big little lies laura dern

On Acting

When asked the age-old question of how she picks a part, Dern mentioned one key aspect linking projects both large and small:

“I respond to people writing what they know, in terms of my favorite writers. I think that’s always profoundly important. I love the duality, whether it’s in Star Wars or Citizen Ruth, inside both the characters and the plot itself. David Lynch, all the directors that I’ve worked with are interested in the grey, not black and white […] I feel like that’s a great place to lead with our authentic selves.”

Dern said she continues to hone her craft, and an experience on the set of Kelly Reichardt’s art-house darling Certain Women has ripple through her acting:

“The film opens with my lover and I in bed together. As he started to put his clothes on, I reached out to put my foot to rub his back. She [Reichardt] said, ‘You don’t need to do that. You don’t need to do anything.’ I was like, ‘I’m just putting my foot out to feel his back.’ She said, ‘Yeah, you don’t have to do that.’ Everything is so pure. Every moment has stillness in it, and she’s not looking for the narrative to be explained on any level. I’ve played a number of people who feel things in an enormous way, and that was a little uncomfortable for me. Particularly my character of the three women in the story, everything is incredibly restrained. I’m really grateful to her because it taught me a lot that I since have probably not succeeded in taking with me in the last year and a half since I worked with her. You know, while looking at R2D2, being restrained and not like ‘Holy shit, you’re R2D2!’ Which is probably better for the movie.”

Despite a career spanning over four decades, Dern still feels like her skills do not translate well to the audition and rehearsal process:

“If people were basing talent on auditions or rehearsals, I would not work. I don’t know how to figure it out that. I guess I’ve failed upward at finding directors who don’t require me to show what I’m going to do. I like being in the discovery process until we’re in it, and again, that’s the elusive nature of film and the way the directors worked that my parents worked with when I was a kid. It feels safer and more interesting.”

The last Jedi Laura Dern

How to Fix the Film Industry for Women

From a young age, Dern knew the challenges of being a woman in the film industry. Her mom, Cheryl Ladd, even used it as a reason to discourage her from pursing acting. “‘For every 30 parts a man gets, there’s only one part for a woman! And look around, there ain’t one woman on the crew!’ And she was right, but we’re changing that.”

Rather than merely offering lip service to making the necessary changes in the industry, Dern provided a detailed summary of her efforts to make film sets more equitable:

“Our greatest opportunity beyond harassment and assault, as shockingly prevalent as it has always been and is being focused upon thanks to many brave voices who have learned they are not alone. Beyond that, we’re all looking at abuse of power. There’s been an erosion from zero tolerance to, again, acceptance. We’ve heard this terminology of ’50/50 by 2020′ [an initiative to reach gender parity in professional leadership]. I know that I have to be as accountable as any. When I was 11 on a movie set, men were doing my makeup and hair, men were my crew and maybe one other girl was there saying three lines in the movie. That was the norm. And I don’t accept that anymore. I’m a governor of the Academy, and I’m working very closely with the Screen Actors Guild as well as all the unions now to create a database that we’ll all have access to. Both in the area of women at work, diversity, people of color – if you’re doing a movie in Atlanta, you can go, ‘What second seconds are available in Atlanta who are female or a person of color?’ There have been too many movies where I accepted the answer, ‘We’d love a female director, but there are only three working and they’re all unavailable. There are no women DPs, Laura.’ That is no longer true, and we can all educate ourselves, so when we ask for a DGA trainee, we ask specifically to support diversity on set and see the shift that we’re all looking for.”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now open in theaters.

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