When you hear the name Laura Dern, you think things like: one of our best actresses working today; always makes the best, most interesting choices when she’s acting and in the projects she chooses to act in; you can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on screen and finally, wow … she’s really short. With a repertoire of stand-out performances in iconic films such as Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Citizen Ruth, Rambling Rose, Mask, Jurassic Park, Inland Empire and The Master, it’s no surprise that she she’s Academy Award-nominated, multi-Golden Globe winning, multi-Emmy nominated, Independent Spirit Award winning … just to name a few. She’s done TV, as well, playing Susan, the lesbian character who Ellen DeGeneres’ character comes out to on the groundbreaking “The Puppy Episode” of Ellen. Then there’s HBO’s Recount, The West Wing, she voiced a character on King of the Hill… the list goes on and on and brings us to what is hands down, my favorite show, Enlightened.
Enlightened’s second season premieres Sunday night following the awesome Girls. That’s one powerful, funny and smart hour of TV, right there. Thank you, HBO. I love you. A few of my close friends are on Enlightened, another is a producer on it and I even know Laura a tiny, baby bit. Surely, these sweet, sweet connections are enough for me to show up in an episode, perhaps delivering a pizza to the show’s basement offices of Abaddon, or maybe I’m in an office scene holding an important folder and I say, “Hello. Here’s an important folder!” and walk away? In the meantime, I figured I’d chat with the genius show’s genius star, Laura Dern.
JILL: Enlightened is back to back with Girls this season. Do you feel like Enlightened is a warped sort of grown-up Girls without the close friendships or the NYC background?
LAURA: “First of all, as a viewer, I’m super-excited about the pairing and about an hour of television that allows for women to be who they are in all their complexity, damage, and tenderness. Girls, if you’re that age, might seem fun, funny, deeply-relatable and give a sense of ‘I’m not alone in the world.’ But, stay tuned-in for the cautionary tale of only a matter of a few years later, doing the same s**t and having audiences say, ‘She’s so sad and scary and tragic. I hope I’m nothing like her.’ Lesson being, between 22 and 35, make sure you get a lot of therapy.”
I’m going to get therapy retroactively. Forever. Your mom, Diane Ladd, plays your mom on the show. You’re an Executive Producer on Enlightened, as well. Did you know you wanted to cast her going into the project, or did the idea come to you in the process of casting? Also, did you ever consider my mom for the role? My mom’s not an an actress, but I’m sure she’d be thrilled to know that she was considered.
“Because I’ve had the awesome privilege of working with my mom a few times before this, it hadn’t occurred to me in that feeling that we had done it. But, Mike actually was the one originally loving this idea. As we got deeper into casting the dynamic between characters, it became more evident and it was so opposite our real relationship, as well as anything we’d done on film, ultimately it seemed like a no-brainer. I have complete confidence, by the way, in your mother. And, in fact, I want Sarah Burns’ (Krista on the show) mom to be in the show, as well. Although she’s so gorgeous and youthful, one of us will have to play her mom.”
My mom is already telling everyone that Laura Dern has complete confidence in her. This is going over well for her at the gym. And, I totally agree with you about our pal Sarah, who incidentally is killing it on the show, in that I’m pretty sure her mom ages backwards. So, when we first met your character, Amy, she’d just returned from a retreat where she’d spent time recovering from a very public mental break down of sorts. It’s pretty cool that the core of a show revolves around a person’s breakdown and their effort to build themselves back up. Especially since the show is done so well and so realistically, in the sense that these things do not happen overnight and they are not without continuous setbacks. It’s a really brave and open performance, a really brave project overall and it’s certainly really brave and smart of HBO to get behind. This was not a question, was it?
“Actually, it was my favorite kind of question. I love ‘compliment-as-question’ questions. So, triple thank you.”
Triple you’re welcome. Here’s one I’ll actually ask-ask you. Why are you so good at playing people who make people uncomfortable? That is not an easy thing to do. I feel like when a character is supposed to possess that quality, what the viewer ends up seeing is the actor overacting to portray what they think they need to do to achieve some level of “crazy.” Not you, though. Ugh. Why are you so good?!?!
“Ouch…the only answer must be that I make people really uncomfortable. Or, that I’m so co-dependent, it’s the one area of my life that I can give myself full permission to be human.”
Do you find it difficult or delicate to play a person who others may portray as ‘crazy’ to some extent? Or, is it no different than playing someone who most would perceive as “sane”?
“I’m just not interested in playing someone that isn’t judged or questioned. We are all filled with opposites, with deep longing and complexity. If people aren’t questioning who we are and our motives, to me, it doesn’t feel real enough.”
I feel judged and questioned upon waking in the morning, so I hear you, girl. Do you realize how many incredible films you’ve been in? I’m sure many would argue that those films are incredible because you were in them. Fine, I’m one of them. But, really, when you look at a finished product (that you acted in), is it hard to separate yourself from it and be able to see it like everyone else sees it?
“Not at all, actually, because my love is first with the filmmaker’s vision. I see myself as a collaborator in the process of storytelling. So, I can love Blue Velvet as a fan, for example, without attachment.”
Which was your favorite dinosaur?
What are your favorite shows to watch? Or, are you one of those “I don’t have a TV in my house” people? And, if you are, I just have to say: while I admire those people, I don’t know how to be one of those people.
“Well, I grew up watching TV, so I’m not one of those people, either. But, other than Breaking Bad and Modern Family, I spend most of my time watching I Love Lucy and Brady Bunch reruns. Or, I currently watch Austin and Ally, Shake it Up and Good Luck Charlie, with a periodic Barbie Fairy Tale movie thrown in. I also spend a lot of time online on Minecraft. Is it too disturbing to leave the readers wondering why, or should I mention I have an 8-year-old?
I think it’s adorable that you make up an 8-year-old child in interviews as an excuse to watch children’s programming. What project do you most get recognized for when you’re out and about?
“It’s always been Jurassic Park until recently. Now a lot of people are finding Enlightened, and that’s very exciting.”
If a weird fairy, whose only power was to make actors get stuck in one character that they’ve played, came to visit you and you had to pick a character you’ve played to be forever … who would it be? Also, isn’t that the worst/best idea for a fairy ever?
“Yes, both. And if it were a role I had to play forever but I didn’t have to be her in my everyday, I would pick Amy. I love continuing to discover her, and she’s kind of my hero.”
Amy is pretty incredible. I love hearing how much you love continuing to discover her because selfishly, I want tons more seasons of Enlightened! If you could give two pieces of advice – one entertainment industry-related and one simply pertaining to life-life – what would those two pieces of advice be?
“The number one piece of advice, which was given to me in grade school, applies essentially to both questions. For me, there may be nothing more important than to ‘keep your eyes on your own paper’. The only other thing I consider a lot, both as a creative person and on a human level, is that thanks to our culture and the pharmaceutical industry, we can now float through life taking a pill to avoid that illness which is ‘life.’ It’s magical, it’s brutal, there’s loss and heartbreak and love and humor, and we hopefully find our way to becoming grown-ups. Maybe we should all try feeling it more in the moment it’s happening. We might feel more compassion. In short, I guess my advice to myself is to try to grow each day, even through mistake, and laugh a lot.”
That’s some of the best advice I’ve heard in a while. But then again, I take A LOT of pills. Actually, I’m one of the few who, right or wrong, doesn’t take anything and I genuinely think that that really is some very insightful and poignant advice. Here’s something lighter … What’s your guilty pleasure? Reality television? Pancakes with bacon? Drunk karaoke?
“S**t, I guess I gotta find one.”
I will help you, because that is unacceptable. I say this as the President of Guilty Pleasure (which is located in the Wasting Time Building). So, when I look back, I think the highlight of being 13 for me was having a chocolate fountain at my Bat Mitzvah. When you were 13, you did a bad ass punk movie called Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains. This makes you way cooler than me and me, way Jewish-ier than you. The movie became a cult favorite and continues to get a lot of love from plenty of people and the music industry. What’s it like to make a movie as a teenager about the rise of a punk band?
“By the way, the highlight of wrapping my film with the Sex Pistols and a member of The Clash (which was amazing, let’s be clear) was making it home in time for my friend Carole’s Bat Mitzvah at Sportsmen’s Lodge at which I did, in fact, dip a Rice Krispies treat into a chocolate fountain. Yes, being an actress at 13 did have its privileges but, dear God, why couldn’t I have been Jewish?”
Why couldn’t I have been Laura Dern?! Or, even better … a Jewish Laura Dern!!! Thanks so much for talking to me about you, Laura!
“Jill, you’re amazing. Thank you for your support and genius questions.”
Featured image via Lacey Terrell/HBO