Some actors start off big, only to kind of fade away for a little while, before coming back strong later in their careers. Linda Cardellini is one such actor, who rose to fame at a very young age, after starring in a number of teen-oriented films and series’, and is now back in the mainstream viewer’s eye.
Linda has been a great player in the films she’s been seen in, and has predominantly been cast as a supporting actress, one who elevates the film’s potential and the cast’s performance as well. It’s a shame, then, that a lot of her roles aren't so well-known, which is why it’s worth taking a look at her best performances over the years.
10 Samantha Taggart - ER
The problem with starring in ER was that every actor who featured on the show was relegated to a supporting role. This meant they were never in the spotlight, and Linda’s turn as Samantha Taggart isn’t given its due credit.
Her role saw her portray a woman with a long history of dealing with alcoholics in her family. This resulted in her having to take the position of the responsible one from a young age. Linda was superb in playing a character who wanted to experience her youth but had to constantly be mature even when she felt like breaking down. Unfortunately for her, as ER was an ensemble show, people forget Linda was even featured on it.
9 Sara Whitaker - Daddy's Home 2
You can’t have a bunch of kooky characters without the role of a straight man, and in this case, Linda played the straight woman. While the Daddy’s Home series is famous for the star power of Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell, their comedy was effective due to Linda’s appearance as the exasperated wife caught between them.
Her turn in Daddy’s Home 2 was more memorable, though, as this time she got to show off comedy of her own, with her character being insecure of Alessandra Ambrosio’s supermodel wife character. This time round, Linda got in some memorable moments of herself in a film largely dominated by the two leads.
8 Chutney Wyndham - Legally Blonde
Cardellini demonstrated the importance of the “Small Role, Big Impact” role in Legally Blonde, where she wasn’t seen much, but was detrimental to the plot. Here, she pulled off playing a character with a dry personality, but with much more sinister intentions in mind.
It was more impressive due to the film being a comedy, which meant she had to keep the dryness at a funny level and also keep the intense moments – when she is revealed to be guilty at the end of the movie – also funny. While this was a good showing, Linda wasn’t featured in much of the movie.
7 Sylvia Rosen - Mad Men
Sometimes guest appearances show off an actor’s range in more ways than one, and Linda’s role as Sylvia Rosen certainly did just this as she picked up a Primetime Emmy Nomination for Best Guest Appearance in Mad Men.
Like some of her other roles, this one’s presence too wasn’t a very large one onscreen, but it did contribute to the main character’s characterization. Linda played a thoroughly unlikable person who was routinely unfaithful to her husband, but her self-righteousness almost convinces the viewer she’s not a bad person at heart. Linda’s Mad Men role was doubly impressive due to her story being self-contained, so it meant she had to up her game. However, the role was still not large enough to make her stand out as much.
6 Meg Rayburn - Bloodline
Netflix features thousands of shows, which means many of them fly under the radar, and Bloodline is one of these kinds of series. It featured a dysfunctional family with bloody consequences to their actions, and Linda shared the screen with acting heavyweights like Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn.
She held up her own very well and played the character who holds together this broken family. Bloodline was a great venture for the actress to showcase more of her drama potential without being relegated to the background. While she still wasn’t the main character, she was one of the crucial regular roles featured.
5 Lindsay Weir - Freaks and Geeks
Despite being cast in mostly supporting roles, Linda first became known to the world as the main star in Freaks and Geeks. She was excellent in playing Lindsay Weir, a teenager who has to navigate through high school in unconventional methods.
This role required her to play a smart student who didn’t understand how to live up to expectations, which saw her hang out with a bunch of “freaks” in school as part of her coping process. It was a thoroughly impressive performance by the actress, and the show still has a large following over twenty years later. With Linda being the lead, a lot of the lasting legacy has to do with her.
4 Laura Barton - Avengers: Age of Ultron
An actor can turn in several leading performances in smaller films, but it’s the big-budget productions that get them the exposure they need. After years of being in niche films and shows, Cardellini was seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where she stood out among all the action.
This was because she provided the characterization Hawkeye desperately needed. The film took a sedate turn midway through, and it was here where Laura Barton stepped in and brought some subtlety to the story. Linda’s character was a superb juxtaposition for the Avengers, who were mainly about explosions. It was remarkable how her appearance was memorable in a superhero movie.
3 Kelli - Return
The film is seldom known, but it is the greatest instance of Linda carrying a film squarely on her shoulders. Return sees the main character coming back from her duty in the army and finding her personal life in ruins as her children are distant and her husband has been unfaithful.
The role required Linda to pick apart the facade of a tough, military woman and expose the vulnerability she feels due to everyone’s betrayal. It’s a great film to watch if you want to regain confidence over your life, and all credit goes to Linda Cardellini for giving us a performance that breaks down the human condition between war and a person’s own demons.
2 Dolores Vallelonga - Green Book
It was a supporting role for Linda, but what an amazing one it was. Green Book took home the Oscar for Best Picture, and it was the cast’s performance that should be credited for this. Linda Cardellini’s turn as the ever-supporting wife of the main protagonist gave him the reason to better himself and stop his bigoted manner of thinking.
She made the period setting as authentic as it could be, and everything from her dressing sense to her accent and to her facial expressions evoked the 1960s decade. Her response to the letters sent by the husband character made us all emotional the way she portrayed it. It was a supporting performance where you couldn’t ask for more.
1 Velma Dinkley - Scooby-Doo
The early-2000s’ Scooby-Doo films have aged very well in the eyes of the public, as these movies are now seen as representations of our childhoods. When the films were first released, critics called them career-killers for the stars, but here we are almost twenty years later and Scooby-Doo is still the best-known film starring its actors.
If you’ve seen Linda Cardellini’s body of work, it’s remarkable how effortlessly charming she was as Velma Dinkley. She played all the geeky parts the way Velma should and added in her own mix of comedy that the original Velma lacked. Scooby-Doo is Linda’s first performance most kids experience growing up even today, as the film is a great feel-good watch. She’s most definitely one of the best incarnations of Velma, and the performance should be something to fondly remember.