The Morning Call

Derns mine their tender bond in ‘Palm Royale’

Dad, daughter go on ‘wonderful journey’ in 1st work together

- By Yvonne Villarreal

Laura Dern and her father, veteran actor

Bruce Dern, are in a room together and, within minutes, the stories begin.

There was talk about the advice he received from the giants that orbited his life — like Elia Kazan, whom Bruce studied under at the Actor’s Studio in New York.

There was talk about his best Dernsies — the term coined by his longtime friend Jack Nicholson to describe Dern’s habit of going off script to find authentic moments for his characters.

With an acting career that has spanned more than half a century in films like “The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Nebraska,” Bruce Dern, 87, has a lot of stories to tell.

While many would relish slowing down, he’s still pushing himself creatively — this time with help from Laura, 57, who has forged her own acclaimed career in film and television as an actor and producer.

Laura and Bruce mine their tender bond as father and daughter for “Palm Royale,” Apple TV+’s vibrant and outrageous 1960s-set comedy. Based on Juliet McDaniel’s novel “Mr. and Mrs. American Pie” and adapted for television by Abe Sylvia, the series revolves around the exploits of social climber Maxine Simmons (Kristen Wiig). She’s desperatel­y trying to earn a spot on the social ladder in the glamorous and exclusive community of Palm Beach, Florida, where her estranged and now-comatose aunt-in-law (Carol Burnett) ruled for decades. There, Maxine encounters Linda Shaw (Laura Dern, who is an executive producer on the series), a feminist activist and owner of a bookstore with a past she can’t fully escape; and her rich father, Skeet (Bruce Dern), who is ailing while his wife, Evelyn (Allison Janney), vies for Palm Beach’s top spot in the social hierarchy.

It’s the first time — officially, anyway — the Derns are sharing the screen.

This interview with Bruce and Laura Dern has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: I’m surprised it took this long to have you two share screen time in this way. How did this come about?

Laura: It was a dream to finally get to work together. We’ve thought about it for a while. The gift of being a producer is you can be involved early in decisions, in the process of developing the characters, and what part to play. Abe had this brilliant idea of this other character, Linda, that had not been in the book, to really speak to a lot of the themes that I wanted to talk about. We thought, maybe there’s background that involves the family. That’s when Jayme Lemons, my producing partner, was like “Family? Is it a dad?” Because they all knew how we’d always longed for this.

When (Abe) pitched the idea of this relationsh­ip, I called Dad, who was working on two movies, because he never stops and is deeply sought after. I felt a little shy as a producer, because I didn’t want you (turning to Bruce) to feel like you had to do it. It was like, “Is it a waste to finally work together and only have you a few scenes? Or are we going to jump at doing what we’ve wanted to do, certainly, my whole life?” Dad was so supportive and game and willing. I think it gave us a wonderful journey to explore deep themes about sins of the father, grief, ego and privilege.

Q: Had someone tried to get you guys on screen together before? You’ve both worked with director Alexander Payne — Laura in “Citizen Ruth” (1996), Bruce in “Nebraska” (2013). Has he ever said, “Hey, would you two ever ...?” Bruce: Alexander Payne is the only guy who tried to put us together in a film. He did “Nebraska.”

L: Nobody knows he did it. B: What happens is, at the end of the movie, I’m driving the truck down the street, and the kid (Will Forte as David Grant) is letting me drive it. We go past an alley. And as I go past the alley, I don’t really look down it. But up the alley comes a waif-likelookin­g Laura and she comes up the alley, maybe about 20 yards, and climbs into a dumpster.

L: I was playing my character in “Citizen

Ruth.” He was like, “You guys have never been in a movie together; get your clothes on, be Ruth, and just come down the alley and dive into a dumpster.” That was our first chance. But (Alexander), actually — he has other things up his sleeve. We knew (“Palm Royale”) would be our first real opportunit­y, but that we’ll have another one, hopefully, soon.

Q: How was that first day on set together? I couldn’t help but notice the surplus of olives on the table.

L: Do you know why? Because our production designer Jon Carlos, who is so brilliant, came to me and said, “What does your dad love? What is his favorite food? What is his favorite drink?” I said, “Since I was a kid, he would always have, then a Pepsi, now a Coke, with olives in it.” So he gave you that big jar of olives and some Cokes.

B: Pimento olives. That was because I ran a lot. And there’s salt in olives. So you put a salty olive in a CocaCola or a Pepsi-Cola, and that was my drink.

Q: Your character, at this stage in his life, says his biggest regret was not doing a “thing with my life.” Do you think about regrets or what it is to fail?

B: I don’t look back well. I’m not projecting the future either. I’m just kind of sailing along a day at a time, but with all the accouterme­nts of everything

I’ve had for 87 years. They always say, “Why don’t you direct a movie?” Because it’s an art, and I’m not an artist like that. All I know is I’m about behavior.

Q: Laura, what is your earliest memory of seeing him on a set?

L: I was 6, I think, and

Dad was doing the movie “Family Plot” (1976) for Alfred Hitchcock. He brought me to the set. I will never forget that. I don’t know if the crew did this, or what, but Hitchcock had his director’s chair. Remember? (Turns to Bruce.) They brought a little mini director’s chair and let me sit next to him. B: At lunch, they sat next to each other.

L: He told me stories and explained shots to me. He was really generous with your kid, Dad. That summer was a real turning point where I saw the relationsh­ip between a filmmaker and an actor. You guys had such an incredible shorthand that I fell in love with. I think I didn’t really understand acting, and necessaril­y the process of storytelli­ng, but I fell in love with the way a director and an actor work together and come together. That relationsh­ip has been the great joy of my life. I always sought out a filmmakera­ctor relationsh­ip that was like you with Hal Ashby (in “Coming Home”) or you with Hitchcock. I have had a few of those, like my relationsh­ip with David Lynch, and I think I longed for that because I saw that thing where they get you, where they could whisper a word, and you’re like, “Yeah, I know what I’m doing.”

You just have this instinctua­l, clear other language to yourselves. That was a huge influence.

B: There’s two things I remember. First of all, it was probably 2 a.m. My phone rings and it’s (Laura’s mother, Diane Ladd), and she says,

“Wake up! Your daughter’s screaming and yelling all over the house. She just saw your head fall down the stairs in ‘Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.’ ” They cut my head and my hand off in the movie. Bette Davis does it on purpose. So, I have to get on a phone with her. I said, “Hiiiiiiiii­i, Lauraaaaaa­aa. I’m way down heeeeeeere, my head is all the way down here.” Her mother seized the phone. That was the same incident, the same movie. The other thing that happens to me, where I’m trying to get Laura to understand how to take advantage more of what’s actually going on around you in the movie you’re doing today. How can you take advantage of that? Listen. Pick up the vibe on the set. Find the tension. Find who’s uptight, find who isn’t.

 ?? APPLE TV+ ?? Laura Dern and Bruce Dern star as daughter Linda and father Skeet in “Palm Royale.”
APPLE TV+ Laura Dern and Bruce Dern star as daughter Linda and father Skeet in “Palm Royale.”

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