After more than 25 years of trying, Hollywood finally made Laura Dern blush.
Having cast away her inhibitions in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and “Wild at Heart” and Alexander Payne’s “Citizen Ruth,” Dern reached the height of unease this year in, of all things, an intimate domestic drama.
The scene, from the Warner Independent Pictures release “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” might sound basic enough: Dern’s character, Terry Linden, reveals to her husband her affair with his best friend.
But the writing, by Larry Gross based upon the short stories of Andre Dubus, left Dern shaken.
“When I read it, I had no idea how to do it,” Dern recalls. “I had no clue. It was just so complicated. The material almost felt embarrassing, which is an odd feeling for me, because I’ve played some characters who have done embarrassing things. I have worked with David Lynch (throughout) my adult life, and he trained me about going off the deep end and not worrying about it.”
Embarrassed or not, Dern could hardly have been more eager for the challenge. Dern says she fell hard for the material sent to her by director John Curran. As soon as Curran met Dern in person, he offered her the part, and she quickly accepted.
“I tend to always love material with flawed protagonists and morally ambiguous people,” explains Dern, a best actress Oscar nominee for “Rambling Rose” in 1992. “Call me crazy, but I relate to those people.”
In a less grounded film, “those people” might have been easier to play. But the flamboyance-free “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” forced Dern to dig deep. One moment finds Dern silently conveying multiple emotions; the next moment she is in verbal sparring matches she compares to little one-act plays.
“The challenge was we had no rehearsal time,” says Dern. “You want that desperately, especially because some of the scenes are fight scenes that were eight or 10 pages long. Keeping it all in mind with blocking is a bit of a scramble.”
Perhaps Terry’s most unique character trait for Dern was the one least likely to make anyone blush — her intellect. And that, above all, might have been why Dern relished playing Terry.
“She is trying to think her way out of every situation: ‘Maybe if I drink, maybe if I stop, maybe if I have an affair …’ ” Dern says. “None of it works.”