With a full slate of big-name projects, Laura Dern is kicking her steady four-decade-long career into high gear.
Laura Dern is busy. The quintessential second-generation Hollywood actor—the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd—has been on a tear over the past two years: picking up an Emmy and a Golden Globe for HBO’s Big Little Lies, leading the Resistance as Vice Admiral Holdo in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, reteaming with David Lynch for the return of Twin Peaks, racking up quirky features (The Founder, Wilson), making a cameo as a miniature sales rep in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, and setting her sights firmly on changing the imbalanced power structures of the town and industry she loves. This almost frenzied creative pace has led some pop culture writers to declare a “Dernaissance.” While pithy, the term isn’t quite right: In the 45 years since her first uncredited on-screen appearance, at age 6 in her mother’s film White Lightning, Dern has amassed one of the most consistently interesting bodies of work in Hollywood.
And she’s showing no signs of slowing down. In the pipeline are a second season of Big Little Lies (made even “bigger” by the addition of Meryl Streep), a new Noah Baumbach film, and JT LeRoy, in which she’ll star as struggling writer Laura Albert, who infamously created a male literary persona that hoodwinked the publishing industry. Plus, this month, HBO debuts her latest film, The Tale, which opened to rapturous praise at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s an eerily prescient film for the #MeToo moment. Dern stars as a loosely fictionalized version of documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox, who must come to terms with the fact that she was abused at age 13 by her beloved track coach and horse-riding instructor—a relationship she had convinced herself for decades was consensual and romantic. It’s a twisty drama that plays with truth and lies and the stories we tell ourselves to get by.
Despite this nonstop schedule—today alone she will record audio for an upcoming film, attend a meeting with the Academy, and join in a Q&A about the Time’s Up movement—Dern exudes a breezy California vibe over lunch at a Beverly Hills restaurant. Imposingly tall, she’s dressed in salmon pants and a beaded black blazer and sports blackout sunglasses that she takes on and off throughout the meal. She hugs hello and is quick to show off her spot-on David Lynch impersonation. She’s proud of her iPhone wallpaper (a pug dressed as Twin Peaks’s Diane for Halloween) and is the kind of person who calls her asparagus and beet salad “miraculous” and means it. But she can also be deadly serious: about #MeToo, Time’s Up, and gun control, an issue in support of which she marched through the streets of LA three days earlier. It’s not hard to see why Star Wars chose her to lead the Resistance.
From the outside, the past year seems to have been monumental for you. Did it feel as major from the inside?
Without doubt. One of the things that I think is so delicious is that it feels cumulative. To me, it’s about coming into my own. When I was younger, if there was a moment where I was particularly busy, the term was, “She’s hot.”
Did you feel like that phrasing diminished it somehow?
It’s unfortunate that it does imply the temporary nature of the actor’s career. But it also does not seem strategic or planned. And in a way, this is strategic and planned. I want to be ferocious in my choices more than ever, and I want to do everything. And I’m saying yes.