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(Credit: Netflix)

Film

Laura Dern's 10 greatest performances

Academy Award winner Laura Dern was born in Los Angeles, California in 1967, the daughter of actor Bruce Dern and actress Diane Ladd. Despite her parent’s divorce when she was just two years old, she followed in the footsteps of both, appearing as an extra in her first film, White Lightning, in 1973. Dern can also be spotted as an extra in Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, however one of her first proper roles came in 1982 where she played a member of a teenage punk band in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

Dern gained critical acclaim in the mid-eighties after staring in Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask (1985), and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) alongside Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini, the latter considered her breakthrough role. She has collaborated many times with Lynch, taking on one of the main roles in his 1990 crime comedy-drama Wild At Heart alongside Nicholas Cage as well as her own mother. Two years later, mother and daughter appeared together in Martha Coolidge’s Rambling Rose, which led to both actresses being nominated for Oscars.

With the release of Jurassic Park in 1993, Dern gained more mainstream recognition from her role as Dr. Ellie Sattler, leading to more roles, including performances in Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World (1993) and Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth (1996). In 1993 Dern also received her first Golden Globe for her role in Afterburn, an award she has been nominated for eight times in her career, winning five.

Dern has also had an incredibly successful career in multiple television series. After starring in Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild alongside Reese Witherspoon in 2014, which earned Dern an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, she joined forces with the two again in 2017 for HBO miniseries Big Little Lies. That year she also collaborated with Lynch yet again, this time playing the elusive Diane in Twin Peaks: The Return.

The past few years have seen Dern star in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Little Women (2019), and Marriage Story (2019), which led to her first Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress. It’s safe to say that Dern is incredibly good at her craft, excelling in both experimental and independent cinema, as well as mainstream blockbusters.

Top 10 Laura Dern performances:

10. Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)

After the success of Ladybird (2017), Greta Gerwig returned in 2019 to film an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s well-loved novel Little Women, casting Dern in the role of the little women’s mother, Marmee. Gerwig states that Dern did extensive research for her role, looking over letters written by Alcott’s mother, who inspired the character of Marmee.

Her dedication comes out on top, with her portrayal of Marmee a representation of Dern’s ability to play a more reserved character exceptionally well, bringing a newfound depth to the role that depicts both the love she feels for her children as well as her internal struggles, saying in one memorable scene, “I’m angry nearly every day of my life.”

9. Smooth Talk (Joyce Chopra, 1985)

Loosely based on Carol Joyce Oates’ short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1966), Dern stars as 15-year-old Connie, whose sexual awakening and interaction with the mysterious and terrifying Arnold Friend are documented over the course of the film, directed by Joyce Chopra.

Parading around town in skimpy outfits and flirting with boys, Dern’s performance as the young protagonist is memorable for her ability to portray the naïve coquettish figure so effortlessly whilst simultaneously embodying the horror of the second half, wherein the film takes a petrifying turn with the arrival of Arnold that threatens to disrupt Connie’s space and presumably, her body too.

8. Wild (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2014)

The biographical adventure drama Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, adapted into a screenplay by Nick Hornby, features Dern as Strayed’s mother Bobbi, whose death partly inspires her to take on a hike over one thousand miles long.

Despite only appearing in a limited amount of scenes, mainly through flashbacks, Dern makes a lasting impact on not just Cheryl but the audience too. Her performance is touching and heartbreaking, yet at times humorous, leading her to receive a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the Academy for her small but memorable role.

7. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019)

Noah Baumbach’s moving exploration of love and divorce, Marriage Story, centres around the relationship between a couple, played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. But it was Laura Dern’s performance as lawyer Nora, who is charismatic yet a force to be weary of, that won her an Oscar for Best Actress.

As always, when presented with a minor role, Dern transforms it into an expertly crafted and impeccable performance, rivalling the lead actors. Her stint as Nora makes playing a complicated role look so easy; there’s few who can so effortlessly bring the delivery that Dern can.

6. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1985)

One of many collaborations between Lynch and Dern, Blue Velvet sees the actress play a character wildly different to the ones she comes to portray in later Lynch flicks. Her character, the innocent and sugary-sweet Sandy Williams, becomes involved in a relationship with Kyle MacLachlan’s Jeffrey whilst also helping him solve the mystery of the severed ear he finds on the ground.

Dern delivers a stunning Lynchian monologue about robins, immersing her girl-next-door character in the absurd and surreal underworld of the film. Her ability to act as such a strong contrast to the seediness and darkness of the rest of the film makes her performance a memorable one, despite the strength of the rest of the cast, which also included Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell.

5. The Tale (Jennifer Fox, 2018)

The Tale is a moving and important film about director Jennifer Fox’s personal experience with sexual abuse as a child, which she uncovers from the depths of her subconscious. Dern portrays Fox in this autobiographical role with much strength, providing perhaps one of her most emotional performances to date.

The devastating story – that is not so much fiction at all – is told beautifully and authentically through Dern’s raw and compelling performance, guaranteed to leave a distinctive impact on the viewer. Dern’s incredulous performance drives the film through its most disturbing points, making it a powerful and heart-wrenching watch.

4. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch, 2017)

It seemed only fitting that Laura Dern would be revealed as the face of the elusive Diane in Twin Peak’s hotly-anticipated revival, who Agent Cooper famously communicates with via tape recorder in the original series, which debuted in 1990. Donning a sleek blonde wig and a cigarette in hand, Dern looks incredibly Lynchian.

Dern is incredible in the role, it’s undeniable that she is the perfect fit for Diane, mastering her bitter, intense glare – a stark contrast from her previous Lynch roles in the 1980s and 1990s, but nonetheless unmistakably Lynchian.

3. Wild At Heart (David Lynch, 1990)

Still relatively early in her career, Dern transforms herself into the sexually-charged Lula Fortune for this piece. Alongside Nicholas Cage’s comedically brilliant Sailor, the pair go on the run from Lula’s mother, who has sent gangsters after him. The film is a whirlwind of campy humour, surreal characters, and sexual escapades, but it would not achieve such glory without the dazzling performance of Dern and her Southern drawl.

Sporting a tight bodycon pink dress, or just patterned black tights and a bra top, Lula is nothing like the characters Dern had played before, yet she does it so well. Dern proved that she could not only play sweet, innocent characters but also more unhinged and reckless types, which informs a lot of her future roles.

2. Big Little Lies (Jean-Marc Vallee, 2017)

HBO’s hit miniseries Big Little Lies contains a star-studded cast list, including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Meryl Streep. However, it is unsurprising that Dern’s fierce and intimidating Renata Klein often steals the spotlight with her erratic and wild portrayal of a struggling mother.

Dern provides much comic relief whilst also brandishing a mountain of rage, mainly directed at her useless squandering husband, portrayed by Jeffrey Nordling. Producing some of the most iconic lines on the show, such as “I will not not be rich!” she teeters the line between pitiful and hateful. Dern’s performance simply elevates the show even further, leading her to win a Golden Globe for the role.

1. Inland Empire (David Lynch, 2006)

No one quite knows what David Lynch’s three-hour-long disorientating and terrifying Inland Empire means, even Dern herself. That didn’t stop her from producing one of the greatest performances of her career in the form of Nikki, an actress whose life begins to merge with the character she is playing in a supposedly cursed film.

Inland Empire is a mind-bending blur of surrealism, shot on handheld low-quality cameras. Dern is absolutely unforgettable, wandering around the streets of Los Angeles looking dishevelled and quite frankly – terrifying. Even Lynch thought she was so good in the film that he set up his own Oscar campaign for her, sitting on a street corner with a cow next to a massive image of Dern that read “For your consideration, Laura Dern.”