These three projects don’t make up half of Laura Dern’s 2017 body of work, but they do represent defining moments in the year’s entertainment landscape. Few movies or TV shows have been met with as much anticipation or scrutiny, and this level of intense speculation can be tough on an actor who’s been sworn to secrecy.
“A woman came up to me and said, ‘You don’t even tell your kids what part you played? Is that painful as a mother to have to lie to your kids?’ And I got so flustered!” Dern said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “I’m not trying to hurt people by not talking about it!”
Luckily, Dern is a veteran. She’s weathered the storm of probing questions for blockbuster films like “Jurassic Park” and cult fandoms like “Enlightened.” She knows how to handle the pressure of a big budget and an equally big marketing campaign — all without lying.
“The most honest interview I could give about being part of ‘Star Wars’ is: ‘Oh my God! I’m in ‘Star Wars’!'” Dern said. “I mean, other than being on the set of ‘I Love Lucy,’ I don’t think there’s anything that made me more giddy than being part of ‘Star Wars.’ It really is like childhood play.”
But her best training came from her long-running collaboration — since “the beginning of time” as Dern puts it — with “Twin Peaks” director David Lynch, the most close-lipped auteur of them all.
“When it comes to David Lynch, I’ve never really been able to say what it’s really about or who I’m really playing because it’s incredibly esoteric and elusive anyway,” Dern said. “That’s part of his incredible genius and creative process.”
As an example of a question she’s asked repeatedly, Dern readily offered up: “‘What do you think your character Sandy in ‘Blue Velvet’ really represents to David Lynch?'” And the answer is always: “I don’t know!'”
“But David doesn’t want to talk about it, so we become spokespeople for what we think David intends,” Dern said. “It’s kind of funny to me, as we all try to navigate understanding that.”
And “that” is happening… again. There’s been quite a bit of speculation in the TV world about who Dern will be playing in the “Twin Peaks” revival. At times, it seems like everyone is trying to figure it out. Fan theories are flooding in from Reddit and prominent TV creators alike.
But at the root of all these questions is the idea of “why”: Why do fans want to know?
“Part of the beauty of it all is the reveal,” Dern said. “True fans, they can be excited, but don’t they want to discover it themselves? Isn’t that part of the bliss of it all?”
Dern found evidence for her theory in fans’ reactions to “Big Little Lies,” the first of her major projects to roll out this year.
“After months of people going, ‘Come on. You can tell me one thing,’ I was thrilled when ‘Big Little Lies’ came out and […] suddenly people would come up to me and say, ‘Don’t tell me anything! Don’t tell me the ending! I don’t want to know what happens!'” Dern said. “I was like, thank God! Somebody doesn’t want any information from me!
“It’s kind of beautiful. People love the unfolding of storytelling, which is why we fell in love with movies and books in the first place.”
The reactions meant a lot to Dern after she put so much into her role as Renata Klein on the HBO limited series. The initial enemy of Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley’s characters, we saw the Monterrey business maven fight back against stereotypes assigned to a career-driven mother, and — noting how the production ran through the 2016 presidential election — Dern noted parallels to Hillary Clinton in Renata’s plight.
“To witness the projections that were placed on Hillary Clinton, regardless of anyone’s politics, was really an eye-opening experience,” Dern said, noting how both Renata and Clinton had to work their way through a patriarchal system, where they’re often the only woman in a board room full of men.
“Before [anyone] got to learn much of who Hillary Clinton was as a woman, their observation and therefore projection was, ‘Oh, it seems like there’s a shut-down marriage, or she’s not maternal, or she’s cold. Those comments were fascinating to me,” Dern said.
Dern saw a direct correlation between what people perceived and what was really there because she’d seen Clinton interact with her family; a relationship central to understanding Renata, as well.
“I know her as a very warm woman,” Dern said. “To see someone who can be cutthroat, who can be powerful, who can be the smartest person in the room; who, to run her corporation, has to have babysitters and nannies who get to be at the school play when she has to miss it — all of those heartbreaks of a very busy mother doesn’t mean she doesn’t care, or has a sexless marriage, or all these other stereotypes.”
Dern said that balancing the two sides of Renata’s character — of teasing her as a villain but slowly building compassion for her — was her “favorite thing to do as an actor.”
“In the mess is the truth. I loved that,” she said.
As for the mess of spoilers, theories, and public curiosity, Dern knows the truth about what’s going on there, too.
“Every single moment spent with people who are as excited about the projects as I am has been joyful,” Dern said. “I guess I get my feelings hurt when I feel that people think I lied to them. I want to be a very honest person.”
Since we don’t want her to tell us the answers anyway, there seems to be an easy win-win here. Honesty begets honesty. Be true to yourself, and Laura Dern will be truthful to you. No more lies — big or little.