Laura Linney knows she's playing a worst-case-scenario in the WikiLeaks movie The Fifth Estate -- and she's not sure how she feels about it.
In 2010, when Julian Assange's rogue secrets server delivered its biggest ever barrage of international diplomatic "cables" (in tandem with some major mainstream news organizations), the names of U.S. State Department "operatives" were needles that could be found in the haystack of information.
So did any spies or informants in Middle East countries end up dead because of Assange?
Who knows? These people are still classified as far as the government is concerned. And if Assange inadvertently caused the death of anyone, that's one secret you won't read on WikiLeaks.
Hence Linney's fictionalized subplot. She plays a composite of various State Department officials - one who sees the Wiki-hazards ahead, and goes into action when the dam of secrets breaks, to save the life of a valued informant in Libya (Alexander Siddig).
"In some ways, I feel what Julian Assange is doing, and what the Internet in general is doing, is turning everything upside down, and that's healthy for the culture. But when innocent people's lives are put at risk, then it gets complicated," Linney says in a phone interview from her New York home.
"I have no answers to any of it. My opinions are evolving.
"All I can tell you is there were situations where informants were put in danger, and people were scrambling to keep them safe. My storyline is a counterbalance to the stance of WikiLeaks."
Though Linney's grandfather was a Colonel in the U.S. State Department, the actress herself had more immediate reasons for accepting the role. For one, she has a close relationship with The Fifth Estate's Bill Condon. He'd directed her to an Oscar nomination in Kinsey, and also directed the first episode of cable's The Big C, the series she starred in as a married woman who reinvents her life after being diagnosed with cancer.
Linney said she'd say yes to any role with Condon, no matter how small. "I'd stand in the background with a feather duster if he asked me."
As it happened, Condon called her just after she wrapped The Big C (which aired its last episode earlier this year after three seasons). Her subplot was the last shoot in the film, and took place long after the movie's stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Bruhl had finished.
"Everyone had wrapped. Stanley Tucci and I showed up after everyone else had left. We had our own little movie, our own little short film."
The one-week shoot turned into a picturesque vacation after the producers dumped plans to film in Nairobi, with Kenya subbing for Libya.
"But when I was scheduled to film, the elections were happening and the political unrest was too great and the shoot was cancelled.
"We ended up shooting on a set in Brussels (Belgium), which was great. What a wonderful city!"
The cable series schedule was loose enough for Linney to fill her spare time with movie roles (including Hyde Park on the Hudson opposite Bill Murray as FDR).
And now? "It feels like I've been working for 25 years solid," she says. "I feel like I've earned a break, and it'll be a while before you see me again."
We express disappointment.
"Well, it probably won't be that long," she adds with a laugh.