It has long been my policy to write about the famous parent before writing about the famous child. There have been exceptions; Harry Stockwell, for example, turns out to be only slightly famous and nowhere near as interesting as Dean. But I wrote about Bruce Dern more than two years ago, and I wrote about Diane Ladd two weeks ago, and it’s time to get to Laura Dern. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t occur to some of my readers that she was the child of two acting parents; I’ve even seen a discussion recently that only made sense if the people having it didn’t realize how she grew up. And how she grew up was in the Hollywood of the ’60s and ’70s; her first two movie roles, she was literally a child going to work with her mom.
She wasn’t even twenty yet when she made Blue Velvet. She was barely twenty-five when she got her first Oscar nomination. (She doesn’t appear on the list of youngest nominees because the list is only ten people and the supporting categories tend to skew young, especially Best Supporting Actress; the oldest person of the ten youngest nominees in the category was Jodie Foster at 14 years 83 days.) Doubtless she had a boost in the industry from being, you know, the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, but she is also an extremely talented woman. After all, she’s now more famous than both of her parents, I think.
Of course, while her dad worked with Hitchcock in his second movie and was in Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood, he hasn’t done a Jurassic Park movie. And while her mom was in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, she hasn’t done a Star Wars movie. Laura Dern is one of those performers who goes back and forth from indies to blockbusters, with a fair amount of Prestige Pictures scattered in. I actually think I might’ve seen Fat Man and Little Boy before Jurassic Park came out; I don’t remember when I first saw it, but at least the chronology works. But she was arguably less than fifteen years into her own career when she was Ellie Sattler, and that probably pushed her ahead of her parents.
Because, as with any second-generation Hollywood type, there’s the discussion of when, exactly, her career started. Was it in 1973, when she was six and in White Lightning as her own mother’s daughter? 1974 and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore as “Girl Eating Ice Cream Cone (uncredited)”? Or 1980’s Foxes and the start of being in movies without her mother? The start of actually having character names and playing a part in the plot? Emilio Estevez’s first movie role was Boy Under Lamppost (uncredited) in Badlands. Sofia Coppola was a Michael Francis Rizzi (uncredited) in The Godfather. Neither Jamie Lee Curtis nor Carrie Fisher have that sort of role, but for Hollywood children who do, is that where their careers started?
Still, no matter how you count it, Laura Dern’s been around for a while now. She’s a few months shy of ten years older than I am, and by the time she was my age she’d made 33 movies—and if two of those were in her childhood, going to work with her mom, two of them were also blockbusters, one of which is arguably one of the best monster movies ever made. By the time she was my age, she’d been an icon for decades. This was not, let’s be real, true of either of her parents. Much as I love her parents.