Oscar Profile #492: Laura Dern

Born February 10, 1967 in Los Angeles, California to actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, future actress Laura Dern would become the first member of her family to win an Oscar. She was raised by her mother and grandmother after her parents divorced when she was just two years old.

Dern first appeared on screen in uncredited roles in 1973’s White Lightning and 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, both featuring her mother who earned an Oscar nomination for the latter. Her first credited role was in 1980’s Foxes in support of Jodie Foster. She shot to stardom in 1985’s Mask opposite Eric Stoltz and Smooth Talk opposite Treat Williams, securing a Los Angeles Film Critics Award for the former and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for the latter. She was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award the following year for Blue Velvet.

By 1990, Dern had become an established star. She earned kudos for her performance opposite Nicolas Cage in that year’s Wild at Heart for which her mother again received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The following year, both were nominated for Oscars, Dern for Best Actress and Ladd for Best Supporting Actress for Rambling Rose. It was the first, and to date only, time mother and daughter were nominated for Oscars for the same film.

Dern received Emmy nominations for 1992’s Afterburn, 1993’s Fallen Angels and 1997’s Ellen. At the same time, she was earing kudos for her film work in such films as 1993’s Jurassic Park, 1995’s A Perfect World, 1996’s Citizen Ruth and 1999’s October Sky.

Dern later earned kudos for her TV work in 1999’s A Season for Miracles, 2001’s Within These Walls and 2008’s Recount for which she was once again nominated for an Emmy. On the big screen, her films of the first decade in the new millennium included 2001’s I Am Sam, 2004’s We Don’t Live Here Anymore, 2005’s Happy Endings and The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio, 2006’s Lonely Hearts, 2006’s Inland Empire and 2007’s Year of the Dog.

Dern married composer Ben Harper, with whom she had two children, in 2005. They were divorced in 2010.

More popular than ever, Dern’s films within the last ten years have included 2010’s Little Fockers, 2012’s The Master, 2014’s The Fault In Our Stars, Wild (for which received her second Oscar nomination) and 99 Homes, 2016’s Certain Women and 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The actress finally won an Emmy for 2017’s Big Little Lies and an Oscar for 2019’s Marriage Story.

Next to be seen in 2021’s Jurassic World: Domination, Lura Dern remains a vibrant force in both film and TV at 53.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

BLUE VELVET (1986), directed by David Lynch

Lynch’s bizarre murder mystery was the inspiration for the director’s popular late-night TV series, Twin Peaks, several years later. Kyle MacLachlan, who would play the FBI agent in that, was the naïve young man whose discovery of a severed ear leads to his involvement with a beautiful, but mysterious nightclub singer, played by Isabella Rossellini, and a group of psychopaths who have kidnapped her child. Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Dern as the “nice girl” were nominated for Independent Spirit Wards with Rossellini winning. Oddly, Lynch received the film’s only Oscar nomination for his direction.

RAMBLING ROSE (1991), directed by Martha Coolidge

Ladd received her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the down on her luck teenager who comes to live with a southern family during the depression of the 1930s. Robert Duvall was the husband and father of the family, Diane Ladd the hard-of-hearing mother and Lukas Haas the eldest son. Both Dern and Ladd were nominated for Oscars, the first and only time to date that a mother and daughter have been nominated Oscars for the same film. Henry and Jane Fonda are the only father and daughter to accomplish the same feat. Duvall and Ladd were nominated for Independent Spirit awards for their performances.

THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014), directed by Josh Boone

Just thirteen years after playing a teenager herself, Dern was playing the mother of a teenager (Shailene Woodley) in this story of two cancer patients (Woodley and Ansel Elgort) who take a life-affirming journey to Amsterdam to track down reclusive author Willem Dafoe. The film’s highlight is a scene filmed at the Anne Frank House. Later that year, Dern played Reese Witherspoon’s mother in Wild whose death from cancer spurs Witherspoon’s reassessment of her life. It earned Dern her second Oscar nomination, but she was, for some, even more memorable as the mother in this.

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017-2019), created by David E. Kelly

Breathtakingly filmed in Monterey, Dern reunited with both Witherspoon and Woodley in this tantalizing murder mystery set in a quaint California beach town. The three actresses as well as Nicole Kidman and Zoe Kravitz have children enrolled in the town’s prestigious elementary school. In Season One, the husband of one of them has been murdered, but which one, and by whom? Adam Scott, James Tupper, Alexander Skarsgard and Jeffrey Nordling are the husbands.
Kidman, Skarsgard (as Kidman’s husband) and Dern would win Emmys and Witherspoon and Woodley nominations. Meryl Streep joined the cast in Season Two as Kidman’s mother-in-law.

MARRIAGE STORY (2019), directed by Noah Baumbach

Dern started out awards season wining Best Supporting Actress awards from both the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics for both Baumbach’s Marriage Story in which she plays a steely divorce lawyer from hell and Little Women directed by Baumbach’s partner, Greta Gerwig, in which she played Marmee. For the remainder of the 2019 award season she would be nominated for Marriage Story only and win almost every award she was nominated for. One exception was the Chicago Film Critics award which she lost to Little Women’s Florence Pugh who played Amy.

LAURA DERN AND OSCAR

  • Rambling Rose (1991) – nominated – Best Actress
  • Wild (2014) – nominated – Best Supporting Actress
  • Marriage Story (2019) – Oscar – Best Supporting Actress

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