The multifaceted veteran actress is both hard to categorize and curiously undercelebrated

A bold proclamation, from a May 4, 1986, New York Times headline: “LAURA DERN IS A TEEN-AGER TO TAKE SERIOUSLY.”

Then 19 years old, Dern — the willowy, blond daughter of actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd — was promoting Smooth Talk, a coming-of-age drama adapted from a short story by Joyce Carol Oates. Dern played Connie, a troubled, sexually curious 15-year-old who gets involved with an older man, played by Treat Williams. It was a decidedly adult role for a young actress, but that wasn’t out of character for Dern; she’d already played a blind teenager in the tearjerker Mask and a girl whose teacher comes on to her in, well, Teachers. Those were the breaks for a girl a little too off-kilter to be in the Brat Pack. “People now tell me it’s a good thing I stayed away from teen films,” Dern mused in the profile. “Well, it wasn’t my choice. I wasn’t hired. You name a movie with a young girl in the last five years” — Flashdance, Pretty in Pink — “and I’m sure I was up for it.” Said her costar Williams, quite prophetically, “She’s not as salable a persona as some of these other young actresses. She’s not so easy to categorize. So I see a longer path for her, but ultimately a more rewarding one.”

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