Crafting The Family Dynamic
Virginia Kull, who plays Linda McQueen on AMC’s NOS4A2, discusses Linda’s loaded feelings about Vic’s future, crafting the fierce McQueen family dynamic and what she hopes audiences take away from Linda’s arc this season to amc.com…
Q: How did you first come on to the project?
A: My agent sent me the script, and I read the script and I’d never read anything like it. And Ebon Moss-Bachrach had been cast already and I was a huge fan of his, and I’d just come off of working on another Stephen King series, and the idea of keeping it in the family and working with his son was really exciting.
Q: What kind of things did you consider with the creative team to bring Linda to life?
A: Jami O’Brien, our amazing, badass showrunner, was very enthusiastic and very helpful from day one when it came to us bringing ideas and dreams to the table, and also in answering our questions. She is from small-town Massachusetts, so she’s of this world, understands this world, has a great affection for the type of people that we’re all playing in the series. She was an incredibly valuable resource to draw from. She wore a New England Patriots sweatshirt pretty much every day we were on set [Laughs] She schooled me in my accent, would correct me on my pronunciation, just immensely helpful — and a fierce protector of playing these people and this place in a truthful way. She was fiercely protective of doing it right, which I really, really appreciated. We spoke a lot about the world that Linda grew up in, where she came from, a lot about her backstory — my own dealings with friends who were teenage mothers, and Jami’s as well, and talking about what that experience would be like. Not going the college route and doing the blue collar work, and finding the joy and the worth and the honor in those things, which was really interesting to pursue, and to talk about. When you live in Los Angeles or New York City and you’re surrounded by people who are fortunate enough to pursue their dreams of being an artist — a lot of people don’t have that privilege, and to be able to tell a story about someone that doesn’t get to do that was really important and exciting for both Jami and I.
Q: How did you work with Ashleigh Cummings and Ebon Moss-Bachrach to craft the McQueen family dynamic? Were there certain choices you talked about together?
A: The creative team behind the show was really helpful in setting up some initial meet and greets — like social gatherings for the cast, so we could get to know each other offset outside of work, which was immensely helpful. To have some semblance of “Who is Ashleigh?” and “What’s important to Ashleigh?” and not just, “Who is Vic McQueen?” And the same thing with Ebon. So we got to spend a lot of time together exploring lovely Rhode Island. I spent a lot of hours sitting in Ashleigh’s backyard, gazing out at the most beautiful New England pond you’ve ever seen, complete with kayak and iced over. This Texas girl seeing an iced over lake was just losing her mind. And Ebon and I were just painting the town red, going from restaurant to restaurant and bar to bar. He’s so brave and so friendly and so good — every restaurant that we would leave, I felt like we had a new friend. He would strike up a conversation with the locals and have traded numbers at the end of the night. I’m a little bit more shy, a little bit more introverted, so he made me feel braver. So spending time on and off set was really wonderful. We never spoke specifically about family dynamics. I think that the book was such an immense resource for all of us. Joe [Hill] had already done all that heavy lifting, and Jami and the rest of the writing team crafted such amazing scripts that that work was already done for us. But I remember feeling early on sort of instinctively that that little family of three is really fiery, fiercely protective of one another, but also really physically affectionate. I loved that we all felt comfortable with each other. Every time I had a scene with Ashleigh, I couldn’t help but brush the bangs out of her eyes, or adjust her shirt — I was just always picking at something or adjusting something and I can’t keep my hands off my baby [Laughs] And she was game for it. I loved the closeness physically that the family exudes — albeit violent sometimes.
Q: Vic and her mom clash all season long. From your perspective, why do you think they just can’t see eye to eye?
A: In Linda’s defense, mother-daughter relationships are hard. I don’t think Linda and Vic are an anomaly, unfortunately. I think a lot of women can read a scene from the script and think, “Oh, I completely recognize that.” I think that Vic has had to grow up faster than most, a lot of those reasons being because of her powers, and a lot of it is because of the screwed up broken marriage that she’s lived under her whole life. But Linda never got to grow up. She had Vic when she was 17, and doesn’t finish school, doesn’t pursue and education, and has to start working in any capacity she can to feed her child and keep a roof over their heads, so all of a sudden, fast forward 17 years, and there’s a grown woman in front of her with hopes and dreams and a very promising future that she doesn’t quite know what to do with. I think there’s a part of her that’s threatened. I think there’s a part of Linda that’s resentful, and I think there’s part of Linda that feels cast aside. She’s done a thankless job for the past 18 years of her life and now that job is coming to an end, and she’s not feeling needed anymore, but she doesn’t have the closeness with her daughter that she sees Vic have with her dad, and I think that’s really painful. And me as the actor playing her, it was really painful – the isolation and the loneliness of that.
Q: It probably doesn’t help Linda that Vic knows about the physical abuse and still chooses her dad.
A: And still choose him! Right. And I think Linda took a lot of pride in thinking that she was shielding Vic from that. It’s not until a little later in the season that she was even aware that Vic knew about the physical abuse happening in the house. To have to then feel like, “Great, I even failed at that.” Like, “I’ve been getting my ass beat by this son of a b–ch for the past 17 years, but at least my daughter’s had a happy, safe and healthy childhood.” And then to find out that she’s known pretty much all along, to then feel like, “I can’t even get that right. I can’t even protect my daughter from that.” It’s devastating. It’s absolutely devastating. And then in Linda’s defense, it’s a little like, “I have literally been scrubbing on my hands and knees my whole life so you could go to school, so you could not make the same mistakes I made, so you could have a chance, to protect you, to take care of you, and you’re choosing the drunk deadbeat dad who can’t get his shit together and who walked out on both you and I? And you’re picking him? Really? Sure he’s great for a laugh, but we would have been in the poor house if it hasn’t been for me.”
Q: In Episode 8, why do you think Linda reacts to Vic’s college news the way that she does?
A: The moment that Vic calls Linda to say, “I got a full ride to RISD” is really loaded and complicated for Linda. I think she does feel immense pride and shock and wonder at the fact that her child, her progeny, has done this impossible thing, so I think it would be impossible for Linda to not be elated and proud, but I think in the next breath there’s the betrayal of, “You did this behind my back?” And also the sense of “Who do you think you are? What’s wrong with the life we have, that I have?” And there’s also this feeling of, by choosing a different path than what I’ve chosen, I feel judged for my choices. Like, “Oh, well now you think you’re better than me? You’re gonna go off and party with people like the Brewsters, and you’re gonna go off and walk around with your nose in the air, and your head in the clouds, and hang out with all the rich people who can talk about their progressive ideals, but they haven’t had to live the life that we’ve had to live.” And I think that’s really painful for Linda, because Linda can’t join her where she’s going. She’s going on an adventure, she’s taking a path that is not welcoming, or an option for people like Linda. And now Chris is gone, Vic is leaving, and Linda is done. What else is there to do? It’s a “life-over” devastation, just like, “My life as I know it is now over.”
Q: There’s a really powerful scene at the end of the episode when Vic and Linda have something of a heart to heart and Vic names her mother as a coward. Do you think that shifts their dynamic at all?
A: I think Linda finally acknowledges the fact, and surrenders to the fact, that Vic is an adult in that moment. “I can’t fight you anymore, I can’t control you, I can’t change your mind, I can’t tell you what to think,” and I think that it’s devastating to her. But also immensely important. Vic has to be seen by her mother as an adult in order for her to go do what she has to do in the rest of the story. This is where we see Vic stand up at her full height and she’s seen clearly for the first time by her mom. Which is why Linda gives in. Linda does notgive in. She is a fighter, she never relinquishes, she never lets other people win arguments. The fact that Vic gets her bike back – and Linda tells her where it is – it’s because there’s this huge paradigm shift in that moment. Because Vic tells Linda the truth, and Linda knows it’s the truth, and she hears it.
Q: What do you want the audience to take away from Linda’s story this season?
A: I hope that they see a fiercely loyal, deeply loving, and deliciously complicated woman. She’s like some sort of feral cat with a kitten and she will just rip you to shreds if you threaten it. She’s a wild animal. I hope that audiences find her infuriating and challenging, and I hope it piques their curiosity about people like that, because there’s so much going on under the surface. Linda’s not being unsupportive or difficult or unkind, she’s not being those things to be cruel. It’s so much more layered, and it’s all because of where she comes from and the life experiences she’s had. I remember the university I went to, the administrator in the theater office, had this sign by her desk that said, “Be gentle in your dealings with others, you never know what battle they’re fighting.” And I think that’s such a beautiful way to look at people like Linda, because it’s so easy to write people like her off, or to look at her and say, “What a shrew, what a nightmare, what a bitch.” And I don’t think that’s true. You look at what she’s been up against, and my response is, “What a miracle.” The fact that she’s still standing, and the fact that her daughter is such an extraordinary woman, and Linda has played a huge role in that. And I think she’s owed a debt of gratitude! [Laughs]
Q: If you were a strong creative, what would you want your power to be?
A: I would love to turn people’s despair into joy. I’d love if I could do that. If I could ride a bike across a bridge, or skate across a frozen lake, or swim across the Potomac, and someone who is hurting feels better, that would be pretty freaking amazing. It’s like, what would actually do some good and make me feel like a badass at the same time? Probably that. I know that the powers cost you something, so what would I be willing to go through some pain for? I’d say that.