It’s a fine day for Laura Dern, who is celebrating not just her own Emmy nomination, but also nods for Ted Danson—the godfather to her children—and David Lynch, with whom she most recently reunited for Twin Peaks.
Of her own nod, Dern says, “I’m grateful that The Tale has been acknowledged because it gives more of a platform for the film to be seen. It means so much to have had the support of journalists and critics, and the accolades to help people keep finding it. This movie has impacted people in a really important way, and it was why we wanted to make it.”
Jennifer Fox’s The Tale premiered at Sundance, as the unfolding stories from the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements continued to dominate headlines, before premiering on HBO in May. Dern plays a version of Fox in the film, which tells the story of the director’s revelatory reframing of her childhood relationship with an older man, when she came to the realization that, as a 13-year-old girl, she had been the victim of abuse. “It’s been profound to witness the film coming out at a time in which voicing the truth about abuse of power in all forms is not only supported but even, in cases of restorative justice, rewarded,” Dern says. “We, together, are building a culture through art and community. Perhaps ultimately, hopefully, that we can transform the story even politically, where voice matters and outrage matters. We are ending this story of shame being used by perpetrators as their tool or tactic to get what they want.
“I was raised by actors, so I don’t take it lightly how lovely it feels to have people say they enjoy what you do. That’s gorgeous. But when what you’re doing is speaking to something we’re all trying to shift, that’s just the greatest gift in the world. When I think of The Tale, and I consider how I felt when I saw The Shape of Water and what it said to me, or I watch Hannah Gadsby, I feel like everywhere we turn we’re all walking into this zeitgeist that is about giving voice to everyone, and we’re not letting abuse of power win. These stories need to be told in a myriad of ways, by all of us. We all need to share our stories. My god, there’s no healing if we don’t.”
Dern’s career has never been more varied or prolific. She was part of Lynch’s Twin Peaks ensemble earlier this year, and won the Emmy last year for her supporting turn in Big Little Lies, which returns in 2019. On the big screen, she starred in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, and has several more projects in the can. “It’s such a gorgeous compliment to have anyone say, ‘Hey, keep doing what you’re doing,'” she notes of her recent run of hits. “I’ve never had more fun as an actor. I love coming into grown-up-hood and feeling myself as a woman in a much truer way. Owning the myriad of gifts and challenges of being a woman, and taking responsibility for the woman one is. And from that place, I’ve never felt such an explosion of how many extraordinarily different dynamics and characters live inside that one sense of self. I never had that feeling before. Nor was I given the independence at the same level. The fact that filmmakers are allowing me to try on all these different aspects of a woman and tell so many different stories, it’s just the time of my life. To be one day in London in space on Star Wars, and get on a plane, land, and go straight into the Red Room is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. And by the way, the next day, to be in the most beautiful house in Monterey with a glass of wine in my hand [on Big Little Lies].
She credits her parents with instilling in her a drive to be diverse in her choices, and Lynch with giving her the encouragement of casting her in Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart in short order. “He’s a massive part of that awakening in me, because he’s the person who gave me a very iconic good girl next door character, and then only a couple of years later was asking me to play the sex siren. That was a real treat, for the same director to say, ‘I see you as this, but now I see you as something that’s the polar opposite.’ I think it gave me a longing and a confidence to really explore and expand as an artist.
“I was so thrilled that the Television Academy gave the culturally important and profound gift of honoring our most revolutionary, boundary-less filmmaker David Lynch with his director nomination. Nobody is making anything like that, and every director I work with tells me that their inspiration is purely David’s filmmaking. These are our heroes.”
Steven Spielberg, too, told Dern to embrace her fondness for being a chameleon, after they worked together on Jurassic Park. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in theaters, Jeff Goldblum hinted that Dern’s Jurassic Park character, Dr. Ellie Satler, might return for the third World film. “I think you have to ask [the filmmakers],” Dern says about the prospect of a return, before hinting, “It’s a good time for powerful, feminist characters to be honored. I loved Ellie. I feel the proudest that a feminist, sassy, take-no-prisoners energy, who was integral to the storyline in saving the day, was honored. I’ve had so many kids—boys and girls—for a couple decades now, come up to me saying, ‘I became a paleontologist because of you.’ And I love that it’s boys and girls. You realize, that’s when you feel really lucky to be part of something iconic, that it can shape a path for a person. That’s really moving. I love her, and I love dinosaurs, and there is something extraordinary about getting to live out something that we all carry from childhood.”