Laura Linney Didn't Originally Like Wendy Byrde In The Ozark Pilot

Throughout its four seasons, "Ozark" was populated by every kind of criminal you could possibly imagine. But despite all the mob bosses, cartel leaders, and assassins, one of the show's most hated sources of grey morality came from suburban housewife turned criminal mastermind, Wendy Byrde (Laura Linney). The way she's first introduced, it would be hard to see this coming for Wendy, who initially plays second-fiddle to her money-laundering husband. But before long, the show rises to the occasion and puts Linney to great use.

Whether or not you've gotten around to binging the show on Netflix, chances are the story still strikes a familiar chord: "Ozark" follows a middle-class suburban family getting in over their heads by tying themselves to a criminal enterprise. One second they are laundering money from a distance and the next, they're burying bodies, being pursued by the federal government, ordering assassinations, or staring down the barrel of a gun themselves. Within that familiar setup are the character archetypes we'd all recognize anywhere: a looming cartel figurehead and the family under his thumb. This includes two oblivious kids who accidentally cause more trouble than they realize, a dangerous man fueled by ambition, and his disapproving wife — except that "Ozark" immediately throws those clichés out the window. The kids are brought in on the plan two episodes into the show, Marty (Jason Bateman) isn't so much filled with ambition as he is just scrambling to survive another day. And Wendy? She's the show's secret weapon.

Ozark's scariest antihero

Rather than being horrified by what her husband has gotten tied up in, Wendy Byrde thrives within their constantly endangered state. She seizes control and quickly becomes the person pulling the strings, pushing her husband further into the darkness with her Lady Macbethian ways. She has lofty ambitions of making them one of the most powerful families in the midwest — no matter the cost — and much of it is rooted in her traumatic backstory, growing up in the church with an abusive father, a mentally ill brother, and nowhere to turn but her own wits. For better or worse, it's impossible to imagine where the Byrdes would be without Wendy, but, according to Laura Linney, the version of Wendy that we know and love to hate isn't the Wendy she first read in the script.

Linney recently sat down to chat with Vulture, reflecting on the end of "Ozark" and next chapter of her career. During the conversation, when she was asked about the version of Wendy from the original pilot script, she confirmed that the character who first appeared on the pages had a long road to becoming the conniving matriarch of the Byrdes.

"The character in the pilot was very different. I just remember she was snoring in the bed a lot. There was a lot of: Wendy snores. I just didn't know where it was going to go. I don't know why I trusted Jason Bateman and Chris Mundy as much as I did, but I remember saying to them, "I hope that if I sign onto this, you'll use me. Otherwise, don't cast me. Take someone else."

It's hard to imagine this simpler, snoring Wendy but perhaps it's a reference to the version of the character that we later see on the show.

The irreplaceable Laura Linney

Twice, after suffering major losses, Wendy retreats into herself. Stuck in a depressive state, she ends up confining herself to bed, struggling to come to terms with the pain. Maybe this is where the beginning of "Ozark" was originally set to catch her. Either way, it turns out that Linney had nothing to worry about: bedridden Wendy is just another version of the character that she was destined to conquer, revealing the cracks in her formidable facade. However hard it is to imagine a different Wendy, it's impossible to envision the show without Linney. 

In a recent conversation with The Ringer, Bateman said:

"You're really being foolish if you don't give Laura Linney as much work as possible inside of any show she's a part of. To just delegate her to some cliché, traditional wife role would simply be leaving one arm tied behind her back and not taking advantage of everything she can bring to a project."

Linney herself said, "There's nothing worse than people not wanting what you have to offer. When people don't want what you have to offer, it's just womp-womp-womp." But while showrunner Chris Mundy (via Vanity Fair) has previously revealed that "there wasn't a big road map for Wendy's character," the show clearly found its footing thanks to Linney's performance. Mundy added:

"Probably 100 times in the editing room, we'd just be like, 'I can't believe how lucky we are that she's on the show.' You'd see the scene, and she'd give three subtly different versions of it just to see which one you wanted to do. She made us all look good for five years."

All four seasons of 'Ozark" are currently streaming on Netflix.