Linda Edna Cardellini was born on June 25, 1975, in Redwood City, California, to Wayne David Cardellini and Lorraine Hernan. She graduated from nearby Mountain View's St. Francis High School in 1993, and attended Loyola Marymount University's College of Communication & Fine Arts, graduating in 2001 with a degree in theatre.
Cardellini got her start in television as the lead in Bone Chillers (1996), an ABC children's show. She may be best known for her roles as high school student Lindsay Weir on the television series Freaks and Geeks and nurse Samantha Taggart on NBC's ER. She played Velma in two live-action Scooby-Doo! movies, which were released in 2002 and 2004, respectively. In 2005 she played a supporting role in Ang Lee's critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, and also appeared in the socially conscious American Gun. In 2006 she starred with Allen Covert in the lighthearted Grandma's Boy.