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Laura Dern Convinced David Lynch to Star in ‘The Fabelmans’

Neither Steven Spielberg nor Tony Kushner thought Lynch would accept the role.

Laura Dern and David Lynch

Laura Dern and David Lynch

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Few were surprised that Steven Spielberg assembled an A-list cast for “The Fabelmans” that included Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Paul Dano. Who wouldn’t want to help Hollywood’s biggest director make a movie about his own childhood? But despite Spielberg’s pedigree, one name on the cast list still raised plenty of eyebrows: David Lynch.

The eccentric filmmaker plays John Ford in a key scene in “The Fabelmans,” but even the film’s creative team was surprised that he took the role. In a new interview with The Film Stage, Tony Kushner told the story while speaking about the process of casting the film, which he co-wrote with Spielberg.

“We often say, when we’re getting into casting, ‘Who’s going to play this person?’ Sometimes we sort of know, but a lot of times, in the four movies that we’ve made, it hasn’t been determined,” Kushner said. “We said that when we were working on the Ford scene. We just sort of said, ‘We’ll find somebody.’ And we started going through lots of really wonderful actors who kind of looked like him and were maybe a little too young. Nothing was all that exciting.”

That all changed when Kushner’s husband, Mark Harris, suggested casting Lynch.

“We were just going around and around and around. I had one candidate for Ford that I was pretty passionate about: an actor,” he said. “[Harris] actually went up to his office and said ‘give me a couple seconds.’ Then he came back down; I think he went and checked out, physically, to make sure he was right. He said, ‘I have a great idea. It’ll never happen because he’ll never agree to do it but it should be David Lynch.’”

Kushner and Spielberg were both floored by the idea, but neither thought they could convince the Oscar nominee to take the role. But all it took was an introduction from a mutual friend: Laura Dern.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ And I called Steven and Steven said, ‘Oh my God… but he’ll never do it,'” he said. “And then he thought: Laura Dern. So he called Laura Dern and Laura Dern called David. And it happened.”

Once Spielberg and Kushner found their John Ford, the scene went smoothly. Kushner called it one of his favorite days on set.

“It was an amazing day on the set,” he said. “The whole crew was like, ‘This is the most meta, complicated thing: Steven Spielberg directing Gabriel LaBelle playing Steven Spielberg meeting John Ford played by David Lynch.’ It was like… wow!”

“The Fabelmans” is now playing in select theaters before expanding nationally on November 23.

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