 2005. Media, as well as supporters and protestors, surrounded her Florida hospice facility, as Laura Chinn's brother, dying from cancer, was also there receiving end-of-life care.

"At the time, you're just going through the motions," Chinn recalls of her family's daily visits to be with her brother, as their cars were searched for bombs and they were patted down upon entering the building. "Looking back at it and watching archival footage, I was like, I cannot believe we did that."

The Florida Girls creator and star, who was also a writer on Grandfathered and writer/producer on The Mick, used that experience as the jumping-off point for her feature directorial debut, Suncoast (streaming now on Hulu). The movie stars Laura Linney as Kristine, single mother to high schooler Doris (Nico Parker) and her terminally ill older brother Max (Cree Kawa). While Doris is just trying to be a teen, Kristine puts a lot of adult responsibility on — while also remaining wildly protective of — her, all the while grappling with the decision she has to make for her son and figuring out how to pay mounting bills.

<p>Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures</p> Nico Parker and Laura Linney in 'Suncoast'

Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures

Nico Parker and Laura Linney in 'Suncoast'

"When you deal with the levels of stress that are within this woman's body, day to day, and how there is this inevitability coming, that goes against every instinct of a mother," explains Linney, seated next to Chinn at a Park City, Utah hotel the day of the movie's Sundance premiere. "And then wanting [your child's death] to be perfect ... if it is going to happen — here it comes — I want to have control over this, and you don't have control. It's a woman who has a fundamental constant feeling of being out of control in a way about sacred stuff ... She has no control over her own feelings and her own behavior. Everybody's doing the best they can, and she's up against it in many ways."

In the process, Kristine often overreacts to situations.

"A lot of what Kristine is going through is grief ... She does not have gentle grief," says Linney, eventually citing Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

"'Rage, rage against the dying of the light' sort of thing is where she is," she says.

<p>Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures</p> Laura Linney and Nico Parker in 'Suncoast'

Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures

Laura Linney and Nico Parker in 'Suncoast'

But Kristine hasn't always been this way. In fact, Chinn says Linney made a choice during one scene that taught her about the character she wrote.

"In chemistry reads, when we were reading with [actresses to play Doris] and Doris reading the People magazine and she's talking about Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's relationship and how they just broke up, Laura makes the choice to be so emotional about Brad and Jen," Chinn remembers. "Laura made that so important to her. And to me, it unlocked this character. I was like, this is a woman who, when this wasn't going on, when her son wasn't sick, this was a very fun woman. They would talk about the gossip pages, they would care about celebrity stories, and they would watch reality TV together. And that unlocked that for me. I didn't know that until she made that choice."

"You're always looking for moments that will tell an audience what's happened before this movie has started," Linney expands. "Kristine is quite arch to have any moment [to show] that she's not like that all the time and hasn't been like that all the time. That this is a heightened moment where she's out of control."

<p>Searchlight Pictures</p> Laura Chinn and Nico Parker on the set of 'Suncoast'

Searchlight Pictures

Laura Chinn and Nico Parker on the set of 'Suncoast'

Doris, though, couldn't be less like her mother. Reserved if not slightly nerdy and sheltered, she's just looking for ways to fit in at school, eventually befriending a group who she invites to her house for parties while her mom is working or staying the night with Max.

Chinn says she knew immediately upon seeing Nico Parker on Zoom that she was her Doris, largely in part to her "acting ability," but also from their conversation.

"I spoke to her and I was like, this girl is different. I spoke to so many young actresses, but with Nico, I was like, oh, I want to go get a cup of coffee with this person and talk to her about my life and get her advice. She's amazing," Chinn says of meeting the 19-year-old, whose credits include The Last of Us and Disney's live-action Dumbo. "She's just a very thoughtful, deep kid, and she's highly observant and so observant and just understands everybody around her, what everyone's thinking and failing, very sensitive. And I think Doris was all those things."

<p>courtesy focus features</p> Nico Parker and Woody Harrelson in 'Suncoast'

courtesy focus features

Nico Parker and Woody Harrelson in 'Suncoast'

As for that name? While Doris' friends "were names that were popular back then," Chinn explains, Doris' has significance. "I liked the idea that her grandmother died on the day she was born and that she was given her grandmother's name," Chinn says. "I've always felt this way my whole life, that death has kind of followed me around. I feel like I'm the Grim Reaper. And so I wanted to express that with Doris — that the day she was born, death was there, and so it's always been part of her life.

You can see more of Kristine and Doris' story in the exclusive featurette above. Suncoast, which also stars Woody Harrelson, is streaming on Hulu.

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