Onstage or on the sidewalk, Gummer projects an overriding impression of youth; it’s beyond her control. Almost the first thing she says in All Saints Day, as she chats with an amiable stranger who’s watching passersby from his front stoop, is “I’m new.” She smiles and shrugs as she says it. And there’s no point in denying it. It’s impossible to know yet whether her career will overtake the Meryl factor and give rise to its own Mamie factor. One thing to bear in mind: Her mother didn’t have the Meryl factor until she was several years older than her daughter is now.
Being the child of a famous actress, Haimes says, is “a blessing and a curse. It gets you in the door, but it doesn’t get you the role.” Laura Linney, who plays the wicked Marquise de Merteuil in Liaisons, began considering Gummer for the part of Cécile after working with her in John Adams. “She’s so much her own person,” she says. She recalls Gummer’s first day on the set of John Adams, when she was rushed to camera two days early, straight from the airport. “She was given a jacket that didn’t fit terribly well—she couldn’t move her arms—and she was dealing with two screaming children, one an infant, and one probably 2 or 3 years old.” Linney waits to let the predicament sink in. “She handled herself with incredible poise. It was an actor’s nightmare, but she handled it beautifully.”
In Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Gummer’s costumes require a different kind of poise, since Merteuil and Valmont are always scheming their removal. “How are you adapting to the outside world?” Merteuil asks the freshly uncloistered Cécile. “Very well, I think,” the girl responds. “I’m so excited to have my own bedroom and dressing room.” The audience laughs knowingly—but though they may be more aware of Cécile’s imminent future than she is, they may not suspect how much the actress who plays her shares with her character’s present. “It’s very exciting to have my own dressing room and daybed and my own telephone,” Gummer declares, as she takes a bite of scone. “It’s very pink and pillowy, and smells of flowers.” For now, her own bedroom, in her own place, will have to wait.