We’d be hard-pressed to name six living actresses who have had a more acclaimed and memorable career than Laura Dern. Whether she’s appeared in blockbusters like Jurassic Park or arthouse classics like The Master, Dern’s contributions to Hollywood cannot be ignored. With such a lucrative career in film and television that’s still going strong to this day, she’s surely racked up a ton of interesting facts and anecdotes. Here are 42 facts about Hollywood mainstay Laura Dern.
1. A Star is Born
Laura Elizabeth Dern was born on February 10, 1967, in Los Angeles. She is the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, both of them acclaimed actors in their own right.
2. You Can’t Stop Me!
Despite the occupations of both her parents, they were both unwilling to encourage Dern into following in their footsteps. Allegedly, when she was 11 years old, Dern began contacting agencies to pursue an acting career without the permission of either of her parents.
3. I’ll Do it!
One of the first successes in Dern’s filmography is the bizarre arthouse film Blue Velvet, directed by David Lynch. However, she wasn’t the first person considered to appear in her role. Dern was only cast after the mother of Molly Ringwald—famous for being part of the Hollywood group named as “The Brat Pack”—refused to let her daughter appear in a film with such graphic adult content.
4. Matriarchal Household
Laura Dern was only two years old when her parents divorced. Following that incident, Dern was mostly raised by her mother and her maternal grandmother.
5. Runs in the Family
Laura Dern is actually related to quite a few noteworthy American figures. One of her great-grandfathers was George Dern, who served as the Governor of Utah and the Secretary of War under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Additionally, Dern’s great-great-uncle was poet and writer Archibald MacLeish, who was also a Librarian of Congress.
As if that wasn’t enough, the famous playwright Tennessee Williams was her distant cousin.
6. Could Have Fooled Me!
As some of you might remember, Laura Dern gave a much-lauded performance as a blind girl in the film Mask. David Lynch, who cast her in his film Blue Velvet, hadn’t seen that film when he cast Dern, but her co-star, Isabella Rossellini, had. Rossellini was allegedly so convinced by Dern’s performance that she questioned Lynch as to why he’d cast a blind actress to play a role that hadn’t been written as being blind!
7. Traumatized Teenager
In 2017, Laura Dern was one of many people who rallied behind the #MeToo movement which sought to shed light on harassment within the workspace, particularly Hollywood. Dern revealed that she too, was a victim of harassment and assault when she was only 14 years old.
8. Pending 2020 Results…
Laura Dern has been nominated for three Academy Awards. The first was for Lead Actress in the 1991 film Rambling Rose. The other nomination was for her supporting performance in the 2015 film Wild, and most recently, she was nominated in the Supporting category again for Marriage Story.
9. Praise Her with Great Praise
Laura Dern has had more luck with the Golden Globe and the Primetime Emmy Awards than she has at the Oscars (so far). In 1982, she became the youngest Miss Golden Globe up to that point. Since then, Dern was nominated for seven Golden Globes, winning four of them for her performances in Enlightened, Big Little Lies, Recount, Afterburn and Marriage Story.
Dern also won an Emmy for her work on Big Little Lies, and has been nominated for six others throughout her career.
10. Swim at Your Peril
Among the roles that Dern has turned down includes Andy Huben in At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In case you’re wondering why we brought this rejection up in the article, Dern had a very particular reason for not taking the role of Andy. She found out a disturbing detail about filming. She learned that the film production would require her to swim in a river that was filled with parasites.
Surprisingly, the production ended up moving forward when Daryl Hannah agreed to take the role.
11. What a Coincidence!
In 1993, Laura Dern made one of the biggest films of career: The Steven Spielberg-directed Jurassic Park. Interestingly, the very same year that Dern appeared in Jurassic Park, her mother, Diane Ladd, co-starred in the lesser-known film Carnosaur, which is about a geneticist (Ladd) who resurrects dinosaurs and plans to replace humanity with them.
12. Seems Simple Enough!
Given how common her first name is in North American society, it shouldn’t surprise you to know that Dern has portrayed three different characters who are named “Laura.” The films in question were Downsizing, Certain Women, and J.T. LeRoy.
13. Regular Co-Worker
As of 2019, Laura Dern has worked with avant-garde auteur David Lynch on three of his films and one TV show. She first worked with him on his successful film Blue Velvet in 1986. They reunited for the film Wild at Heart in 1990, and again in 2006 to make the film Inland Empire. Since they seem to have a requirement to work together at least once per decade, Dern also joined Lynch in 2017 for his long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks.
14. Love and Marriage
In 2000, Dern attended a music concert which included American musician Ben Harper. The two were able to meet face-to-face at the concert, sparking a romance. After dating for several years, and having two children in the process, Dern and Harper married in 2005—but their union was doomed to a heartbreaking end.
15. Love’s Dead Between Us
Sadly, Dern and Ben Harper didn’t remain married for long. In 2010, Dern cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for her file for divorce. While the two of them did reunite to try and make it work a second time, they were unsuccessful. Harper and Dern were officially divorced in 2013.
16. Accidental Inspiration
If you’re wondering how David Lynch came up with the title for his 2006 film Inland Empire, look no further than Dern. It started with a conversation she was having with Lynch, when she mentioned that her then-husband was from the region east of Los Angeles County known as Inland Empire. Lynch was apparently unable to focus on the rest of the conversation because he was so fixated on the words “Inland Empire.”
17. It’s a Mystery to Me
It’s fitting that Dern would be cast in the lead role of David Lynch’s Inland Empire, since she was the person who inspired the title. Reportedly, Lynch invited Dern to act in the film by calling her and asking, “Do you want to come and experiment?” Even to this day, Dern maintains that she doesn’t fully know what Inland Empire is really about.
Most people who have seen it would likely agree.
18. Feeling Like a Kid Again
In 2017, Laura Dern co-starred in Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. As you can imagine, Dern was very excited to work on a Star Wars film, and her excitement got in the way of her performance. During the scenes where her character shoots a blaster, Dern allegedly couldn’t resist saying “Pew!” whenever she pretended to shoot at someone.
To be fair, we can’t imagine we’d have stronger restraint if it was us in her shoes!
19. That’s How Good an Actor I Am
One of Dern’s two Academy Award-nominated performances can be found in the film Wild, where she plays the mother of the protagonist played by Reese Witherspoon. However, in real life, Dern is only nine years older than Witherspoon.
20. New Mom
As of 2019, Dern has two children. Her son, Charles, was born in 2001, while her daughter, Harris, was born in 2004.
21. You’re a Star!
On November 1, 2010, Dern received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anyone interested in looking for it should go to 6270 Hollywood Boulevard.
22. Lucky Me!
Among the actresses that Dern beat out to play Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park were Helen Hunt and Gwyneth Paltrow. Dern herself wasn’t aware of the competition that she’d beat out until she appeared on The Today Show and saw clips of the aforementioned actresses’ auditions.
23. Come Join Us!
In recent years, Dern co-starred in the acclaimed mini-series Big Little Lies alongside actresses Zoe Kravitz, Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley. Interestingly, Dern was partly responsible not only for Woodley to take a role in this series, but to also continue with acting at all. At the time, Woodley was strongly considering retirement from acting until she got the script for Big Little Lies.
A phone call with Dern, her co-star from The Fault in Our Stars, and encouragement from Dern’s part sealed the deal, and Woodley signed on.
24. Stay Alert, Stay Safe
Dern has used her platform and her status as a well-known actress to support several charities and philanthropic organizations. Dern has advocated for Down syndrome awareness, as well as supporting Healthy Child Healthy World, which was an attempt to raise awareness about the various toxic substances that children can ingest or imbibe without anyone realizing it.
25. A Fair Response
While shooting her confrontation with the velociraptor in Jurassic Park, Dern was so overcome by the look of the model in the scene that she was genuinely sobbing with fear. To be fair, the scene really is terrifying to watch.
26. Does This Count as Method Acting?
One surprising advantage of having an actress for a mother is that she can play your mother on screen as well. Such has been the case with Dern and her mother, Diane Ladd. Ladd has played the role of Dern’s mother five times thus far, on both film and television. To be more specific, this occurred in the television series Enlightenment and the films Wild at Heart, Citizen Ruth, Daddy and Them, and White Lightning.
27. Making Oscar History
While they didn’t play mother and daughter in the film Rambling Rose, Dern and Diane Ladd became the first mother-daughter pair to be Oscar-nominated in the same year for the same film. As of 2020, it’s also the only time that such a specific incident has occurred. Who knows when it will happen again?
28. No Daddy/Daughter Collaboration?
By contrast to her work with her mother, Laura Dern has yet to act alongside her father, Bruce Dern, on film or on television. Though to be fair, given her tense family situation, we can’t blame her for being a bit distant from her father. One connection they do share is that they’ve both worked with Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood.
Bruce co-starred with Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High, and Laura co-starred in A Perfect World alongside Eastwood.
29. Wait, That Was Her?
We already mentioned that Dern portrayed the onscreen daughter of her mother Diane Ladd’s character in White Lightning, but we didn’t mention that White Lightning was Dern’s feature film debut. Admittedly, she didn’t get an onscreen credit for her work on the film, but then again, it was a bit part that she did when she was six years old.
30. A First for Everyone
Another detail about White Lightning, Dern’s feature film debut, was that the film starred actor Burt Reynolds. Reynolds and Dern reunited many years later for Citizen Ruth, which also happened to be the feature film debut of writer/director Alexander Payne.
31. Just This Once
Anyone familiar with Dern’s filmography will know that she prefers playing intellectual, three-dimensional characters in films. However, one outlier is the character she plays in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. Dern allegedly struggled with portraying such a sexual character as Lula, but she trusted Lynch to direct her through the film, even breaking her “no nudity” clause for the sake of the film’s story.
32. Sounds Like a Fun Production
Most of us probably don’t want to know just when and where we were conceived by our parents, but in Dern’s case, the time and place is public knowledge. In 1966, Roger Corman released his counterculture biker film The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, and Diane Ladd. Ladd became pregnant during the production of that film.
33. Life Imitating Art
As some of you might recall, Dern’s character in Jurassic Park is mercilessly hit on by Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum. The flirting must have worked wonders because Dern went on to not only date Goldblum but also become his fiancée. However, after two years of engagement, they broke things off.
34. How Tragic…
Dern actually had an older sister who was born in 1961. However, Dern never got to know her older sister, because she drowned at just 18 months.
35. Get a Think Piece Ready!
During a special roundtable event for comedy actresses, Laura Dern pointed out that while she was promoting her new show Enlightened, where she plays a self-destructive and very flawed protagonist, she received a lot of concern from female journalists about whether or not her character would give working women a bad name.
By contrast, Dern pointed out that the men talked about how much they identified with her character and didn’t seem to take any issue with her character’s worst traits.
36. Positive Reinforcement
Dern’s first bit of acting encouragement came from none other than film director Martin Scorsese. Scorsese cast the six-year-old Dern in a bit part in the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and her scene featured her eating an ice cream cone. Unfortunately for Dern, the scene needed to be filmed 19 times, meaning that she had to go through 19 different ice cream cones!
When she didn’t make a fuss or even get sick, Scorsese reportedly declared that Dern was a natural-born actress in the making.
37. Let’s Give it a Try!
While she was filming Wild at Heart, Dern was encouraged by David Lynch to smoke four cigarettes at once in one big inhale. This action caused her to pass out, much to Lynch’s shock. To be fair, what did he expect?
38. Milking it for All It’s Worth
Remember when you Tweeted about how that one actor or actress deserved to get an Oscar nomination for a performance they did? Well, that wasn’t enough for Dern’s frequent collaborator, David Lynch. In 2006, he worked with Dern on the film Inland Empire, and Lynch strongly felt that Dern had given one of the best performances of the year.
In true Lynch fashion, he planted himself on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea in Los Angeles. With him was a large poster of Dern’s face with the message “For your consideration” printed on it. He also brought a live cow with him, as well as the cow’s handler Mike Fanning. Unfortunately, this Oscar campaign was unsuccessful, but let nobody say Lynch isn’t memorable!
39. Time to Split
We’ve mentioned that Laura Dern and her mother Diane Ladd were at odds over her acting aspirations, but things finally came to a head when Dern wanted to work on the film Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains. Diane Ladd objected to her daughter being involved, and Dern went to disturbing lengths to follow her dreams.
She proceeded to emancipate herself from her parents in order to pursue her acting career independently. She was only 13 years old at the time, but the lawsuit resulted in her receiving emancipation.
40. What’s the Real Story?
There remains some contention as to how far Laura Dern had to work against her mother’s wishes to emancipate herself. It might appear that Dern’s mother was staunchly opposed to her daughter pursuing acting, but Dern refuted this claim when she got older. Dern even claimed that both her parents were fully supportive of this decision, which was done purely for professional reasons.
41. How Times Change
In 1994, Dern was one of the celebrities who appeared on episodes of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom Ellen. Specifically, Dern appeared in the episodes where DeGeneres came out, which was a controversy and a very big deal back in those days. Of course, now, Ellen’s one of the biggest talk show hosts alive, and continues to be an iconic figure in the LGBTQ community.
42. How Dare You Help a Woman Embrace Her True Self?!
Surprisingly, Dern spent years being blackballed behind the scenes in Hollywood for her participation in the episodes of Ellen which dealt with LGBTQ themes. She revealed on Degeneres’s talk show that she didn’t work for a year after the episode aired, but that she has no regrets about her appearance in the ground-breaking show.
And if you think Dern’s case was an isolated incident, think again. Oprah Winfrey also made an appearance in those episodes, and she went on to say that she’s gotten more hate mail towards her for those episodes than the rest of her entire career.