You’re the daughter of actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd and were raised when “celebrity” wasn’t such a thing. You’re now 52 – is it a different world today? It is, and one I didn’t have to grow up with, so I was lucky. But like anybody, we all have to struggle with our egos and insecurities. I think that being raised by them and seeing the long journey of a career of any kind of artist, certainly in their cases, kept me grounded, grateful and remembering good fortune and patience.
You and your mother have worked together several times. Is that a career highlight? It is. It’s one thing to love your mother’s work and admire her because she’s your mother, and because you’re an actor and you watch her. But to work with Reese Witherspoon for the first time on [2014 film] Wild, and one of the first things she said to me was, “Oh my god, I’m so excited to meet you. Your mother is my favourite actress of all time!” And to be reminded, I don’t just feel the way I feel because I’m the daughter.
You also starred with Witherspoon on Big Little Lies. How was that?
My experience was gorgeous because I love that character [Renata Klein] so much. But a highlight of all time was getting to work with Meryl Streep. You dream of working with Meryl as though you’re going to treat her with the level of respect you hold in your heart, and then you get to play Renata [on top of that]!
In an upcoming version of Little Women, you’ve worked with Streep and another all-star cast again. Did you enjoy that? It was amazing for all of us to spend a year together, because it is like that. Moving to different cities, having all your dinners together, sharing your life, your stories, your children… it really does become a family. That part of it alone was pretty amazing. They’re all incredible – free and wild and ready to try anything, and deeply disciplined.
Your next movie is Marriage Story,
a painful divorce drama. Was it tough to make? Oh, one million per cent. Particularly [for co-stars] Adam [Driver] and Scarlett [Johansson]… they cracked their hearts open every second. I know it was excruciating at times, as anything you open your heart to is, if you want it to be pure and true.
Was your character, divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw, based on your own experiences? She is a combination of people who taught me a lot about the business of divorce. There are people who inspired the role, both from my own experience and the director Noah Baumbach, who researched it – between divorce lawyers, judges, mediators.
Now that your son Ellery, 18, and daughter Jaya, 14, are teens, do you like showing them your previous work?
There’s a lot they haven’t seen. My son is becoming more interested in studying film, so he’s immersing himself in David Lynch’s work and other filmmakers that I’ve worked with. It’s fun that they’re of the age to start to discover, so I’m doing a little of that with them. But certainly they had a lot of fun with Star Wars
[Dern played Vice Admiral Holdo in 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi] and liked that I was heroic, given that I stir up trouble in other movies.
Marriage Story is in selected cinemas from November 14 and available on Netflix from December 6.