TORONTO - On-screen, the versatile Laura Linney often comes across as very smart, tightly wound and unwilling to suffer fools.

As this was the Toronto International Film Festival, in September, she probably was suffering her share of fools. As a colleague once had an unpleasant interview experience with her, I approached her room at the Four Seasons Hotel with a certain amount of trepidation.

Thankfully, Linney couldn't have been nicer.

She had recently become engaged and still put on the high beams every time she was congratulated. She was also promoting "The Savages," Tamara Jenkins' dysfunctional-family nursing-home drama/comedy, which even three months ago was generating Oscar buzz for Linney and her co-star, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Add in Linney's upcoming role as Abigail Adams in HBO's "John Adams" miniseries and she was obviously enjoying a very good creative period in her career.

PS: She is very smart.

Q: Have you ever had to put someone from your own family in a nursing home?

A: My grandmother.

Q: And was it more like the movie's dumpy Valley View or the more posh Greenhill?

A: It was more like Greenhill. She was in a very nice nursing home just outside Washington, DC. I think it was called Carriage Hill. And my grandfather was there until he died as well. He went first.

My grandmother was fantastic in that she was an extremely cheerful woman, graceful and full of life.

Q: It is a difficult situation . . .

A: But, in a sense, how fortunate we are if we have this problem to deal with because a lot of people lose parents early in their lives or don't outlive a parent. But it's scary territory, no question.

Q: What drew you to the role aside from the complexity of the character?

A: (laughs) You basically answered the question.

Q: Anything else? It probably would be better in your words.

A: The script was in perfect shape. Absolutely ready-to-go, perfect shape. And when you start there it has a good chance of fulfilling its own potential.

Q: Any ad-libbing?

A: Not a lot.

Q: . . . Because the speech has a very natural . . .

A: That's Tamara's script. There's so much there and she worked on it for a long time. She knows these characters very well. Everybody has a different voice.

You know, sometimes you'll get a script and every person sounds like the same person. You can tell the writers aren't thinking about character at all. Everyone speaks the same, in the same rhythm, the sentences are all the same length. (laughs) You're like "Uggggggghhhhhhhhhh." So it's fantastic when you have a script that's been worked on in a character-driven way.

Q: What was it like working with Phillip?

A: A dream. He's an incredibly supportive, generous, fantastic actor and I believe we have a similar philosophy of how to work. . . . The same things are important to us. Our priorities are similar. . . . When you feel like someone has your back, you're able to go a little farther. It gives you tremendous freedom.

Q: In the tools versus intuition continuum of acting, where would you say you fit in?

A: Oh, I have tools. (laughs) I have a trunkload of them. I went to Juilliard. A lot of people have asked me over time, "What was your biggest break?" and for me it was getting into Juilliard. Hands down.

Q: And you're from New York?

A: Yes.

Q: Public or private school?

A: Boarding school, actually. I went to Northfield Mt. Hermon (in New England). But it was a groovy boarding school, not a preppy boarding school. I went to a sit-on-the-grass-and-read-Ferlinghetti boarding school.

Q: You're very much a working actress . . .

A: Yayyyyy.

Q: . . . Movies, TV, theater, big budget, indies. What attracts you to such variety?

A: All sorts of stuff. Often it's just my curiosity. I did six episodes of "Frasier" the year before last and I did it for one specific reason - because I knew absolutely nothing about what it is to do a sitcom. That's a whole other form of acting. It's a different process and I had no idea what that was.

So the offer came in and I thought, while I have the opportunity to learn from one of the best shows ever on television, from this group of people who have been doing it for 11 years, I should go learn from them.

I was just curious what kind of tools - do you even need tools? - you need when you jump from a sitcom to a radio play. How do you do a book on tape? How do you stage different types and sizes of theaters? Film? Television? They all deserve respect as far as being different from each other.

When I did "Frasier" people would say, "Have you ever done theater?" and I'd say, "Yes, I've done theater," and they're like, "It's just like theater."

And it's NOTHING like theater. ABSOLUTELY nothing. I think people say that because there's a live audience but other than that, it's nothing, nothing like it. *