Laura Dern Threw Out Her Back Filming Her Famous Big Little Lies Rage Scene
Laura Dern knows a thing or two about being a strong, badass woman. For starters, the actress has been quarantined with her two teenage children since early-2020. And while that's enough to qualify anyone for superhero status, Dern's got a lot of badassery up her sleeve — including, but not limited, to an Academy Award win for her role in Marriage Story.
On this week's episode of Ladies First with Laura Brown, the Big Little Lies star revealed other strong women like her are exactly why she got in this business in the first place. Well that, and being raised by two superstar parents: Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern (the latter gifted a young Laura the actual genie bottle from I Dream of Jeannie).
"I was raised by two actors who are incredibly committed to the art of filmmaking and storytelling and take it very seriously in a lifetime commitment," Dern tells InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown. "I started to hone in on the love of women and voice. Women who were never given the right to voice, women who are afforded voice, but don't know how to use it."
From her 1996 role in the movie Citizen Ruth that brought the abortion debate to the big screen, to her recent role as Renata on Big Little Lies, her admiration of women gave her all the motivation she needed to portray these characters so authentically.
"I did this film Citizen Ruth and my character was pregnant with her fifth child, she was a huffer addicted to everything and considered a throw away by society," she said. "And the look through comedy in that film at how this is a person who never knew they were entitled to even be seen in the world. All the way to Renata, for example, in Big Little Lies who, you know, being a leader in the corporate world and being a boss is equally vulnerable and longing and broken in being heard by other women, in feeling seen by other women and even ultimately in her own marriage, or as a mother."
She added that playing these women has taught her a lot about herself. "It's the gift of teaching me a lack of judgment for all that we walk through and despite what our labels are in society."
Laura Dern on Optimism: Episode 22: May 4, 2021
Duration: 41:36 minutes
This podcast may contain cursing that would not be appropriate for listeners under 14. Discretion is advised.
And she quite literally threw herself into her portrayal of Renata — Dern says she threw out her back in that infamous baseball-bat scene, where her character destroys her husband's treasured collectibles (and rightfully so).
"I literally destroyed an entire set, a train set, model airplanes, furniture, you name it, a flat screen TV," she recalled. "So most of that was done on one take, but there were a couple of takes of the whole thing. And then there were several little pieces that I did a number of times, which as people that I work with will tell you, I definitely go all the way after. Like you get in the fever of the experience and you're [in] the World Series."
While Dern is able to channel a great deal of anger to play some of these parts, she actually has a very positive outlook on things — her friends will tell you she's an "eternal optimist." She told Brown that she made a commitment to choosing happiness a while back.
"I had an incredible teacher say to me once, in some heartbreak in my life, 'Choosing to trust in love is the most incredible and noble act. You've given your trust to another person and that's gorgeous. You don't get to control what they do with it. And so if they don't know what to do with it, or can't meet you with it, it takes nothing from you,'" she said.
Dern is assumably passing this mindset along to her two teenage kids, daughter, Jaya, 16, and son, Ellery, 19, whom she shares with the musician Ben Harper. Although, at the moment, Dern says they love to tell her "everything I do is wrong," but that's just part of what drives her craft.
Now her kids are just beginning to get a taste of their mother's work and talent. Filmmaker and friend of Dern, David Lynch told her kids they couldn't watch her movies until they were 30. His reasoning? It didn't even have to do with Dern.
"That movie Wild at Heart? David's response was, 'It's not seeing your mom in that movie that I'm worried about. It's you seeing your grandmother that I'm worried about,'" Dern remembers. "And suddenly I remembered my mother is insane in that movie, playing my mother, and my parents have also done radical things." But while they haven't watched that particular film, they have seen Citizen Ruth, Jurassic Park, and most recently, Saving Private Ryan, which Dern said really touched Ellery. So much so that she casually wrote Steven Spielberg to tell him.
"Steven wrote back something that brought tears to [Ellery's] eyes," explained Dern. "He said, 'Tell Ellery, the majority of men on that beach, in that sequence that is the first half hour of the movie, were exactly his age.'"
Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple, PlayerFM, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. And tune in weekly to Ladies First with Laura Brown hosted by InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown, who speaks to guests like Michelle Pfeiffer, Emily Ratajkowski, Cynthia Erivo, Naomi Watts, La La Anthony, Ellen Pompeo, Rep. Katie Porter, and more to discuss current events, politics, some fashion, and, most importantly, the major firsts in their lives.