Interview: Louise Linton, actress

It wouldn't be altogether surprising if Louise Linton found herself the victim of typecasting.

The 25-year-old Edinburgh-born actress is blonde, slim and beautiful, giving her Hollywood's golden credentials, but also putting her at risk of only being offered unfulfilling roles as the decorative love interest. But for Linton; pithy, smart and driven, being pigeon-holed is not an option.

Currently based in Los Angeles, she raves not about the city's infamous party scene, but about its art and architecture. She is on the junior board of the LA County Museum of Art, is training for her pilot's licence and has a degree in journalism.

The former pupil of Fettes College attends auditions during the day and studies for a law degree in the evenings. She has written a book about a gap year spent in a war-torn village near the Congolese border and is an ambassador for Erskine, which cares for ex-service men and women.

And this year sees the up-and-coming young Scot in four films in diverse roles ranging from a drug-addicted single mother to the female leader of a spaceship full of men.

We meet over coffee on a freezing Edinburgh day in Hotel Missoni, where Linton is as cautiously wrapped up as any Californian native visiting our shores in the depths of winter.

She's delighted to be home for Christmas, and is enjoying the novelty of the snow much more so than the disgruntled Christmas shoppers seeking shelter in the hotel's lofty lobby.

There's probably never been such a day in Beverly Hills, but she's been dreaming of a white Christmas at home and she's got her wish.

"I'm loving it!" she says, eyes widening, adding that in addition to taking a break from LA's relentless sunshine, she's relieved to "escape the salads" for a couple of weeks and indulge in sausages, pies, haggis and all her favourite stodgy trappings of a trip back home.

As she chats, her cut-glass Edinburgh accent gives way to a hint of a Californian twang, a habit she is gently teased about by friends and family. But she is good-humoured about being a Scot in LA, though quick to correct anyone describing her as "British" and wants to help "carry the torch" for Scottish actresses in the States.

She loves her adopted home and hates to hear it criticised, insisting that "if you don't see culture in Los Angeles, you're simply not looking. My favourite thing about the city is the optimism in the air. Life is full of promise." However, she is willing to laugh at the stereotypes, recounting one time she was asked by a local "do you guys have computers in Scotland?"

Born and raised in the capital, she attended Fettes College and showed promise as a performer from an early age, entertaining her parents' friends at dinner parties with her Margaret Thatcher impressions. It was a privileged background - when she was a teenager Linton's family lived at Melville Castle for a while, and although they still own the luxury hotel and wedding venue, home is in the Murrayfield area.

Drama school followed, then she gained a BA in journalism from Pepperdine University in Malibu. However, acting was always going to be her career choice, and she can pinpoint that decision to her first experience in the spotlight, aged six. She took the lead in her school's production of Hiawatha, and the Queen happened to be sitting front row centre.

"I remember making eye contact with her for just a moment, and she gave me an encouraging smile," Linton explains. "Sharing that smile with her the first time I was on stage was a seminal moment in my childhood, but I think, more importantly, it was at that age that I realised the power of this art form to make people feel something.

"Watching great performances can transport us and finding a film that really moves you is a galvanising and inspiring thing."

So how do you secure those dream parts? In a city which has, as Linton jokes, "a voracious appetite for souls," actors jostle for attention, and competition for the best roles is fierce. For Linton, the key is variety.

This year sees her take the lead in the futuristic science fiction thriller Scavengers opposite Sean Patrick Flanery, as well as venturing into comedy in She Wants Me with Charlie Sheen.

Then there's Five Hours South, a romantic drama set in Italy, and finally the role of a drug-addled single mother in The Power of Few starring Christopher Walken.

It's been a busy 12 months, and 2011 could be the year her name joins the likes of James McAvoy and Kelly McDonald on the roll call of young Scots who've made a name for themselves across the pond. However she's quick to remind friends and family that behind every part won are 100 failed auditions, that nothing happens overnight and that the blood, sweat and tears approach is the only one she's interested in.

"In the movie Funny Girl, Barbra Streisand's character wins a role early on in her career and exclaims, 'But I haven't suffered enough yet!' I identify with that line," she says. "The most satisfying accomplishments are the ones we've worked hard to earn. If life doesn't feel like a bit of a struggle then I know I'm coasting and not pushing myself or maximising my potential."

They're the words of a driven person who can't seem to bear the idea of free time not being put to good use. Hence the soon to be completed law degree, which she is quick to emphasise is not a back-up plan.

"I've wanted to be an actor since I was six and I'm going to be an actor until I'm 66," she says firmly.

"But it's easy to get distracted and to be consumed with the world of movies and television, and of course, the insecurities which go along with that. Law school gives me equilibrium and balance in my life.

"It's interesting and fun to stimulate both the creative part of my spirit and the academic part of my mind and to live a sort of dual-dimensioned life. But when it comes to acting, this is it. Law school is not a back-up plan because I don't view being a performer that way.

"This is what I love, what makes me tick, and come hell or high water it's what I'm going to do with my life. Law school is a supplement. It augments my life, gives me more perspective and makes me a more rounded individual."

It may not be a back-up plan, but the security and reliability a legal career offers compared to that of an actor is a contrast she is acutely aware of.

"I recently had dinner with a dear friend, who's had a long career and won multiple Oscars and he told me he was concerned about where his next job was coming from," she says.

"I was amazed. One always imagines that when you 'make it' everything is taken care of but that's not true. It's the life of an actor to always be questioning, always be wondering. There is no occupation in the world less dependable."

Maybe, but one gets the impression that such a drawback could never deter her.Linton's resolve is unshakeable, and whether by nature or through experience, she is certainly thick-skinned, though she dislikes the term.

She is able to be philosophical about the pressures, the rejection and the criticism which comes with being an up-and-coming actress in Hollywood, acknowledging "the pressure to be slender, pressure to be polished".

"But I approach it with a very Scottish mentality, which is kind of 'take me or leave me'," she says with a laugh.

"I can't morph into a different person. I am what I am. A lot of the time this business is not a meritocracy. Someone who's a bigger name might get a job and it can often depend on looks. And you have to be able to take rejection.

"Sometimes you're told they want to 'pass' on you. It's this word they use in the business, it's sharp. But you do get used to exercising the ability to rationalise as opposed to taking everything personally. That's the cost. And if the cost-benefit ratio isn't pleasing to you as an actor then you're in the wrong business, because I love to act regardless, so even if I'm auditioning I'm enjoying the process."

It is a point she makes emphatically. She loves to act. Big pay cheques, magazine covers, freebies and parties seem to hold little draw for her.

Whether auditioning, performing in front of the camera or reading a play with friends, she has to keep feeding that part of her creativity.

She likens her position to that of a musician being told to down their instrument, or a painter told to put away their brushes because they're not making any money from their passion.

Not going to happen. She's known this would be her path since childhood, and she's not getting off it, regardless of how bumpy the road might get.

"What I love most about being an actor is the benefit of new perspective with each role I play," she says. "I gain their perspective, their thoughts, their approach to their individual circumstances and as a result became a more rounded, more understanding person.

"In the past I think I was fairly intolerant of the concept of drug addiction, I didn't understand it at all. But now I've stepped into the shoes of someone whose life was so hard that she felt drugs were her only solace and place of salvation.

"Doing the research on that character and learning to feel a measure of her desperation was humbling and informative. And it doesn't necessarily need to be on camera for me to get a kick out of it or to feel that sort of catharsis, release and adrenaline."

Asked who in her industry she admires, Linton cites Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Hilary Swank, all beautiful actresses who have pursued gritty roles, often requiring them to play down their looks.

"My dream jobs would be Boys Don't Cry or Monster's Ball or Monster," she says. "The roles in which these actresses are pushing themselves physically and emotionally, really transforming themselves into totally different people. That's the dream." For the physically demanding Scavengers, Linton's distinctive hair was dyed dark brown and she spends much of the film soaked in fake blood. It was a role she relished.

"I had to handle weapons and learn fight scenes," she says. "In one scene I was clambering through an engine maze and using power tools to cut through metal debris. It was almost pitch black.

"There were hot sparks flying from the grinder into my face, while a woman above me was spraying iced water on me through a grate. My clothes and boots were soaked and I was so cold my teeth were chattering and I was shivering violently as I was saying my lines. I remember thinking that the performance in this case was not a 'performance' at all."

Like Kidman, Theron and Swank before her, Linton is determined to be taken seriously, to be recognised as much more than the kind of remarkably pretty face that's not all that uncommon in the City of Angels. She's not only open to the concept of pushing herself physically and emotionally; she can't wait to embrace those "ugly" roles, she's striving for them.

Five Hours South is out on 3 August; Scavengers is out on 2 September; She Wants Me is out on 4 November. The Power of Few is awaiting a release date.

This article was first published in The Scotsman, 22 January, 2011