Actress Laura Dern

The accomplished actress reflects on her career, and talks about her Academy Award nominated role in Wild.

As the child of actor parents, Laura Dern had an early taste of film sets and moviemaking. She grew up unafraid to tackle unglamorous roles and has appeared in such diverse films as Little FockersRambling Rose—a performance which marked the first time a mother and daughter received Oscar nods for the same movie—and The Master. She has won two Golden Globe statues for her turns in the telefilm Recount, and as an unconventional heroine in HBO's Enlightened, which she co-created and exec produces and is also her first television series. Laura recently received her second Academy Award nomination for her role as the mother of Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) in the film Wild.


Tavis: So pleased to welcome back to this program, Academy Award nominee Laura Dern. This is her second Oscar nomination, this time for her fine work in the film, “Wild”, which also garnered a Best Actress nomination for her costar, Reese Witherspoon. “Wild” is based, of course, on the real life story of Cheryl Strayed, a story of abuse and redemption.

Laura plays a working class mother whose death to cancer sends her daughter on a search for meaning in her life. Let’s take a look at a clip before we start our conversation of the film, “Wild”.


Tavis: I was watching you watching that clip and you were pretty–you were watching pretty intently. What were you seeing?

Laura Dern: I am so moved by actually that moment in Cheryl’s life. I’m such a huge fan of “Wild”, the book, and I’m really continually blown away by this amazing woman, Bobbi, Cheryl’s real life mother, who despite everything she walked through without ever being a martyr was in this place of incredibly grateful, well, earned gratitude and joy in her life. I’m trying to figure out how to get there. I’m just amazed by it.

Tavis: I love that phrase, earned gratitude. Unpack that for me as you see it.

Dern: In the case of her and in the case of what inspires me, it’s having walked through all of it, you know. In her case, domestic violence, a cancer diagnosis, being completely poor and raising two kids on your own, and still finding joy in each day. That’s just incredible work.

Tavis: This is not, thankfully, a journey that you have to walk. You get a chance to play this character onscreen. But what’s the takeaway for you because you are a mother in real life? When you do a project like this, what do you take home with you when the project’s over?

Dern: To start each day and finish each day looking at my daughter and son and realizing that I am the luckiest person in the world just to know them and, you know, get to hang out with the most hilarious, beautiful people possible.

And I get to be an actor, which I feel so privileged to be and have loving parents who also love their craft and that we’ve all found a vocation that we love, like you have. We’re very blessed.

Tavis: One of my favorite Hollywood stories of the last five years is the family Walk of Fame star. I love this [laugh]. It was like a family Walk of Fame star. Laura, her dad Bruce Dern, her mother Diane Ladd, all of you together for this celebration. How cool was that?

Dern: It was amazing. It was really cool. And my dad is very into stats with, you know, the energy of the Super Bowl. He loves all things statistics about sports. So even when I got nominated, he called me up and he’s like, “Kid, we got seven!” I’m like, “What?”

He goes, “We got seven. We’re a family of seven Oscar nominations!” “Like you’re counting nominations like you’re watching the NBA, Dad.” But he gets so excited and it is beautiful that, as a family, we get to share this that we love to do and very lucky to be.

Tavis: I am so tickled, as my staff is, that literally around this same time, almost to the day a year ago, your daddy was sitting in that very same chair for his nomination for his brilliant work in “Nebraska”. And here you are, again, a year later almost to the day, sitting in this very same chair and you’re nominated for a second time.

Dern: It’s so amazing and it’s so cool because, as you know, being in his company is so humbling…

Tavis: Oh, Lord, yes.

Dern: Because he just loves to be an actor and I’ll never forget I got to be with him at the Academy Awards last year. And he leaned in as the show was starting and you can feel an energy in the air of nervousness or it’s show time or hopefully not the competitive aspect of things. But I think people do get nervous about contests which art is never supposed to be part of that category.

And he leans in and he’s got a Coke which he’s hiding under his chair because you’re not supposed to bring drinks in. He’s like sipping his Coke. He goes, “Kid, they had a dinner party and they invited me to their party!” And he was just so happy just to be part of a community who, you know, love being actors and artists who make movies.

Tavis: I’m glad–let me preface my question by saying I’m glad that your parents didn’t succeed at doing this even if they tried. That is to say, I’m glad they didn’t talk you out of being a part of this business because you’ve done so remarkably well.

But was there ever a time when your parents were like this is really a tough business, sweetie, and maybe you don’t want to do what we have decided to do?

Dern: Yeah.

Tavis: They did have that talk with you?

Dern: For sure. My mother particularly, I think, as a woman who knew its challenges and knew its challenges with aging for actors, knew its challenges in limitation in terms of roles women were allowed to play. I think she had a lot of concerns, but at the same time, I think they both relish in a shared experience, you know, and it is something we love.

For me, the greatest good fortune I have being raised by actors is I came in knowing that a career is the ebb and flow. Any journey of a creative person has, you know, really unusual challenges and years where you don’t work and years where you work. I watched that growing up, so I think I did kind of know what I was getting in for and I’m, you know, really thrilled.

Tavis: What has this opportunity meant to your family? What have you all taken away from the opportunity to give, to share, this gift with us? Does that make sense?

Dern: Well, for me as an individual, it’s a continual opportunity for me to grow and learn about human behavior. You are fierce and committed to affect change by telling people what’s going on in the world.

And I was raised as an actor to believe that that was an opportunity I had, to tell stories that hopefully can make people more aware, more palpably aware of how much work there is to do to have mutual respect and protect each other’s rights for voice and freedom in this world.

So as a family, that’s something we care deeply about and so the gift keeps on being given to us that we get to be a small part of stories that hopefully make a difference in their own way. And for me as an actor, that I hopefully am learning about, you know, becoming a grownup, or it will kick in at some point, I hope [laugh].

Tavis: That’s funny. I believe–this is my own sense of it as a fan–that good acting, I mean, really good acting, is always collaborative. And I raise that for the obvious reason, which is it’s got to feel good not just to be nominated.

But here’s a movie, “Wild”, where the two people who carry this film are both nominated, you for a Supporting Actress, Reese for Best Actress. That’s got to make you feel like you guys really did some good work here, that both of you are nominated.

Dern: It’s incredible. It’s incredible, and Reese also produced the film and found the book and bought the rights to the book. So this is her baby. She cares deeply about it and was so protective of Cheryl Strayed’s story and her journey. So she deserves all that comes to her for how hard she worked on this project.

But it is this shared love story and something rarely that women get to share in a film together. And in this mother-daughter story, we get to have this incredible love. As she says, Cheryl Strayed, she says, “My mother was the love of my life” and that’s so moving and not a story we hear enough about, so that’s really exciting.

And I have to say the other time I was nominated for an Oscar, I shared also nominations with my mom and we’d worked together. So my experience has been lucky in that when I’ve received accolades or been nominated for things, it’s often with a tribe of actors and our filmmaker, and that’s really cool.

Tavis: This mother-daughter thing is working for you onscreen and in real life [laugh]. Whatever you do, stay in that lane.

Dern: Jaya, get to work [laugh]!

Tavis: Yeah. Keep doing that mother-daughter thing. Although it’s funny this time. Now you’re playing the mother.

Dern: I know. It’s so funny.

Tavis: Although you guys are about the same age, but it’s a great film.

Dern: Thank you.

Tavis: And I’m so happy that you have been nominated once again.

Dern: Thank you.

Tavis: Have a good time on the big night, and give a big hug and kiss to your mama and your daddy for me.

Dern: I will, and thank you…

Tavis: I love them both.

Dern: Always for having us, having our whole family here. You gotta have the three of us on sometime.

Tavis: My set ain’t big enough for all three of you [laugh]. And you all were nominated for doing great work. But, you know, if you guys wanna come one day, we’ll figure it out.

Dern: Okay.

Tavis: We’ll figure it out. We’re bring the couch out and do something.

Dern: Okay, cool.

Tavis: We’ll figure it out.

Dern: That sounds fun.

Tavis: Good to see you, though.

Dern: So good to see you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: February 13, 2015 at 1:49 pm