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Let's partner for all of it. Learn more at edwardjones.com. Hi, I'm Mo Rocca, and this is our Sunday Morning Extra, a podcast featuring a memorable story from our latest show. This week, actress Laura Dern is making a big splash with her work in two recent films, Little Women and Marriage Story, which earned her an Oscar nomination.
Dern sat down with our Tracy Smith to reflect on being the child of two Hollywood stars and how her life experience has informed her recent performances. What do you think of the term, the Dern-a-sance? I mean, it sounds fantastic.
I'm not sure what it is, but I keep hearing it and that's a lovely and hilarious thing. Feel the Dern, the Dern-a-sance, like people who've come up to me with t-shirts on, literally, that just make me laugh so hard. And I think that perhaps the takeaway for me from it is I'm getting to do what I love in the way that my parents advised me about very early on, which is break boundaries, doing all different kinds of genres. You don't have to be an independent film actor or a studio film actor, or that person does franchises or that person does television. It really is an amazing time of getting to do all of it seamlessly. And as you know, I mean, perhaps even the last time we got to speak about a career in acting, it was much harder to be a film actor and also do television or do theater.
And now, there really is a different kind of freedom, even in the last decade. Let's talk about these films that are out now, Marriage Story. You play a lawyer who's kind of a bully.
Is that fun? Amazing. Particularly amazing with such a humanist as a writer and director as Noah Baumbach. He is determined to understand each of his characters. Each of his characters.
And if they have three lines, it's that way. You feel it in the screenplay, which is flawless. And I think, you know, we had a lot of conversations as he was writing, which was already an amazing experience. You were brought in from the beginning.
Yeah. Myself, Adam Driver, and Scarlett Johansson, all who knew Noah. Noah and I were friends. And with Adam, this is their fourth film together.
So they were deep collaborators. And so we had dinners and long conversations as he was starting to think about making a love story and then turned it toward, I remember at a dinner saying, I think I want to tell a love story through the lens of divorce, which I thought was so moving. And particularly because he said, I think I want to make a movie saying that love stories can end, but it doesn't make them failures.
And that really touched me. I mean, it even brings tears to my eyes thinking about it because we beat ourselves up in this life so much with feeling like something that doesn't last forever is meant to be something as a failing of hours in relationship. And so within that, then looking at what happens when a couple is trying to navigate the end or dissolution of a marriage while co-parenting and wanting the friendship to remain. What happens when the divorce lawyer, particularly maybe the really successful LA divorce lawyers step into the space into the proscenium and sort of take over because it becomes a whole other level of performing the narrative of a marriage for the people who kind of become victims of their own marriage story. And that was like heaven, because that character can be all things. And I think Noah really longed for that. And our collaboration was the fun of figuring out why did she get into it?
What were her noble intentions in representing a person who didn't feel they'd had voice in either the marriage or in this dissolution of marriage? And then how do they become manipulative and determined to win? And what does that look like?
And how does it impact the child, the family, et cetera? And I've never had so much fun. You have this delicious monologue about motherhood. I'm curious what you thought when you first read those words. I read it. I read the script and I called Noah and got his voicemail and cried into his machine for about 10 minutes.
I was so moved by the script and the script is perfect. And when I read the monologue and called him, I said, this is the greatest Christmas present I've ever received. And then very boldly, because Noah's words are perfect, I did ask if I could add one more thought to it. And he generously, you know, together we added a little more of a zinger, which really makes me laugh that I don't even think I can say.
I know we could bleep you. It's pretty profound. So your contribution was? God didn't even do the fucking, which I know cannot be on CBS Sunday morning because it's CBS and it's Sunday morning. Because that line kind of sums it all up. But it's such an amazing defining moment for this rallying cry for women when it comes to gender parity. I mean, it says it so perfectly. Here we are in a situation where we will never measure up comparably in the eyes of the law, in the court system when it comes to divorce.
Mothers are measured differently than fathers. And I think it's so brilliant. And also that it's not just brilliant. And also that a male writer wrote it. I think it's so interesting, this idea that he wrote.
I mean, the idea of a, what is the line? The idea of a reliable father or something wasn't even invented until like 30 years ago. But, you know, when we think about film and television that many of us grew up with, they were very different roles, the mother and the father, than they would ever be today, which is a shared responsibility. So it's just delicious and amazing, you know, to get to talk about that in the movie. And you deliver it so very well.
Well, thank you. I had an incredible good time. I want to talk about another movie that has to do with motherhood and the role of women, Little Women. What appealed to you about playing Marmee? I love her. I mean, she, for me, was such a literary icon. I, interestingly, as an only child being raised by a single mom, when I read Little Women, it wasn't the relationship of the sisters. It was the mother-daughter relationship that moved me so much. And Marmee touched me particularly because she was so honest about how complicated, how complicated it is to be human, how complicated it is to mother and to wish for your daughters to have what you didn't have and to have louder voices and more determined truth and to be comfortable with ambition. And yet she's writing this book in the 1860s. And that just blew my mind.
I was really touched by that. And, you know, even being raised as a modern girl, ambition was still a dirty word. It was not something that was attractive or something that I could have ownership for.
It wasn't ladylike. You know, I could want to be an artist, but we didn't really talk about money or setting yourself up in business or kind of running your own life. Those weren't conversations that were had in my childhood by anyone. Frankly, probably until my godmother, Shelley Winters, talked to me about money. She was the first person that ever mentioned money to me. And how old were you? Fourteen. And I was talking about the sacrifice of being an actor and how privileged it is as artists to sacrifice for the art.
She was like, you know what? You don't have to do that. You don't have to say you get to make money.
You can have integrity and make really good choices. And you can also ask to be paid to do what you love. Did you do that after that?
No. But I, you know, also did, you know, enter studying and the world of theater and then independent film. And none of us were getting paid. But we were all equally not getting paid. So there was lots of equity on set. But, and you did do it for the love. But I didn't even know that there was a right there.
I really didn't. And I think my mother and Shelley and many of their colleagues as women knew that they weren't paid anywhere near what the male actors were. And so it just, that's the way it was.
That's the way it was. So I was particularly moved as that book unfolded. That Marmee was giving Joe this incredible gift. And in fact, Greta and I together discovered her ownership of her own anger. And as well with the real Louisa May Alcott's mother, Abigail, we read a beautiful book, Marmee and Me, which is the letters between Louisa and her real mother that really inspired the movie. And for Saoirse and I, our work together. And I think Greta in her adaptation, because she talked a lot about poverty and about, frankly, single parenting, these four girls, mostly, as the father was away.
And they were in abject poverty. And how much rage there is and rage as you have, you know, one of your children so terminally ill. And that I hadn't felt in the films before. And I loved that Greta felt the revolution in that mother-daughter relationship too, to explore and expose the relationship with the mother. To explore and expose a mom telling the truth and allowing there for her daughter to be all of herself, not these sort of designated defined sections. And I think it's the Amy that Greta wanted to give us, you know, which involves ambition and money as a conversation. And as well, so beautifully played by Emma that, you know, she allowed Meg to also have incredible integrity to care so deeply about finding true love and honoring her husband and loving her babies and making her children her life. Like each of these girls have their own destiny. And it was a mother who wanted to see that and help grow those qualities as opposed to defining what a woman should be. That's, you know, it's incredible writing. I feel very lucky to play that part and to give it a youthful, radical, modern energy that Greta really wanted. And you feel in Greta's adaptation so much.
I want to talk about your childhood a little bit. You were literally conceived on a movie set. Yes, true. 100% true.
Even better on a Roger Corman biker movie. I feel very proud of that. As you should. Do you think, do you believe in destiny? Do you think it was destiny then that you end up doing, doing what you're doing?
I don't know if it was destiny. I had the privilege of seeing Martin Scorsese at the Palm Springs Film Festival the other day. He was with his publicist of years and said, does she know the story of like the start of your career or whatever? And I said, yeah, he told me to be an actor. He was the person who said in front of my mother, hey, she just played an extra and she had to eat 19 ice cream cones because we shot it 19 times.
She didn't get sick. That girl's an actress. You got to be an actor. I just didn't like, you know, completely recorded that in the brain until I really used it against my parents later when they were trying to kind of stave me off of a life of an artist, at least till I was grown. And I was so determined.
And it's really good when you get to use Scorsese's words, that works. So I don't know, you know, I don't know. I mean, it's destiny in that it is the family business. And for many of us, we connect to the family business and, you know, some of us don't have choice. It is what's sort of given. And that's an opportunity for a job.
And there we are. But probably in families that have a creative path, whatever the craftsmen or women that they are, you know, it is a calling. And so I think there is something in you that is innately interested in that calling.
But then there is the good fortune of learning from people who have that ability. And maybe there's genetics in it. I mean, my kid's father is an incredible musician and they all, it was on holiday with my two stepchildren and my two children, and all of them were singing and they all have the most incredible voices you've ever heard in your life. You know, and I don't know if that is a genetic component or they all just happen to be incredibly musical, but this is the wonderful elusive nature of being raised by artistic families, you know. Could the musical quality come from you? Are you musically talented? It probably comes from me, yeah. Yeah. We're waiting for you to make a big musical. I mean, you never know. But no, I would never take, I mean, because their father's an incredible guitarist and I remember my son sitting with a lap slide on his lap and playing it like five.
Just picking it up. And me loving, as we will talk about today, loving movies. But I've been raised on movies, you know, and Noah Baumbach and I share that, you know, his father always took him to the movies and they fell in love with the movies together. And when there's a commonality with your parents, like that, it's deep, it's not necessarily that it's what they do for a living, but I mean, I know so many people who weren't necessarily in an acting or film family, but they were in an acting or film family, but their mom or sister or grandparent loved going to the movies and talking about film and they, therefore, went into that industry. So it has a deep impression when you're a child and you watch the grownups escape or feel empathy or start new conversations because of story.
It's like, so it's such a massive impact. I'm curious, you know, we know your parents from their work, but how would you describe them? How would you describe your mom? My favorite quality about her is that she's incredibly self-deprecating and as a very rooted, serious, fiercely empathetic activist, spiritual, ferocious goddess, she's the first person to love to make fun of herself. And it's the greatest quality.
It's the saving quality. And they can now, and I'm sure they did in their marriage, do it with each other. I think actors that take themselves too seriously would be really tough to be raised by and they really have fun, you know, making fun of themselves or not taking things too seriously or if they're under-complemented or over-complemented, they can really take things with a grain of salt. And that's very lucky for me, given that I became an actor, to be raised in that energy.
So this brings up an interesting point. Between your parents and you, you have seven Oscar nominations, I think, but nobody's brought one home. Do you guys tease each other about that? Like, I'm going to be the one?
We never have. And all I know is my parents take great pride when we're around this space with Matt and others here in the archives of the Academy, that it's part of the history of the Academy now and when it became part of Academy history. To get a letter or to be told, like, your family holds the most Oscar nominations as a family of actors or my mother and I being nominated together for a film. Those things matter to my parents. They thought they were lovely in a way that they allow for them, they feel like is a lovely accomplishment. And I try to, again, sort of maybe make fun of things or be silly about stuff, but it matters to me that it matters to them. I find that quite beautiful, you know, and my mother came from a tiny town in southern Mississippi and sacrificed everything, you know, to get on a train with $20 in her pocket and go to New York City.
And that's, wow, you know, I didn't have to do that. I was, I was raised in it. And my father walked away from this, you know, prestigious political family in Chicago to sort of start this entirely other, probably very misunderstood career. And so I say whatever they feel holds value and means something as like we went our own way and we built an artistic family, then that really moves me that they're touched by that. And then therefore I am too. You talk about how they were risk takers, and I know that one piece of advice that your dad gave you early on was to take risks. And it sounds very simple, but I'm sure that actually doing it was not so simple and really pretty tough at times. But you did it over and over and over again.
How? Let me be clear. This is CBS Sunday morning.
It's the most incredible show. I've learned more from you all about so many extraordinary people taking incredible risks to try to make this world a better place at a very divisive and broken time where my kids are scared to go to school because we don't have gun safety in this country. There are people really risking things. So I just want to put it into perspective. When actors talk about taking risks, we understand the wheelhouse we're in of risk taking. But stories matter. Stories matter. Stories really matter. And so I also don't want to not say that I believe movies are healing and restorative and break our hearts open.
They've certainly done it for me and taught me a great deal. And so movies do matter and art really matters, especially at a time like this. But there are people that are teaching me every day that you're doing pieces on that are the real risk takers, and they will inspire me forever in the hope to make the world a better place. But yes, in risk taking as an actor, I think my parents wanted me to never be afraid for it to be human. And human means messy, complicated. That same hero is going to be a villain tomorrow depending upon whose lens is on this individual. And that's how characters are relatable.
And not to shy away from it because you think an audience is going to find something more likable. Because what audiences are teaching us is they want the mess because we want to see ourselves reflected in story. And we're messy. And we're messy.
And we don't get it right. And that's what's gorgeous about becoming a grown-up, which we spend our lifetime trying to be. We're learning from our mistakes and our flaws. And I love portraying characters that are in that.
And I love finding humor in the broken moment, in the heartbreaking moment. And in a year that I'm given this character and marriage story and Little Women and Renata and Big Little Lies, there's plenty of mess to go around for me to, yes, to try and try and take risks and be a very complicated individual for people to hopefully relate to in some way. This is Intelligence Matters with former acting director of the CIA, Michael Morell. Bridge Colby is co-founder and principal of the Marathon Initiative, a project focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. The United States put our mind to something we can usually figure it out. What people are saying and what we kind of know analytically and empirically is our strategic situation, our military situation is not being matched up with what we're doing. Follow Intelligence Matters wherever you get your podcasts.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-28 07:25:35 / 2023-01-28 07:34:02 / 8