Laura Dern has come a long way since her first major screen appearance in Mask. A star of some 40 films, including ther diverse likes of Rambling Rose, Jurassic Park, Bastard out of Carolina and Dr T & The Women, Dern will be seen opposite Steve Martin in the irreverent black comedy Novocaine and is somewhat different opposite William H. Macy in Focus. Paul Fischer spoke to Laura in Los Angeles.
Question: How does it feel being a new mom?
Dern: Yea, it’s huge, it’s huge and it’s amazing and it’s beautiful and it’s overwhelming because I’m in, it’s just been almost eight weeks, so I’m just in the beginnings of.
Question: Now you’re doing press, what a trooper you are.
Question: Unbelievable, I saw both of these movies in Toronto one after another and I couldn’t believe how different both of these characters are. Did you have more fun on the Novocaine than you did on Focus?
Dern: It’s kind of both, I mean I just, I have to say the most fun I ever get to have is when I have the opportunity to play someone who is withholding who they are, even from themselves and have to during the course of the movie kind of come to terms with themselves. Because it’s a great exploration as an actor and a person starts to ask you know, where I do that and why people do that and both of these characters in the movies are at opposite extremes. Kind of walk that journey, and especially then in comedy when you have a character where you like in Novocain, you can’t reveal who they are to the audience, but you also have to reveal the extreme personality and yet you know that what seems the most extreme in terms of being an obsessive compulsive perfectionist is nothing in terms of what you are going to see later in the story. So, how you walk the line, how you are going to make it funny and you just try to be as honest as possible in that.
Question: Which of those two characters would you say you could have related to the most?
Dern: Well Novocain I would relate to people I’ve known, unfortunately. We have all have met or seen, you know, a couple of people like that on our path and that’s disturbing. You know, am I, you know, are there parts of me that are controlling or parts of me that are obsessive compulsive, I’m sure and I’ve certainly had to take account of those. But Focus more so, you know, in earnest, I think that affected me a great deal in terms of my own exploration because she is someone that has allowed her fear to decide for her who she is going to be for the outside world. If she wants to be who other people want her to be and I think that it just reminded me to keep myself in constant check about how I do that and how we do that culturally and of course, you know, there’s an obvious parallel to what we are all walking through now. You know, on a global level, so.
Question: It’s interesting that Focus seems more eerily relevant now than it was when Miller wrote the original book.
Dern: Isn’t that amazing and shocking and disturbing because you want it to be your history and you don’t want it to be what you are going through now, but in fact that is the case.
Question: What can people learn from Focus about that? It might not be anti-Semitism that necessarily —-
Dern: Right, any kind of racial profile and I’m sure is a draft and it asks those questions. for me personally, you know, I can only speak from my experience what I take from it but the thing that I am affected by the most is that one has to overcome the terror, and just be in their own skin, and I think that that’s what the two lead characters have to get to, you know. He is so terrified even in the first few moments of the movie that he won’t even protect others, he won’t even allow himself to see and I love the allegory that Arthur Miller has created it, of him not even allowing himself to see what is happening in front of him up until he gets glasses that perception changes. He is able to see the world but how the world sees him completely changes.
Question: How would you compare working with both first time directors?
Dern: Yea, you know it’s always different in the case of Novocain, it was a first time director but he had also written the screenplay and has never directed anything, so, you know, you don’t know what the experience is going to be like working with the person as a FILM MAKER, but he knew the story so well and it’s is such a clever script that, that’s always an exciting experience, because he will help you define the character because he created it, and anybody who created G Nobel is like, got to be pretty bizarre and interesting to work with to say the least. In the case of Focus, Neal Slavin is, the little bit I know about a lot of things, I’m actually a huge fan of photography and had known his work and have really loved his work and had been a great admirer of his. His choice of portraitures and how he creates characters through his portraits and this kind of garish use of color in photograph, I don’t know if you have seen any of his photographs.
Dern: But the colors are almost assaulting and I found that so exciting how he used that as well in Focus. I mean especially for a period he’s usually, like, sepia tones and everybody wants to just look that way an old photograph look, and he just blasts you with these over saturated colors that some how make the world kind of nauseating and I just find that really interesting because he kind of does that in his photography and he makes you forced to be in this place where you don’t want to be, which is what Arthur Miller does he exposes the face of America that we don’t want to admit is our own.
Question: You seem to be a great fan of independent films as well as studio movies. Is that where the great roles are do you think, or is that simply coincidental?
Dern: I think it can be. I think it is the luck of the draw and just like independent films have tried to become more commercial and you will find a very violent independent go what are they trying to do. They are trying to make money. Then you’ll find a studio that’s making a very sweet, intimate and human story that you would think: Oh, that would usually be done by an independent. So everything is getting more stirred up, more than ever now, which I think it’s great. I would say I would go where the work is, but go where the LOVE of the work it.
Question: Do you think that motherhood at all changes your perceptions of what to look for in a role?
Dern: I would say not necessarily will it affect my specific choices because I AM someone who has been very specific about my choices, ALWAYS, I really care about what I do, and the movies I’ve done I really like. I like them for specific reasons and I like the makers I am working with or the story or the character for specific reasons. I think the way it will affect my choices the most is just that it will, I feel inspired to learn more because I’ve got to teach stuff and he’s already teaching ME stuff much more than I could ever teach HIM, but you know it’s like you want to catch up and grow up, so as an after it’s a thrill to throw myself into that much more challenging parts. Maybe I will take on things that I would have been afraid to a few years ago.
Question: How challenging was it to wear ‘Farrah Fawcett teeth’?
Dern: Farrah Faucet teeth, that’s what we called them. That’s what I said.the person who made them was brilliant. It wasn’t just that they had to be white, get your teeth cleaned and all of those things, you just know that she loved Farrah and she loved Princess Grace and she just wanted to be an all American girl. It was just fun and it helped me. It was great for me as an actor to be aided by all the different departments.
Question: What about the film Daddy and Them, which I’ve heard some really great things about?
Dern: I haven’t seen a finished form, but what I saw I loved. I think it’s a really interesting, again dark comedy. It deals with relationship challenge, alcohol and family and all kinds of wild stuff and just an amazing cast of people that I absolutely love knowing and working with and I really loved my character. It taught me a lot and I think it addresses a lot about love and communication and the lack thereof. I hope it does surface in some form. Some people are saying it could come out this fall.
Question: You directed a short film a few years ago. Are you planning to do any more?
Dern: You know, I am and that’s one thing that motherhood — if I can learn to orchestrate my life better then maybe I’ll be capable of directing a movie. If I could get through the next five years of managing all the things I want to do already. There is a book that I have been developing to direct and I feel that when it’s ready and I’m ready it will organically happen.
Question: What is that?
Dern: There are actually two different projects, both of which are, I shouldn’t say probably titles of or anything, but one is a southern dark comedy and the other one is a southern dark comedy. I was raised in the south around southern women and I feel like it’s where my heart is.
Question: Bill Macy credits you with having convinced him to do Jurassic 3.
Dern: Is that right? Well, that’s interesting. I mean certainly we talked about it a lot, what do you do with dinosaurs, and all those things, I had the best time of my life. I had an amazing time working with Spielberg, who was incredible. The cast was amazing, the most wonderful people, the most wonderful cast of people.
Question: What else is coming up?
Dern: Damaged Care, for Showtime, which is such an interesting movie that I hope you will all connect with. It’s the true story of Linda Pino who is this sort of this major advocate now for bringing down the HMO’s. She’s an incredible woman and doctor and she’s sort of exposed the HMO’s and it’s a really interesting and legally fascinating movie.
Question: Do you have an air date for that?
Dern: No, probably in the spring.