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The Untold Truth Of Laura Dern

Laura Dern has been an actress for almost a whopping five decades. Daughter of fellow stars Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, Laura was thrust into the spotlight with a few uncredited roles as early as age 6 (via Biography) before finally breaking out in 1980 with the Adrian Lyne flick "Foxes." Since then, she's impressively showcased her versatility, playing the feisty Ellie Sattler in "Jurassic Park," the innocent Sandy Williams in "Blue Velvet," and the no-nonsense lawyer Nora Fanshaw in "Marriage Story," among countless other roles. 

While Dern is no newcomer to the A-list, it took decades for her to win a coveted Oscar, finally snagging one in 2020 for her work in Noah Baumbach's "Marriage Story." This win, along with a BAFTA and a Primetime Emmy a few years prior, ushered in a new appreciation and fanbase for the A-lister. According to Insider, this buzz cumulated in the trending hashtag #Dernaissance on Twitter, and it's one the "Wild" star has a lot of love for. Speaking to the outlet, Dern explained that her career was reaching new heights because of the cultural shift in filmmaking. "Women are CEOs and heads of finance and divorce lawyers, and they weren't 15 years ago," she explained.

2022, in particular, marked a monumental (and nostalgic) year for the actress, as she finally saw herself reprising her iconic role of Ellie Sattler for "Jurassic World Dominion." As such, it seems fitting to take a look at the colorful and fascinating life of Laura Dern.

Her parents discouraged their daughter from entering the industry

Laura Dern is the daughter of "The Cowboys" star Bruce Dern and "Wild at Heart" actress Diane Ladd. Of course, this meant Laura was already immersed in the cinematic world at a young age, showing up on set to watch her parents deep in their craft. According to People, when she was 7 years old, she visited her mother on the set of Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," causing the director to stick her in a background role that required her to eat ice cream. Remarkably, the budding star had to eat 19 ice cream cones, as Scorsese demanded the scene be re-shot 19 times. As Dern recalled to the magazine in 1985, "Marty said to my mom, 'If she doesn't throw up after that, this girl is ready to be an actress.'"

Although Dern clearly had the support of Scorsese, the same can't be said for her parents — at least initially. As the actress told Variety decades later, her mother actually tried to steer her in a different direction due to worries that the industry would be too toxic for her young daughter. "She was terrified for me and protective," Dern shared.

Nevertheless, the "Jurassic Park" starlet was persistent, and by 17, she sued her parents for emancipation (via The Guardian). While this may lead some to believe the actress was on bad terms with her mother and father, that couldn't be farther from the truth. As Dern explained to The Hollywood Reporter, Ladd surprisingly went with her to get the paperwork done.

Two influential filmmakers inspired Laura Dern to act

Of course, you'd think that being born into a star-studded family such as Laura Dern's would mean the bright-eyed youngster found her love of acting through her parents — but they weren't her primary source of inspiration at all. So, who exactly influenced the future star to pursue a career on camera?

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, Dern recalled that the very first moment she knew she wanted to become an actress. One summer, when she was still only 7 years old, Dern spent her days visiting both her father on the set of the Alfred Hitchcock film "Family Plot" and her mother on "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Martin Scorsese's 1974 drama. "Maybe if it had been any other directors ... it may not have been the same for me, but it hit me like a lightning bolt," Dern remembered, noting that watching her parents' interactions with the legendary filmmakers was an intimate and collaborative experience that she's since carried into her own professional relationships on set.

A couple of years later, Dern approached her mother, Diane Ladd, and declared she wanted to pursue an acting career. Initially hesitant, Ladd told her she had to give up any extracurricular activities and completely throw herself into her passion. By the time she was a teen and already had a few acting roles under her belt, her old mentor Scorsese approached her again, urging her to continue. "Laura, what's really cool is you're building a body of work ... don't stop doing that," he insisted (via "Off Camera with Sam Jones").

Isabella Rossellini was stunned to discover Laura Dern isn't actually blind

There's no doubt that Laura Dern completely immerses herself in the roles she plays, and her convincing acting skills can be attributed to the extensive research she does before stepping foot on set. According to People, the "Little Women" star first began honing her craft at age 9, when she spent her summer taking acting lessons at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York. As Dern grew up, she landed her first few movie parts, but her breakthrough role as the blind Diana in Peter Bogdanovich's "Mask" showcased just how much groundwork she did prior to filming.

As noted by The New York Times, Dern prepped for the role by spending two months speaking to blind teenagers at the Braille Institute and two weeks wearing a blackout mask to genuinely grasp what it was like being a blind individual. She also took horseback lessons blindfolded, an experience that she notes had a few dicey moments. The result? An utterly convincing performance that even fooled some fellow A-listers.

The following year, when Dern was cast alongside Isabella Rossellini in David Lynch's surreal masterpiece "Blue Velvet," the Italian icon was convinced her co-star couldn't see. "When David told me he'd found Laura Dern, I thought, 'Wow, I didn't imagine the character to be blind,'" Rossellini recalled during a panel for 2018's Festival of Disruption (via Rolling Stone). When she finally met Dern, the two were outside, and she immediately gravitated towards helping the young starlet walk up some steps — undoubtedly much to Dern's amusement.

She's a huge fan of Transcendental Meditation

Laura Dern was born in 1967 in Los Angeles, California — the perfect place to be surrounded by the hippie movement that was booming at the time. As the actress recounted to The Washington Post in 1997, her mother was certainly a part of the counterculture lifestyle. Her spiritual way of thinking rubbed off on her daughter, who even at one point wore a copper cone on her head, yearning to make contact with E.T.

As Dern grew up, she graduated from copper cones to more refined forms of spirituality. By 18, she sought to learn more about Transcendental Meditation (T.M.), a practice that involves silently repeating a mantra to promote relaxation and overall mental peace, per WebMD. "I was not as dedicated back then, but I am now," Dern declared to radio station "Newstalk" (via TMHome), further explaining that it actually aids her as an actress. "It helps to figure out how to be in the moment," she explained.

Interestingly enough, her love of Transcendental Meditation helped her find common ground with now-frequent collaborator David Lynch. Speaking to Vanity Fair, Dern revealed that when she met the director for the first time during her "Blue Velvet" audition, the pair bonded while discussing their shared love of meditation. Lynch himself is a well-known T.M. enthusiast. As the actress gushed to Newstalk, "He has transcended an unfortunate misconception of commitment to T.M. as a purely spiritual practice."

Laura Dern finds acting inspiration at airports

Although Laura Dern credits spending a childhood summer on the film sets of Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese as the main influence on her acting career, that's not to say she isn't mesmerized by her own parents' talents — particularly her mother, Diane Ladd. The two have appeared on camera together numerous times, including acting out the twisted mother-daughter relationship in David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" and, more recently, in the 2011 HBO drama "Enlightened."

During an interview with The New York Times, Dern noted why her mother's latter performance truly stuck with her. Describing filming a scene where her character, Amy Jellicoe, broke down over her divorce, Dern recalled that both actresses suddenly felt extreme real-life emotions. "We were both holding the reality of that," the star explained. Describing Ladd's acting in that moment, Dern called it "powerful," adding, "I'd only seen that in airports."

Dern then explained that she actually finds acting inspiration whenever she's at an airport. Noting the interesting dichotomy between a person saying goodbye as opposed to their facial expressions, Dern finds her people-watching hobby (or as she calls them, "publicly private" moments) fascinating. "You know, [method acting] would say, 'You can't make that.' You are having a publicly private moment, somehow, for you, whatever your process is" (via The New York Times).

David Lynch showed Laura Dern that she could be funny

Laura Dern has had the rare privilege of working with David Lynch on four different projects. As W Magazine writes, the actress is essentially considered a muse of his, with the filmmaker giving her the endearing nickname "Tidbit." As Dern revealed to Vanity Fair, she first met Lynch while auditioning for the role of Sandy Williams in "Blue Velvet." The meeting wasn't even really an audition. In fact, the duo merely sat in a room and chatted about their shared interests, which ultimately led to her snagging the part.

Since then, says Dern, she considers the "Twin Peaks" director to be family. "Even though David and I have had periods of time where we've spent a lot of time together and then not, he's grown into really, like, my best male friend of my life," the actress enthused to The Hollywood Reporter. But it's not just getting sucked into Lynch's surrealist world that Dern finds so dear about the auteur. As she told Vanity Fair, although his films have a dark quality to them, they also have lighthearted moments, and for that reason, she considers him a sort of mentor who taught her how to be funny.

There's no doubt Dern picked up on the lighthearted side of Lynch when she met him. In a W Magazine interview, the star explained how after her "Blue Velvet" audition, he took her and her new co-star, Kyle MacLachlan, out for malt shakes and fries to see if they could all get along.

She has incredibly fond memories of watching Jurassic Park for the first time

Laura Dern's role as Ellie Sattler in 1993's "Jurassic Park" came as a bit of a surprise, mostly because up until then, she mainly starred in indie flicks and certainly not any blockbusters. Fresh off of David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" alongside Nicolas Cage, Dern remembers initially hesitating to audition for the sci-fi action flick — mainly because it involved dinosaurs.

According to an oral history by Entertainment Weekly, Dern actually called up Cage to ask for advice. "He was like, 'You are doing a dinosaur movie! No one can ever say no to a dinosaur movie,'" he declared, noting his own lifelong desire to be granted the opportunity. And while we can only dream of Cage taking on two animatronic velociraptors, we have him to thank for giving Dern the push.

Of course, working with Steven Spielberg was a pretty big privilege too, and according to Dern, the filmmaker is one of her heroes, having adored him since watching "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (via The Hollywood Reporter). As she told Vanity Fair, working on "Jurassic Park" was a fantastic experience, and watching it for the first time in an empty screening room alongside Spielberg, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum was "one of [her] favorite memories."

Her engagement to Billy Bob Thornton ended in absolute heartbreak

Laura Dern hasn't found her forever love just yet, having tied the knot once to musician Ben Harper, whom she divorced in 2013 after eight years of marriage. But right before she hooked up with Harper, Dern suffered a devastating blow. According to "Angelina Jolie – The Biography," the "Wild" star met fellow actor Billy Bob Thornton in 1997 during an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' sitcom, "Ellen." Shortly after, the two started dating and even decided to take their relationship to the next level by getting engaged and moving in together. Trouble was already brewing, however, as Thornton had met Angelina Jolie on the set of "Pushing Tin" in 1998, according to the Jolie biography.

Dern and Thornton never made it down the aisle. In a cruel twist, Dern went away to shoot a film in 1999, and Thornton was nowhere to be found when she came home. "While I was away, my boyfriend got married, and I've never heard from him again," the actress recounted to Talk magazine (via ABC News), adding, "It's like a sudden death." Close friend Melissa Etheridge opened up to Andy Cohen years later on his show, "SiriusXM Radio Andy," where she explained that she had to go into Dern's shared home with her ex to take all her belongings. "It was so nasty," she reflected.

Thornton's marriage to Jolie lasted a mere three years — after she left him for Brad Pitt. As for Dern, the sting of the situation must have been bizarre, as she actually babysat a 2-year-old Jolie when she herself was still a kid.

Twin Peaks: The Return blew Laura Dern away

Fans around the world were in a state of ecstasy in 2015 when David Lynch announced he'd be making a third season of his beloved series "Twin Peaks" after a whopping two decades that left fans wondering what really happened to Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachlan). Lynch's longtime collaborator Laura Dern was thrown into the mix this time around — finally giving a face to FBI employee Diane, whom we only heard about through Cooper's voice recordings in the first two seasons.

"When David calls, you say yes," shared Dern to Vanity Fair of being asked to come on for the iconic project. She further elaborated to Vulture, explaining that the filmmaker simply invited her over for coffee and declared, "You're gonna do something, I can't tell you what it is." Giving her details on her character's outfits and hair, Lynch still left Dern in the dark, and it was only after he explained her scenes further did she piece together who exactly she was playing.

Per Vanity Fair, Dern had to sign an NDA for the role — a difficult thing to do considering how thrilled she was to take part in the series. "I actually [knew] only a little bit more than almost everybody else," she recalled of her experience to W. Having worked with Lynch on three different projects before "Twin Peaks," this one was truly memorable. As Dern shared, "He blew my mind in ways that were even more unexpected."

The real-life inspiration for her Marriage Story character

Noah Baumbach's Oscar-winning dramedy "Marriage Story" follows Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) as they go through a heart-wrenching divorce while juggling their parenting duties. Audiences see moments of love and friendship the duo is trying to hold on to, but we also witness moments of unbearable pain and bitterness. And while both Johansson and Driver do a phenomenal job with their characters, it's Laura Dern's role as Nicole's no-nonsense attorney, Nora Fanshaw, that truly blew audiences away (and won her an Academy Award).

As it turns out, Dern's character is reportedly inspired by one of Hollywood's biggest divorce lawyers, Laura Wasser. As the actress told The Hollywood Reporter, she actually met up with Wasser prior to filming (along with a few other lawyers) to prepare for her role. "She's one of the great powerhouses," Dern shared. "Despite empathy and heartfelt intent — and I think Laura is an example of this — the business of divorce is the business of winning for your team."

During an interview with Vulture, Wasser revealed that Baumbach shot Dern's office scenes in Wasser's real-life firm, but while Dern's character may dress a lot like her, that's where the similarities end. As it turns out, Wasser may not agree with some of Fanshaw's more harsh viewpoints, but she told Vulture there's a simple reason for this: Dern was leaning into the comedy aspect of the flick. "I love Laura Dern. I love her as an actor, and I love her as a person. I thought she was portraying a satirical family-law attorney," she explained.

Laura Dern and Sam Neill have reflected on their Jurassic Park romance

1993's "Jurassic Park" mesmerized audiences with the concept of dinosaurs walking the earth again, bringing them to life through discovered samples of DNA and placing them in a theme park. Of course, this Steven Spielberg classic is first and foremost a sci-fi action-adventure, but that's not to say it didn't have some romance in there too.

Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) are both respected professionals in similar fields who clearly admire one another when we first meet them. This blossoms even further after their shared traumatic experience on the fictional island of Isla Nublar. When the flick came out, nothing seemed amiss about their relationship, yet the actors finally questioned their 20-year age gap in 2022 with the release of "Jurassic World Dominion," which sees them reprising their iconic roles. Speaking to The Sunday Times about why Spielberg cast them in the original film, it suddenly dawned on Neill how old Dern was in 1993. "I am 20 years older than Laura!" Neill exclaimed while his co-star laughed. "At the time [it] was a completely appropriate age difference for a leading man and lady!" As for Dern, she's unfazed by the gap and believes it's only now that audiences are more culturally aware that it can come as a surprise.

After Neill and Dern's interview, the Twittersphere ran amok with their revelation. As one user wrote, "Have our minds been so warped by casting conventions? I honestly thought they were the same age."

Jurassic World Dominion brought Laura Dern and her castmates closer

Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum make up the legendary trio from the first "Jurassic Park" flick. All three stars have reprised their roles since the 1993 movie, but 2022's "Jurassic World Dominion" finally brought them all back together on camera. Even further, as director Colin Trevorrow told Den of Geek, the 2022 installment sees the core trio placed in dangerous circumstances together – something that was oddly missing in the original.

Perhaps these cinematic perils truly hit a nerve with the three actors, in turn strengthening their bond. "We got closer than ever [before]," shared Goldblum to Fandango All Access, noting that they spent countless hours talking and sharing mutual hobbies. Things were emotional right off the bat too, and for the trio's first scene together that involved an intense car chase, Dern recalled that she texted Steven Spielberg (responsible for the 1993 hit) a photo of herself with her castmates, which made him quite teary-eyed. "[It's] a lovely, family story," Dern sweetly recounted to Fandango.

Interestingly enough, early on in filming, there was a point where there were worried the movie wouldn't be completed — much like the original "Jurassic Park." As Neill told The Hindustan Times, "When we were making the first part, we survived a hurricane. This time, we survived a pandemic. ... I'm very happy that we got it done." Not only did they get it done, but it appears the reunion was just as emotional for them as it was for the legions of "Jurassic Park" fans across the globe.