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From the surreal world of David Lynch to the blockbuster prehistoric adventures of Steven Spielberg, Oscar-nominated actress Laura Dern created one of the most interesting and unusual careers of any actress in Hollywood. Her track record as a risk-taker and her dedication to well-written female characters on a journey of self-discovery in films like "Blue Velvet" (1986) and "Rambling Rose" (1991) often meant that her finest work was seen more often in art house cinemas. A growing public interest in upscale cable television movies such as "Afterburn" (HBO, 1992), "Down Came a Blackbird" (Showtime, 1995) and "Recount" (HBO, 2008) provided a second outlet for Dern's facile work with character dramas and dark comedy, leading to multiple Emmy nominations. Of course, Dern starred in major blockbusters like "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Jurassic Park III" (2001), but she made her career in smaller films like "I Am Sam" (2001), "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004) and "Year of the Dog" (2007). The statuesque blonde with the respectable Hollywood pedigree could easily have sold out her sophisticated taste for a fulltime job brandishing weaponry in action thrillers, but she remained true to the offbeat,...
From the surreal world of David Lynch to the blockbuster prehistoric adventures of Steven Spielberg, Oscar-nominated actress Laura Dern created one of the most interesting and unusual careers of any actress in Hollywood. Her track record as a risk-taker and her dedication to well-written female characters on a journey of self-discovery in films like "Blue Velvet" (1986) and "Rambling Rose" (1991) often meant that her finest work was seen more often in art house cinemas. A growing public interest in upscale cable television movies such as "Afterburn" (HBO, 1992), "Down Came a Blackbird" (Showtime, 1995) and "Recount" (HBO, 2008) provided a second outlet for Dern's facile work with character dramas and dark comedy, leading to multiple Emmy nominations. Of course, Dern starred in major blockbusters like "Jurassic Park" (1993) and "Jurassic Park III" (2001), but she made her career in smaller films like "I Am Sam" (2001), "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004) and "Year of the Dog" (2007). The statuesque blonde with the respectable Hollywood pedigree could easily have sold out her sophisticated taste for a fulltime job brandishing weaponry in action thrillers, but she remained true to the offbeat, counterculture leanings of her famous parents, actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. Adding to her list of indelible characters, Dern was the star of her own series, "Enlightened" (HBO. 2011- ), which earned her more acclaim and helped cement her status as one of Hollywood's most unique talents.
In true Hollywood fashion, Laura Dern was conceived during the filming of Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" (1966), a film in which parents Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd both acted, and was born on Feb. 10, 1967. Her parents split up while she was still a baby, though she grew up spending time with both of them. Her unconventional childhood including watching her father's severed head bounce down the stairs when "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1965) aired on TV, and eating nine ice cream cones while shooting a scene as an extra in Martin Scorsese's "Alice D sn't Live Here Anymore" (1974), starring mom, Ladd. Dern also had the distinct opportunity of watching Alfred Hitchcock put her father through his paces on the set of "Family Plot" (1976). She began studying at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles at the age of nine and was ecstatic to land a bit part as an irksome party crasher in Adrian Lyne's "Foxes" (1980). By that time, Dern had already blossomed into a 5'10" young woman who barely knew what to do with the long limbs and expressive facial features that powerfully magnified every emotional twinge.
Dern first registered with viewers in her role as a troubled pregnant teen in "Teachers" (1984), and was so convincing as the blind summer camper who falls for the disfigured protagonist of "Mask" (1985) that many audience members believed she really was sight-impaired. But before Hollywood could lock her in as a "symbol of purity" for that lovely and fragile performance, filmmakers Joyce Chopra and David Lynch came along and rescued her from typecasting, exploring her aura of latent dangerous sexuality in films that exposed the darker side of American small-town life. Chopra's "Smooth Talk" (1995), adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates short story, cast her opposite a sinisterly seductive Treat Williams, playing the brooding, alluring, teenage tease who is just beginning to discover the power of lust. Lynch's "Blue Velvet" (1986) poised her provocatively between innocence and the outlandishly weird; her smart, sweet Nancy Drew, the good twin to Isabella Rossellini's lewdly masochistic chanteuse. Despite the character's blue-eyed wholesomeness, she is the catalyst that propels the film into its most disturbing disclosures.
Following the disappointments of "Haunted Summer" (1988) and "Fat Man and Little Boy" (1989), in which she played a nurse who watches lover John Cusack die of radiation poisoning, she scored a resounding success as the gum-cracking, chain-smoking, hell-raising Lula Pace Fortune, Nicolas Cage's uninhibited traveling companion in Lynch's "Wild at Heart" (1990), a character diametrically opposed to her Sandy in "Blue Velvet." On the run from her crazed mother - played with manic glee by real-life mom Ladd - Lula summed up the spirit of the enterprise (and perhaps the Lynchian oeuvre in general): "The whole world's wild at heart and weird on top." The next year, again acting with Ladd, she won widespread critical acclaim as Rose, a sweetly wanton orphan-turned-housekeeper whose presence disrupts a 1930s Southern family in Martha Coolidge's "Rambling Rose" (1991). Dern received a Best Actress Oscar nomination while Ladd snagged a Best Supporting Actress nod, making them the first mother-daughter team cited in the same year for the same film. Dern delighted critics again the following year, earning an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award for her performance as a military widow in the HBO docudrama "Afterburn" (1992).
Entering the world of big-time blockbusters, Dern acted as potential dinosaur chow for Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" (1993), in a role that was less demanding but far more high-profile than her preceding parts. She also mixed it up that year with co-stars Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner as a criminologist in Eastwood's under-appreciated dark chase film "A Perfect World," its disappointing box office signaling audiences' unwillingness to accept Costner outside the heroic mode. After making her directing debut with the romantic short "The Gift" (Showtime, 1994), for which she also starred and provided the story, she executive-produced and acted alongside Raul Julia and Vanessa Redgrave in the dark political drama "Down Came a Blackbird" (Showtime, 1995). She returned to feature leads with a well-received performance as a pregnant glue-sniffer caught in a tug-of-war between pro-choice and pro-life forces in the satiric "Citizen Ruth" (1996), a film which also featured her mother in a raunchy unbilled cameo. In 1997, Dern was featured in Widespread Panic's music video for their song, "Aunt Avis," which was directed by Dern's then boyfriend and future fiancé, Billy Bob Thornton.
Now balancing her career nicely between big screen character dramas and high-end TV movies, Dern went on to play ill-fated militia fugitive Vicki Weaver in "Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy" (CBS, 1996) and provided narration for that year's "Bastard Out of Carolina" (Showtime), a gritty drama about child abuse in the 1950s that marked Anjelica Huston's directorial debut. She secured her place in history (and a third Emmy nomination) as the lesbian lover in the "coming out" episode of "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98), and turned around to give a critically-acclaimed performance as a low-rent mother of four who contracts to sell her next baby to a yuppie couple in "The Baby Dance" (Showtime, 1998). While dating Thornton in 1999, she was cast as his love interest in his film "Daddy and Them," about a dysfunctional Arkansas family which included (again) Diane Ladd, Andy Griffith and Jim Varney in his final film performance. Joe Johnston's "October Sky" (1999) presented Dern as a morally upright teacher who inspires West Virginia schoolboys to look beyond their coal-mining community.
After a small role in Robert Altman's ensemble "Dr. T and the Women" (2000) and a strategic cameo in the 2001 sequel "Jurassic Park III" (2001), Dern provided support as the caring girlfriend of a dentist (Steve Martin) whose life is thrown off track by a seductive patient (Helena Bonham Carter) in "Novacaine" (2001). Unfortunately, Dern - who had made a practice of flying under the tabloid radar - suffered a shocking blow in the public eye when her then fiancé of a year, Billy Bob Thornton, left her abruptly for his much younger "Pushing Tin" (1999) co-star, Angelina Jolie, going so far as to marry her within weeks. Dern found out the hard way, famously commenting that one day her fiancé went off to make a movie; the next day he had married someone else without telling her. Despite the press' obsession with the new vials-of-blood-sporting couple, Dern rose above the fray, continuing to churn out impressive performances while guarding her privacy at the same time.
In a pair of excellent performances, Dern teamed with actor William H. Macy as a WWII-era Brooklyn couple who are mistaken for Jews by anti-Semitic neighbors in "Focus" (2001), based on Arthur Miller novel, and a brief appearance in the drama "I Am Sam" (2001), starring Sean Penn as a mentally disabled man seeking custody of his daughter. Less successful, critically and creatively, was her subsequent telepic "Within These Walls" (2001), though she snared another plumb role in the well-praised cautionary HMO tale "Damaged Care" (HBO, 2002) as a doctor who blows the whistle on unsavory insurance practices. Dern took a few years off from the big screen to couple with singer Ben Harper and raise their first child but returned with a strong performance in the otherwise unremarkable indie drama "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004) as part of a pair of married academic couples who self-destructively drift into infidelity with the other's spouses. She followed with a supporting role as a married lesbian suspected of using sperm from her best male friend to conceive a baby in the seriocomic ensemble feature "Happy Endings" (2005).
Donning a June Cleaver wardrobe, Dern sparkled in "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" (2005), where she had a supporting role as a woman who encourages a mother of 12 (Julianne Moore) struggling to keep her impoverished family afloat to join a group of successful jingle-writing housewives. Re-entering the skewed world of David Lynch, Dern went on to earn universal rave reviews for anchoring the disjointed and surreal "Inland Empire" (2006), where she played an actress thrown into a rabbit-infested identity crisis odyssey. Some critics hailed the hallucinatory effort as the director's finest work while others felt Lynch slipping into self-parody, though both camps agreed that Dern's performance was outstanding. The directorial debut from screenwriter Mike White, "Year of the Dog" (2007), received limited release and Dern's supporting role as the know-it-all sister-in-law of a pet lover at a crossroads (Molly Shannon) was little-seen. But the following year Dern made her mark on the small screen with an Emmy-nominated portrayal of Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris in HBO's acclaimed political drama "Recount" (2008). The fact-based picture chronicled the events surrounding the 2000 presidential election and earned a number of Emmy nominations for its skillful dramatization of the complicated story. For her efforts, Dern also earned a 2008 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in the television movie and miniseries category. After joining Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro for "Little Fockers" (2010), Dern returned to cable television for an acclaimed performance in "Enlightened" (HBO, 2011), playing a corporate executive who winds up in a mental health treatment center following a breakdown. The role earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.
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"Quite often I play a character with a sense of purity who is traveling through a darker world."---Laura Dern quoted in Buzz, September 1991.
"Eventually, through my love of the work and as a result of growing up a little bit more, I learned what my parents had known for a long time, which is that what actors do is quite extraordinary. As an actor, you can take experiences in your life and qualities in your nature and use them to explore and learn about both yourself and other people. The only other career I can think of that I might possibly find equally exciting is that of a child therapist or psychologist. It's really the same kind of job, in a way, figuring out why we do what we do."---Laura Dern quoted in Buzz, September 1991.
"More than just tall, she's startlingly elongated. Everything about her, her legs, waist, neck is so sinewy, so luxuriously stretched out, that at times she has the absurd, towering aura of Alice in Wonderland just after drinking that potion. What's special about Dern is the way her face and her spirit matches that outsize body. There's a rangy, expressive simplicity to her features. Her eyes are so bright and direct they're almost stylized, and her mouth is a geometric wonder: When she grins, it tilts her whole face heavenward, and when she cries, it contorts into a tragedy mask's gaping, upside down smile, an expression of unadulterated sorrow. No young actress today can play emotionally hungry postadolescents with such purity and yearning."---Owen Gleiberman on Laura Dern in Entertainment Weekly, October 11, 1991.
John Powers, the film critic for Vogue, described Dern as "Our greatest actress of weird, funky, run-amok femininity."
"With each character I play, if I can understand something of their sexuality, then I know what drives their fears."---Laura Dern as quoted in Interview, December 1996.
"The problem is, once you've succeeded in proving you can do something really different, they reward you by offering you the same role again. I just want to keep going somewhere I haven't gone before. But it's not like, now that I've played the homeless huffer in 'Citizen Ruth' that I need to play the elitist heiress in Paris, although that doesn't sound bad. Mainly, I like to play women who conquer their own demons, who learn to become themselves against all odds. That's my recurring theme: people who find their own voice."---Laura Dern to Daily News, February 14, 1999.
"I feel children of actors are either destined to be in show business or to be so far out of it that they never even want to see a movie."---Dern to the Calgary Sun, October 27, 2000.
"It's particularly tough when you're silent and the other party is not," Dern says.
"In the past the people around me were always respectful and loving to eachother in the media. But other people utilise the media with total disregard for the feelings and reputations of others."
"I'm trying to hold on to my self respect and dignity in the wake of what happened. The fact is I seem to feel everything very deeply."---Dern on the public break-up with Billy Bob Thornton to www.tiscali.co.uk 2001
"When I was 7, I spent my summer vacation with my parents, who were each working on movies. I was watching Hitchcock and Scorsese direct actors, and all those sets were about: use what exists, try stuff, improvise, do whatever, don't worry about the script. It was all that energy."---Dern on why she became an actor to Movieline's Hollywood Life, July/August 2004.
"... We're questioning whether we should alter ourselves. I'm supposed to be an actor and be honest and authentic. I'm not supposed to look a certain way."---Dern on Hollywoods obsession with youth to Interview, August 2004.
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