Also Credited As:Laura Elizabeth Dern
|Laura Elizabeth Dern on February 10, 1967 in Santa Monica, California, USA|
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In true Hollywood fashion, Laura Dern was conceived during the filming of Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" (1966), a film in which parents Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd both acted, and was born on Feb. 10, 1967. Her parents split up while she was still a baby, though she grew up spending time with both of them. Her unconventional childhood including watching her father's severed head bounce down the stairs when "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1965) aired on TV, and eating nine ice cream cones while shooting a scene as an extra in Martin Scorsese's "Alice D sn't Live Here Anymore" (1974), starring mom, Ladd. Dern also had the distinct opportunity of watching Alfred Hitchcock put her father through his paces on the set of "Family Plot" (1976). She began studying at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles at the age of nine and was ecstatic to land a bit part as an irksome party crasher in Adrian Lyne's "Foxes" (1980). By that time, Dern had already blossomed into a 5'10" young woman who barely knew what to do with the long limbs and expressive facial features that powerfully magnified every emotional twinge.
Dern first registered with viewers in her role as a troubled pregnant teen in "Teachers" (1984), and was so convincing as the blind summer camper who falls for the disfigured protagonist of "Mask" (1985) that many audience members believed she really was sight-impaired. But before Hollywood could lock her in as a "symbol of purity" for that lovely and fragile performance, filmmakers Joyce Chopra and David Lynch came along and rescued her from typecasting, exploring her aura of latent dangerous sexuality in films that exposed the darker side of American small-town life. Chopra's "Smooth Talk" (1995), adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates short story, cast her opposite a sinisterly seductive Treat Williams, playing the brooding, alluring, teenage tease who is just beginning to discover the power of lust. Lynch's "Blue Velvet" (1986) poised her provocatively between innocence and the outlandishly weird; her smart, sweet Nancy Drew, the good twin to Isabella Rossellini's lewdly masochistic chanteuse. Despite the character's blue-eyed wholesomeness, she is the catalyst that propels the film into its most disturbing disclosures.
Following the disappointments of "Haunted Summer" (1988) and "Fat Man and Little Boy" (1989), in which she played a nurse who watches lover John Cusack die of radiation poisoning, she scored a resounding success as the gum-cracking, chain-smoking, hell-raising Lula Pace Fortune, Nicolas Cage's uninhibited traveling companion in Lynch's "Wild at Heart" (1990), a character diametrically opposed to her Sandy in "Blue Velvet." On the run from her crazed mother - played with manic glee by real-life mom Ladd - Lula summed up the spirit of the enterprise (and perhaps the Lynchian oeuvre in general): "The whole world's wild at heart and weird on top." The next year, again acting with Ladd, she won widespread critical acclaim as Rose, a sweetly wanton orphan-turned-housekeeper whose presence disrupts a 1930s Southern family in Martha Coolidge's "Rambling Rose" (1991). Dern received a Best Actress Oscar nomination while Ladd snagged a Best Supporting Actress nod, making them the first mother-daughter team cited in the same year for the same film. Dern delighted critics again the following year, earning an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award for her performance as a military widow in the HBO docudrama "Afterburn" (1992).
Entering the world of big-time blockbusters, Dern acted as potential dinosaur chow for Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" (1993), in a role that was less demanding but far more high-profile than her preceding parts. She also mixed it up that year with co-stars Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner as a criminologist in Eastwood's under-appreciated dark chase film "A Perfect World," its disappointing box office signaling audiences' unwillingness to accept Costner outside the heroic mode. After making her directing debut with the romantic short "The Gift" (Showtime, 1994), for which she also starred and provided the story, she executive-produced and acted alongside Raul Julia and Vanessa Redgrave in the dark political drama "Down Came a Blackbird" (Showtime, 1995). She returned to feature leads with a well-received performance as a pregnant glue-sniffer caught in a tug-of-war between pro-choice and pro-life forces in the satiric "Citizen Ruth" (1996), a film which also featured her mother in a raunchy unbilled cameo. In 1997, Dern was featured in Widespread Panic's music video for their song, "Aunt Avis," which was directed by Dern's then boyfriend and future fiancé, Billy Bob Thornton.
Now balancing her career nicely between big screen character dramas and high-end TV movies, Dern went on to play ill-fated militia fugitive Vicki Weaver in "Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy" (CBS, 1996) and provided narration for that year's "Bastard Out of Carolina" (Showtime), a gritty drama about child abuse in the 1950s that marked Anjelica Huston's directorial debut. She secured her place in history (and a third Emmy nomination) as the lesbian lover in the "coming out" episode of "Ellen" (ABC, 1994-98), and turned around to give a critically-acclaimed performance as a low-rent mother of four who contracts to sell her next baby to a yuppie couple in "The Baby Dance" (Showtime, 1998). While dating Thornton in 1999, she was cast as his love interest in his film "Daddy and Them," about a dysfunctional Arkansas family which included (again) Diane Ladd, Andy Griffith and Jim Varney in his final film performance. Joe Johnston's "October Sky" (1999) presented Dern as a morally upright teacher who inspires West Virginia schoolboys to look beyond their coal-mining community.
After a small role in Robert Altman's ensemble "Dr. T and the Women" (2000) and a strategic cameo in the 2001 sequel "Jurassic Park III" (2001), Dern provided support as the caring girlfriend of a dentist (Steve Martin) whose life is thrown off track by a seductive patient (Helena Bonham Carter) in "Novacaine" (2001). Unfortunately, Dern - who had made a practice of flying under the tabloid radar - suffered a shocking blow in the public eye when her then fiancé of a year, Billy Bob Thornton, left her abruptly for his much younger "Pushing Tin" (1999) co-star, Angelina Jolie, going so far as to marry her within weeks. Dern found out the hard way, famously commenting that one day her fiancé went off to make a movie; the next day he had married someone else without telling her. Despite the press' obsession with the new vials-of-blood-sporting couple, Dern rose above the fray, continuing to churn out impressive performances while guarding her privacy at the same time.
In a pair of excellent performances, Dern teamed with actor William H. Macy as a WWII-era Brooklyn couple who are mistaken for Jews by anti-Semitic neighbors in "Focus" (2001), based on Arthur Miller novel, and a brief appearance in the drama "I Am Sam" (2001), starring Sean Penn as a mentally disabled man seeking custody of his daughter. Less successful, critically and creatively, was her subsequent telepic "Within These Walls" (2001), though she snared another plumb role in the well-praised cautionary HMO tale "Damaged Care" (HBO, 2002) as a doctor who blows the whistle on unsavory insurance practices. Dern took a few years off from the big screen to couple with singer Ben Harper and raise their first child but returned with a strong performance in the otherwise unremarkable indie drama "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004) as part of a pair of married academic couples who self-destructively drift into infidelity with the other's spouses. She followed with a supporting role as a married lesbian suspected of using sperm from her best male friend to conceive a baby in the seriocomic ensemble feature "Happy Endings" (2005).
Donning a June Cleaver wardrobe, Dern sparkled in "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" (2005), where she had a supporting role as a woman who encourages a mother of 12 (Julianne Moore) struggling to keep her impoverished family afloat to join a group of successful jingle-writing housewives. Re-entering the skewed world of David Lynch, Dern went on to earn universal rave reviews for anchoring the disjointed and surreal "Inland Empire" (2006), where she played an actress thrown into a rabbit-infested identity crisis odyssey. Some critics hailed the hallucinatory effort as the director's finest work while others felt Lynch slipping into self-parody, though both camps agreed that Dern's performance was outstanding. The directorial debut from screenwriter Mike White, "Year of the Dog" (2007), received limited release and Dern's supporting role as the know-it-all sister-in-law of a pet lover at a crossroads (Molly Shannon) was little-seen. But the following year Dern made her mark on the small screen with an Emmy-nominated portrayal of Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris in HBO's acclaimed political drama "Recount" (2008). The fact-based picture chronicled the events surrounding the 2000 presidential election and earned a number of Emmy nominations for its skillful dramatization of the complicated story. For her efforts, Dern also earned a 2008 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in the television movie and miniseries category. After joining Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro for "Little Fockers" (2010), Dern returned to cable television for an acclaimed performance in "Enlightened" (HBO, 2011), playing a corporate executive who winds up in a mental health treatment center following a breakdown. The role earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.