/assets/images/nzheaderlogos/NZWW-logo.svg
Career

Why Laura Dern deserves every acting award she gets!

She was born to act and now has the Oscar to prove it!

By Judy Kean
"This is the best birthday present ever," Laura Dern declared as she accepted her first-ever Oscar.
Given the awards season she's had, here's hoping the star has cleared space on her mantel-piece too, with the Best Actress in a Supporting Role gong set to sit beside her BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards in the same category.
And these accolades are not before time.
Colleagues have long praised her extraordinary talent. But it's only in the last few years that Laura, who turned 53 on the day of the February 10 ceremony, has received recognition in the form of awards.
As her career surges, people have joked about a "Dernaissance", but those who've shared the screen with Laura are delighted to see her getting her moment in the spotlight, because she's so good at what she does.
Laura had a clean sweep during awards season, as well as the Oscar she also won (from left) a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a SAG award. Images: Getty
Her Big Little Lies co-star Reese Witherspoon (43) recalls a scene in the show – for which Laura won an Emmy three years ago playing neurotic Renata – that showcased her skill.
"She came in crying, told a joke, had us all laughing, became hysterical, cried again and then had a dramatic, comedic exit. Just watching
her do that scene was like a year of acting classes."
Ellen DeGeneres (62) is also huge fan.
Laura played along-side her in the ground-breaking 1997 episode of her Ellen TV series in which the character Ellen came out as gay. (The episode not only up-ended Ellen's career for a while, but Laura couldn't find work for a whole year afterwards).
"She can play anything," says Ellen. "She's brilliant."
Laura's current crop of awards are for her portrayal of manipulative divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw in the movie Marriage Story.
It's been a dream role, she says, after often being cast as the "wounded, broken girl".
"She's the first character I have played who doesn't come from deep insecurity. She's in it to win, no matter what the cost. She's absolutely in control."
With Ellen in 1997, who says Laura can "play a straight role, and she's good at comedy."
It was perhaps inevitable that Laura would become an actress.
Her parents, Bruce Dern (83) and Diane Ladd (84), were both actors and she grew up in a household where Hollywood stars such as Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Shelley Winters were frequent visitors.
She first appeared on screen at the age of seven in the Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.
Her mother played a waitress, and in her one scene Laura sat in the background in a café eating ice cream. That day, she had to munch her way through 19 ice creams before Martin was happy with the scene.
He told her mother that her professionalism meant she was destined to become an actress.
But Bruce and Diane, who divorced when Laura was two, were wary about their daughter following in their footsteps and Laura had to convince a family friend to drive her to a meeting with an agent when she was 11.
Her first major role was at 13, appearing alongside Jodie Foster in Foxes.
At 17, she sued for emancipation from her parents so she didn't need their permission to take on roles.
"It wasn't personal, it was a professional decision," she says, proving this was indeed true by thanking her parents in her Oscars acceptance speech, and making her mum cry.
"Some say, 'Never meet your heroes.' But I say if you're really blessed, you get them as your parents," she said.
"I share this with my acting heroes, my legends, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. You got game. I love you."
Her kids Ellery and Jaya and her mother Diane were Laura's dates to the Oscars.
Naturally shy, acting helped Laura become more confident.
"That part of me that was uncomfortable in my own skin and worried about what other people thought was completely gone when I was acting."
Growing up on film sets, she saw how Hollywood pressures could affect people. Drug use was rife, but she steered clear.
"I knew addicts at a young age and there's nothing sexy or cool about that. I think if you see drugs and alcohol very young, it's a great cautionary tale. I felt like my rebellion was to become my own artist."
Her collaborations with director David Lynch in movies such as Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart brought her to people's attention but it was playing Dr Ellie Sattler in the 1993 block-buster Jurassic Park that truly made her a household name.
She's worked steadily ever since, juggling her career with being a mum to son Ellery (18) and daughter Jaya (15).
She divorced their dad, musician Ben Harper (50), in 2013 after eight years of marriage.
Despite her success over the years, she feels like now she's really starting to hit her stride.
"Now I feel I want to tackle anything. Now there's just a longing to explore more, dive deeper, find things that scare me. And go towards them."

read more from

/assets/images/nzheaderlogos/NZWW-logo.svg