About.com Interview
August 11, 2004
Laura Dern's "We Don't Live Here Anymore" co-star Naomi Watts says she's always wanted to work with Dern. A veteran actress who's been working in films since the early 1970s, Dern's known for her fearlessness and ingenuity. In the complex relationship drama, "We Don't Live Here Anymore," all of Dern's considerable skills were put to the test, but director John Curran was certain Dern would be more than up to handling the film's most emotionally draining role.In lesser hands Terry could have easily been an unsympathetic shrew, but Laura always searched for a balance of grace or humor in scenes to counter the anger," notes Curran.


By the sound of it, this was a very tight hectic production. How do you do something this emotionally complex and difficult that quickly, without rehearsal?
It's weird. You know, it's a great challenge. And seemingly very hard work, and a really great luxury. Because you have both working for you. You know, there isn't time. And sometimes especially for Mark and I in the long scenes where he wrote eight page scenes, our fights were rather endless and needed to feel long and redundant and painful, like, “Oh my God, they're fighting again.” So you wanted to hold that feeling, but, because there was so much language, it was sort of like working on a play. And a lot of it was done in a master. So we'd come in and have that to tackle. And yet, probably the rawness of rehearsing on film offered us a great luxury, too. So it works both ways. We had to think on our feet and got lucky when it worked because the camera was rolling.

Do you feel this movie has given you some insight or taught you something that you didn't know?

You know, I think ultimately the only thing I can concretely take from it is you have to….the investment has to be within yourself in any partnership. If you're doing it because of an idea or because it feels good in the moment or because you want to be faithful for someone else, you're going to be lost. And I think that's part of Terry's journey. She has to find her own voice for herself, she can't define for him what he needs in a marriage or in a woman. She can't define in this marriage whether or not there's going to be fidelity. She can choose to leave it. She can choose to stay in it. She can choose to try to help him relieve his own guilt by walking into an affair and somehow trying to become a Hank by believing, “Hey, this is just what we do and it's open marriage.” She's just none of those things. None of those things would ever work for Terry. She's too authentic, she's too direct. And so she discovers her voice in all the misguided attempts that she makes and having walked through a lot of rage and inebriation with alcohol and obsessive compulsive behavior. She tries out everything to get to what is right for her. And I like that, and I like that not only the character is morally ambiguous, but the film is too. It doesn't define for you that there's a right or wrong, or that one character is the villain and one is the hero. It's a complicated question. And any movie that has that point of view is exciting to me.

Your character is upset through the whole movie. How hard is that to maintain?
Luckily I took breaks (laughing). It's so exciting as an actor to get to explore human nature. I could talk to you for hours about this film because I'm interested in it. I'm asking the same questions. I want to understand partnership, I want to learn to communicate, I want to hear a man taking what he has to say and be heard, and define each other for who we are, and [have] some idea of each other. That's everything this movie is about.

But do you also understand your character's husband's point of view?
Do I understand what he's doing? I don't think I understand it, no. I think I try to, but I don't think Terry's capable of that. She has a very clear definition of herself about what she can live with and what she can't. Can she live knowing that he has betrayed her? She's gonna try. Whether it lasts three weeks or another 20 years, I don't know. But I know that she's gonna be clear with him, and I know she's gonna use her voice.

I think that he's someone who's discovered who she really is, instead of the idea of her. Maybe it will redefine a new sense of love for her than he had before. But there is no question that Terry is not someone who will stand for infidelity. And that's an interesting question, too, that we all address, which is when it has happened, what can you live with, and what can you not live with. What I think is interesting about this movie is, many of us have been more than one person in this film. It is difficult to think about, but we've played different roles and we've tried on different things. I feel like the relationship I'm in now….. as jealous as one can be about our partners past or even our own (laughs)……it's like you want to be the pristine virgins for each other. But, thank God, you walk through a path that teaches you what you don't deserve, as much as what you want to let into your life. Sometimes it takes all that crap to find your way.

Is your partner someone who we would know?
He's a musician named Ben Harper. And I admire him very much.

How long have you been together?
Four years.

Any plans to get married?
We're formally engaged, and we call each other 'husband and wife' because we haven't done the ceremony because of schedule. But we're well into a family together. We have one child and we're on our way to a second. Very much partners.

When you say “on our way”…
I'm pregnant, yeah.

When are you expecting?
Not 'til the end of the year.

Are you going to work between now and then?
I just finished a movie for Don Roos, and I'm doing a cameo in a movie of a friend of mine, Jane Anderson , based on a book, “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio” in a couple of weeks.

I'm just back to work and so passionate about working and so excited about working because I had taken some time off with the baby. And I was going to do a movie I really love, but I'm going to be too pregnant to do it now, so that's heartbreaking, but totally worth it (laughs). I took a lot of time off with my first baby for a lot of personal reasons and it was really right for us. But this one film I wanted to do is going [to start] shortly after the beginning of the year. I think this time it will be a different experience of taking the baby on the road and trying to do it all at the same time. That will be interesting.

What film is that?
I guess I shouldn't talk about it yet. But it's a really daring, interesting movie that deals with a civil rights story in the '60s.

Is it based on a true story?
It's based partly on truth and partly on very irreverent satire fiction.

Who's your character?
She's actually a wife. You think she's one thing and she's very much the opposite. I always like to play people who are full of surprises.

What kind of scripts do you look for?
I'm interested in flawed protagonists. I was raised on them. My parents acted. When I was a child, I grew up on the films they were working on in the '70s. And that was all that was being made. Certainly throughout Europe and South America, the rest of the world seems to embrace that ideology, but it's not really the American pastime. We like our archetypes and heroes to be what they are at face value. And life doesn't work out like that. So I think the current political climate and that tragically we're in wartime, all of those things combined may make filmmakers turn more and more towards the truth now. Whatever simple grand turn that takes, I think it's an exciting time potentially in the arts.

Do you think you'll ever work with David Lynch again?
I do. I have a firm conviction that I will a few more times in my life. I feel like that with him more than anybody. And I'm currently experimenting with him on a project that he's playing around with using DV so that he has the liberty to do whatever he wants at any given time.

What's it like working with David Lynch?
It's incredible. It's absolutely incredible. I don't know whether you've interviewed Naomi [Watts] yet, but that's the thing we both get to talk about. It's our shared thing. I don't think I could play any of the parts I've played since “Wild at Heart,” particularly, without the luxury of having him as a friend and as a supporter. It's one thing to feel boundary-less emotionally, but with David, there are no boundaries even with story. There's no place you can't go without the extreme feeling [of being] comfortable with him, and I think it's the best place for an actor to be educated. Try everything.

Are you going to be in the fourth “Jurassic Park?”
Not yet. Is it going?

People keep telling us it's going to be completely different.
I wonder who will direct it. I wonder if dinosaurs will be in it. Dinosaurs are in the White House.