CAU­TION­ARY TALE

Laura Dern’s lat­est role – as a vic­tim of sex­ual abuse – braved im­por­tant ter­ri­tory for the sur­vivors,

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - TV Guide - - News - writes Michele Manelis

AT 51, Laura Dern – Hol­ly­wood roy­alty and two-time Os­car nom­i­nee – is not just hav­ing a Hol­ly­wood mo­ment.

She’s en­joy­ing a ridicu­lously well- de­served sec­ond act.

The daugh­ter of actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern be­gan her ca­reer as a child ac­tor, mak­ing one of her ear­li­est im­pres­sions as a teenager hav­ing an af­fair with a teacher.

It’s a story mir­rored in her new made-for- stream­ing film The

Tale – the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal story of di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Fox’s sex­ual re­la­tion­ship with her school ath­letic coach. She was 13, he was 40. It was only many years later that Fox re­alised, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, that she was the vic­tim of sex­ual abuse.

Al­though Dern has built her ca­reer on han­dling dif­fi­cult ma­te­rial – from her Golden Globe-win­ning per­for­mance in TV drama se­ries En­light­ened; to her most re­cent im­pact in sea­son one of small- screen block­buster

Big Lit­tle Lies – this role trig­gered all of her ma­ter­nal anx­i­ety.

“I have to say it does make you in­cred­i­bly para­noid, and I was al­ready para­noid,” Dern tells TV Guide.

The mother of two, in­clud­ing 13-year- old daugh­ter Jaya, ad­mits it’s one act­ing gig that has “deeply im­pacted my par­ent­ing.”

“It strikes a chord in how we want to pro­tect and be the cham­pion for kids to know their own bound­aries and to hon­our them­selves,” she says.

Dern, who plays Fox as an adult, ex­plains: “In or­der to sur­vive her own trauma, Jen­nifer

re­told her­self this tale – that this was her first love. And I think that was the way she sur­vived it for a num­ber of years, un­til she was re­ally able to look at what the truth of the story was, and the level of trauma that had oc­curred for her.”

The Tale also stars Aus­tralia’s El­iz­a­beth De­bicki, Ellen Burstyn, and Com­mon (with whom Dern had a brief re­la­tion­ship off- screen).

She re­calls an ex­tremely heavy at­mos­phere on set dur­ing the film­ing of the sex scenes be­tween Fox’s younger self (Is­abelle Nélisse) and the coach (Ja­son Rit­ter). “Is­abelle was 12 or 13 years old when we filmed it,” she says. “It was im­por­tant for Jen­nifer to find a girl who had not yet gone into pu­berty. And the re­ac­tion was very emo­tional. Tough guy grips on the crew were bawl­ing, com­ing up to me say­ing, ‘ I was sex­u­ally abused as a child [or] my sis­ter, my mother, my friend,’ and that’s when you see how ram­pant the ex­pe­ri­ence is. And also the shame that peo­ple have held many of these stories in.”

Dern looks back on her own ado­les­cent years on sets – mak­ing her first ap­pear­ance age six in her mother’s film White Light­ning.

“No one told us about this kind of thing,” she says. “I was mak­ing movies at 12, 13, in a very adult en­vi­ron­ment. Many of my au­di­tions were held in the Chateau [Mar­mont Ho­tel in Los An­ge­les], where you sit in a ho­tel room on the bed to read the lines with a film­maker and there is no­body else in the room.”

She leans for­ward for em­pha­sis: “And you are a 13-year- old ac­tor. No one was clock­ing how pro­tec­tive we needed to be. For all of us, for the adult and the child.”

Dern has been shocked into spon­ta­neous ad­vo­cacy by the statis­tics, ex­plain­ing: “Ev­ery eight min­utes a child is sex­u­ally abused in the United States. And 93 per cent of the time, it’s by some­one they know.” She adds: “I think [di­rec­tor] Jen­nifer’s great­est hope, which would be mine, is that The

Tale will act as a cau­tion­ary tale, as well

as an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple heal­ing, who haven’t caught up with their own story yet.”

Away from film­ing, Dern lives in Los An­ge­les, and is re­port­edly dat­ing NBA All- Star player Baron Davis.

She is rais­ing two chil­dren [son Ellery is 17] with her for­mer hus­band, mu­si­cian Ben Harper (they di­vorced in 2010 af­ter five years of mar­riage be­fore re­u­nit­ing briefly in 2012).

For any mother, Dern in­cluded, The Tale’s events are unimag­in­able. “If some­one messes with your baby, all bets are off. That’s just the truth of moth­ers. We have that fe­roc­ity.”

Dern plays a fe­ro­cious mother of a dif­fer­ent kind in Big Lit­tle

Lies – star­ring op­po­site Ni­cole Kid­man, Reese Wither­spoon, Shai­lene Wood­ley and Zoe Kravitz – which just wrapped film­ing on its highly-an­tic­i­pated sec­ond sea­son.

Her char­ac­ter Re­nata, an over-the-top and thor­oughly un­sym­pa­thetic ca­reer woman, is one of the pro­gram’s least lik­able; which is pre­cisely the thrill of it for Dern.

“I like to be a rebel as an ac­tor, so I like and am in­ter­ested in the un­pop­u­lar per­son, the lesser un­der­stood char­ac­ter,” she says.

“It’s a bold choice to try to find em­pa­thy in an un­lik­able place in sto­ry­telling.”

Laura Dern stars along­side Is­abelle Nélisse in TheTale; be­low, Dern with her BigLit­tleLies co-star and close friend Ni­cole Kid­man.

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