Laura Dern. Picture: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Laura Dern. Picture: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Decision that hurt Oscar winner’s career

SHE made her big screen debut when she was only six years old, meaning Laura Dern's career has spanned across nearly five decades.

That's quite a feat considering she is 53.

The actress, who won her first ever Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Marriage Story at the 92nd annual Oscars this week, has been completely embraced the world over.

The term "Feel the Dern" was circulating online during the Oscars, as Twitter users discussed her most incredible performances across her many movie and TV appearances.


While she's held a regular spot on Hollywood's A-list for many years, Dern has picked up a wider fan base and notoriety more recently, largely thanks to her stellar role in Big Little Lies, which is available to stream on Foxtel Now.

The eccentric role of Renata Klein - a viewer favourite - won Dern an Emmy in 2017 and a Golden Globe the following year, and was the most celebrated show of the year as a female-driven passion project.


And 2020 turned out to be just as successful, with Dern's glorious Oscar win for her part in Netflix's Marriage Story no doubt proving a highlight of her career.

But things haven't always been smooth sailing for the actress.

In fact, she's had movie plot-twist worthy personal struggle with her actor boyfriend - who ran off with another very famous woman - and a significant career derailment over her role in the TV sitcom, Ellen, in 1997.


Born into Hollywood royalty, as the daughter of Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, a young Dern knew early on she wanted to be an actress.

While her parents broke up when she was only two, Dern accompanied both of them to many film sets, and appeared in her first movie in 1973 film White Lightning, playing the daughter of her mum's character.

The following year she worked with famed director Martin Scorsese in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, which her mum was also involved in.

Over the years Dern maintained steady work in the biz, but her parents weren't happy with their daughter's career choice and - given she was still a minor - refused to give parental consent for her to travel for work.

At the age of 17, Dern sued for emancipation.

Thankfully (for all parties) it was resolved and Dern maintains a special relationship with her parents.

Her big breakout role came at age 17 in David Lynch's 1986 psychological horror Blue Velvet, opposite Isabella Rossellini and Kyle MacLachlan. She worked with Lynch again, appearing opposite Nicolas Cage and with her mother also playing her on-screen mother in 1990 film Wild At Heart.

In 1992, she was nominated for her first Oscar for Best Actress for the film Rambling Rose.

Then came Jurassic Parkin 1993. Steven Spielberg wanted Dern for the role of Dr Ellie Sattler over his own goddaughter (Gwyneth Paltrow), in a game-changing blockbuster that put Dern in an ideal position to keep working in a notoriously fickle industry.

Sam Neill and Laura Dern in Jurassic Park.
Sam Neill and Laura Dern in Jurassic Park.

Unfortunately what came next completely botched that stability.


1997 was a big year for Ellen DeGeneres. But it was also a big year for Dern, who joined DeGeneres in her coming out episode on the sitcom Ellen.

Guest starring as lesbian Susan, "The Puppy Episode" marked the milestone DeGeneres confirmed she was gay - via her character Ellen Morgan.

While years later the event is considered revolutionary, it caused severe damage to both DeGeneres and Dern's career at the time.

After five seasons, the hit comedy series was cancelled, while Dern claimed she wasn't offered any acting work for an entire year.

Dern said she was forced to hire full security detail as she feared for her safety.

"It was significant," the actress told Vulture last year.

"It was significant because I was doing successful independent movies, and, only months before that, I was in Jurassic Park, the most successful movie ever.

"So it was like, you're being offered this, you're being offered that - and it just stopped. Which is kind of wild."

Looking back it however, Dern said she felt privileged to be a part of such an iconic moment in history.

"I didn't think twice about it. It was a great opportunity," Dern said in an interview with New York Magazine.

"When Ellen looked in my eyes, she said it was the first time she said 'I'm gay' out loud. "We didn't rehearse it, when she said it to me she was looking in my eyes and holding my hands and I felt her shaking."


Despite death threats and work drying up after Ellen, it wasn't all bad at the time.

While filming Ellen, and dealing with a split from her Jurassic Park co-star Jeff Goldblum, Dern met actor Billy Bob Thornton.

The pair fell in love.

They attended glitzy red carpet events together, got engaged and became one of Tinseltown's most high profile couples.

Billy Bob Thornton and Laura Dern in 1999.
Billy Bob Thornton and Laura Dern in 1999.

But that love story came to a screeching halt in 2000, when Billy Bob abruptly married his Pushing Tin co-star, actress Angelina Jolie, in Las Vegas.

The pair became a hot couple in the media for their over-the-top PDA and infamously wearing vials of each other's blood around their necks.

Alarmingly, Dern consumed this news the same way the world did.

"I left our home to work on a movie, and while I was away, my boyfriend got married, and I've never heard from him again," Dern said in an interview with Talk magazine years after the event.

"It's like a sudden death. For no one has there been any closure or clarity."

Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton at the Gone in 60 Seconds Los Angeles premiere in 2000. Picture: S. Granitz/WireImage/Getty
Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton at the Gone in 60 Seconds Los Angeles premiere in 2000. Picture: S. Granitz/WireImage/Getty

In 2016, musician Melissa Etheridge, in an interview with Andy Cohen on his Sirius XM radio show, revealed the extent of Dern's relationship breakdown.

"I was around when Angelina was not doing nice things with Billy Bob to Laura Dern," she said.

"I helped Laura move out of her house with Billy Bob - I like broke into their home to get their stuff out because it was so nasty."

Not long after, Dern met and fell in love with musician Ben Harper in 2000. They married in 2005 and have two children together.

They divorced in 2017.


Over the years, Dern has won a host of Golden Globes for her performances, notably in TV series' Recount, Afterburn and Enlightened.

She got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010, before appearing in projects including 2012 film The Master, 2014 film Wild - for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress - 2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi and of course, HBO's Big Little Lies.

Her award-winning role in Netflix's Marriage Story, alongside Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, came hot on the heels of her involvement in another one of 2019's biggest films, Little Women.

And it doesn't stop there. In probably the most exciting news for Dern fans, she is set to reprise her role as Ellie in Jurassic World 3 in 2021.

While she has always been a consistent working actress, it's fair to say Dern has been somewhat underrated for a bulk of her career.

Thankfully now she's being widely embraced for the talent she is.