Los Angeles Magazine
"The Dern Truth"
R. Daniel Foster
Sirens come in all shapes & sizes. But few are good Catholic girls with sothern charm whose secret shadow self just might be...Norma Desmond? Laura Dern harbors other surprises but none more alluring than her characters - from early work with fellow-actor parents Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern to Lula "I'm hotter 'n Georgia asphalt" Fortune in David Lynch's Wild at Heart - and that recent stint opposite some mechanical dinosaurs. But it was Rambling Rose that captured unprecedented mother-daughter Oscar nomination for Ladd and Dern. After she wrapped Clint Eastwood's just released A Perfect World, in which she plays a criminologist in early-60's Texas alongside Eastwood and Kevin Costner, we spoke about life, rituals, Jungian symbolism, Jurassic Park costar and current best pal Jeff Goldblum and dear old dad.
The characters you've played have been wonderfully complex, requiring a fair amount of analysis. But how about self-analysis? Do you tend to look within?
Oh yeah. I'm fascinated with that. I think that's what life is - a constant pursuit of the self. It's amazing to me that there are people who never examine themselves. I have relatives from the South, and I know other people who feel that's a taboo. Therapy is a baaaad word. Only crazy people look inside themselves.
When you look inside, what do you see?
You mean Laura?
Um, there are so many things. I constantly see someone I didn't know before.
You're constantly surprised by yourself?
Yeaaaah! I like that. I used to get angry when people would say I was complicated. Now I kind of agree with that. But I think everyone's complicated. I don't think there are simple people.
So now you think complicated is good?
There are so many sides to us - so many things that have affected us. I sit around with friends and someone will say, "Oh, I remember when I was five and my mother was hanging up these clothes, and she bent over and it was then that I understood what a woman's sexuality was." And I think, God, that image has stuck with that person for 40 years and has helped mold what her idea of a woman is. That's fantastic!
How did your religious upbringing color that - your mother's interest in mysticism, Eastern philosophies, astrology?
And I was raised Roman Catholic.
So was I.
(Rolls her eyes.) Here we go! Actually, I'm fascinated by ritual and tradition. But I think there are rituals that have made me feel messed up - you know, dogma about sin and premarital sex. My greatest problem with being raised Catholic was that I was constantly being reminded that I was unworthy. That I had to kneel down and pray to God to get closer to him. Whereas in Eastern religions, we all are God. We have God within us. And I think that's really important. Now, try explaining that to my Catholic grandmother - "Hey, we are God."
But you seen pretty well adjusted - at least from what I've read.
Don't believe it.
Maybe you have this great facade.
Yeah, could be.
You were raised by two sothern women. How do you use your sothern charms today?
(Long pause.) Hmmm. Wow, if I needed to manipulate, I guess I would use them. I don't know that I have that gift. I know my grandmother does it brilliantly. I think southern women are really connected to the earth. They love to embrace people. You know, the phone man comes over, and he's got a hot meal in him before he leaves. And my father, I think, fell in love with my mother because he came from the opposite backround - a very cold, very wealthy family in Chicago that never hugged or communicated. It took him a long time to get close. But now he's incredibly warm. So the obvoius parallel is that I choose to be with people who are slow to warm up, don't communicate everything. But once they know they're safe, they really open up.
So, that's the kind of person you attract? Is that what you're saying?
Yeah. Or that I find myself attracted to. I don't really know what I attract. (Laughs.)
Is that the kind of guy Jeff is? I guess we've arrived at the obligatory Man Question. I should first ask if this Goldblumthing is still happening.
Yes, the Goldblum thang is still happening.
Well, good. It's going well, then?
Yes. He's incredibly warm and gracious. People who know him adore him. To people who don't know him, he's shy. He comes off possibly hard to get to know or quiet.
Like dear old dad.
Yeah, not unlike that. But either I'm getting healthier or I'm growing up. Because now with people I like, the warmth comes much quicker. As opposed to throwing myself into a relationship and struggling for a couple of years to get the person to communicate.
Did the warmth come fast with you and Clint while doing A Perfect World?
It was a bit of a boys' club. I mean, Clint has guys he's worked with for 25 years, and I came in about four weeks into the movie. It was kind od like stepping into their territory. You'll see me in my section of the movie that it's me and six men trapped in an RV. As a character, I'm trying to prove I'm as good as anybody else at the job in a time when there were no female criminologists. She's very feisty. And she finds humor in the fact that these men haven't gotten it together. I really like my relationship with Clint, because it's about two people with opposite viewpoints who grow to love each other. But it's not romantic per se.
Do you have many men friends?
I do, but I lose track of them more. Women just talk more...more frequently. They're best friends - they talk on the phone every day - "Oh, my God, I've got to talk to you - he just said such and such." Men like doing that, too, because they certainly do it in college a lot. As grown men, they seem much more isolated. So it's easier for them to lose touch.
Your dad has played his share of rage-filled characters. And you've said it's important for women to express their rage. When was the last time you really raged?
I don't think I've learned to let it out. I'll get angry later. Good Catholic girls, you see, really don't get angry - because nobody has a dark side. The dark side will come out one day and kill you.
You've studied Jung and his concept of the shadow. Tell me about your shadow self - draw me a picture.
(Pauses, leans back and closes eyes.) Hmmm, it's some kind of giant boulder with, like, a little mushroom growing out of it and a sword sticking through the mushroom and the boulder. I have no idea what that means, but that's what I just saw.
Well, the boulder seems to be a rather large obstacle. What's in your way?
Well, I think it's got anger, it's got sexuality, it's got darkness, it's got fear.
And the fungus is feeding on something.
They're also hallucinogenic, you know. That's what all my friends, who've done drugs, have said to me: If your going to do a drug, that would be yours.
So why is this mushroom -
I think the mushroom is wearing a top hat.
Yes, there's got to be that in my shadow side.
Let me ask you -
Let me ask you one. (Grabs my notes and reads.) "You once said that the scariest thing in the world is repression. Why is that?"
I don't remember saying that. But I guess repression seals people off from themselves. They have to cut off whole chunks of themselves to feel in control, intact. They wind up emotional cripples.
Couldn't have said it better myself. Just say that was my quote. Next question?