Laura Dern Embraces the Messiness of Human Life

Laura Dern isn’t afraid of aging. She says she likes being over 50. “I can, in the same year, be the same age and playing a very sexualized character, a very maternal character, a very heroic character, a bitch, and there’s nothing saying, ‘Oh, now that you’re this age, we’re gonna define you,’ ” she said. Whereas actresses of her mother’s generation turned to theater or projects with foreign directors, now there are, in Hollywood, a “wealth of options — live-streaming, cable, film — to tell women’s stories.” But also, she says, the choices she made earlier in her career, including the choice not to work when there wasn’t a challenging part on offer, have paid off. “That was advice from my parents,” she says — to turn down roles that would pigeonhole or typecast her — “and I resented it. I gave up financial opportunities, I was pissed off a lot, I was bummed because I wasn’t working, but in the long run, I worked with the directors that moved me and I never played the same part twice in a row.”

Growing up, she thought that being an actress would mean “something I haven’t had until now.” She imagined it would involve the kinds of relationships her mother had with women like Shelley Winters and Jane Fonda — “sitting around a fireplace with a group of revolutionaries, talking about art and how the art can make a difference, how to use their voice, how to get in the streets, how to parent, how to single-parent and be an actress, how to navigate relationships and intimacy through all of it.” But until recently she didn’t have the feeling of being in a “tribe” of women. Friendships were isolated. You had dinner with one person or another. You didn’t get together and talk about the industry. You never compared salaries or talked about your deals. Time’s Up and the female-heavy cast of “Big Little Lies” changed all that for Dern. On the set of “Little Women,” she liked nurturing her younger cast members, checking in on them. (According to Gerwig, they all went to her with their problems.) “I like the pack,” she said.

Image of Laura Dern by Erik Madigan for the New York Times

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