Home Features Laura Dern Talks #GayTwitter Fans, ‘Little Women’ Queerness

Laura Dern Talks #GayTwitter Fans, ‘Little Women’ Queerness

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Laura Dern / Sony Pictures

#GayTwitter icon Laura Derns queer cultural contributions being the first to hug Ellen DeGeneres after she came out publicly, the Renata Klein memes, the belted khaki shorts in Jurassic Park are bountiful fodder for social media hyperbole. Every big and little thing Dern does a new pair of glasses! Baby Yoda! is met with great, dramatic exaltation from queer Dern-heads on Twitter. Once, I even read a tweet that asked us to imagine what the gay world would be like if gay men treated other gay men like they treat Laura Dern. 

She is beloved for a vast filmography that includes parts in, of course, Jurassic Park, Twin Peaks, HBOs gone-too-soon Enlightened, and on DeGeneress sitcom Ellen, where she portrayed DeGeneress out lesbian love interest, Susan. More recently, shes acquired International GIF Fame thanks to her scenery-chewing performance as one of the messy Monterey Five on Big Little Lies: the aspirational I will not not be richRenata Klein. Surely, too, #GayTwitter hasnt forgotten that Dern also played one half of a lesbian couple trying to conceive in the 2005 indie comedy Happy Endings. Your straight mom who doesnt even know what Twitter is loves Laura Dern too, but not like you love Laura Dern. Actually, on #GayTwitter, Dern is your mom. 

Her four-decade career, which began in the early 70s, continues its upswing, where the 52-year-old actress can be seen in two of this years best movies: as Scarlett Johanssons steely divorce lawyer in director Noah Baumbachs Golden Globe-nominated Marriage Story, currently on Netflix, and in writer-director Greta Gerwigs contemporary take on Louisa May Alcotts classic novel Little Women as Marmee, the March sisters’ mother. In Gerwigs richly moving update, the mother-of-two shares at least one obligatory parenting principle with her onscreen matriarch: they both love their children unconditionally. 

A safe place for her daughters, Beth, Meg, Jo and Amy, she is wise, tender and merciful so understated Dern tells me she thinks she would make a really boring meme for the gays. But watch the Oscar-nominated actress ruminate on how shes angry nearly every day of my lifeand how shes not patient by nature,as she explains to Jo that she wants only the best for her, and then watch Dern demolish her husbands prized room full of pricey collectors items in Big Little Lies with a baseball bat. In other words, Laura Dern will not not have range.  

In conversation, Dern is everything #GayTwitter already knows her to be: gracious, warm, thoughtful and generous (like a mom, she tells me lots of lovebefore we part). Get her talking about sexual identity in film, and like her career as of late, shes an unstoppable force six minutes over our scheduled block of time, I was the one ending our talk. Her voice bubbles and bursts as she giddily reacts to the mere existence of a Laura Dern Gay Twitter. In between those moments, Dern traversed talking points like how her famous actor parents, Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, raised her in a household that embraced otherness; the gratitude she received from parents of LGBTQ kids for doing Ellen, and how her own coming-of-age may have been different if she were growing up with the gender and sexual fluidity of our modern era. 

One of your first lines in Little Women is Call me mother.Just making sure that youre well aware that thats exactly what every gay man on Twitter wishes youd say to him.

(Gleefully shrieks; enthusiastically laughs.)

Thats going to be a meme.

But heres the only thing we have to change in the meme: I dont know that they want Marmee to say that. I think they want Renata Klein to say that! (Laughs.)

I think they want their memes to say whatever Laura Dern says. 

Oh my god, thats adorable. I feel very honored. (Laughs.)

How has social media changed your awareness of gay cultures affection for you? I mean, I see it. You must.

Awww. Well, lets just start with social media in general: I think Im very lucky to be over 40 and discovering social media, because it gets to be a deep place of connection and instant information about the world and culture and the needs of the world. So as a woman, as an activist and to connect me to other people and, yes, gay culture, as you say (laughs) its the greatest thing in the world. 

But Im not discovering who I am and being defined by it, and I dont know how my childrens generation is handling it. It seems incredibly overwhelming, and I think I wouldve been way too insecure to navigate it well. So I just get to be in the fun of it. And in that way it is just the best time ever. Particularly, with Big Little Lies, to see the joy that is being had, to play dress up as our characters well, even with Star Wars too I did start to discover the fun of memes and just, you know, I never laughed so hard or had a better time or made more great new friends. 

Have you ever sent a Renata Klein meme in a text? 

(Reflects.) No, I have never sent (one). In fact, I send memes of other actors sometimes to people, which is really fun. I always send Oprah memes, because you look up Oprah and its always the perfect meme for something. I think Noah and Greta texted me something recently that really made me emotional in an overwhelming way and I sent what Im told is a meme of myself crying in Blue Velvet

Which is the meme Greta wore on her sweater recently at the Gotham Awards, where they presented you with the 2019 actress tribute.

She did! Theyve hit the hip-hop world, and I think its time because theyre amazing. Raf Simons (who designed the coordinated sweaters she and Baumbach wore as part of his 2019 fall collection) is a genius, and any designer that also pays homage to (Blue Velvet director) David Lynch makes me so happy. 

Id like to talk to you about your devoted LGBTQ following. How do you explain this connection you have with LGBTQ fans, Laura? Where did that start? When were you aware?

Im pausing, frankly, because I probably need your help with this answer. 

Well, I guess I wonder if it was before you did The Puppy Episodeon Ellen in 1997 or after that. 

I mean, I would say I feel privileged to have been raised by independently minded, radical artist parents, and I think that they have lived their lives relating to and feeling like and understanding the other, as actors, as humanists. My home was never not filled with people who might have categorized themselves as the other. There was never a conversation or a sit-down that happened in my childhood that involved same-sex relationships or quote people of coloror disability. My upbringing was being raised by everyone

My mothers assistant, starting from when I was age 6, was the most wonderful man in the world, and when my friends were being dropped off by a really perky, cute, blonde babysitter, I had this most amazing man, Tony, and he would babysit me. Sometimes wed go to his apartment after school if my mom wasnt home. I met his partner, who was the most amazing man, and they were the sweetest, most loving and maternal people in my childhood, and this amazing couple. And I remember being 7 and them explaining to me, when I was like, Are you guys married?” – as a 7-year-old would ask, when two people loved each other that they werent allowed to. 

That was such a huge part of my childhood, not understanding that. And I am just so grateful to my parents that I got to be a kid who, at 7, wouldnt understand that, instead of being confused by a same-sex couple. And Im raising biracial children, and its not part of their lifes conversation, but it certainly is part of their story. So I dont know. I feel like its just always been my life, and I feel very lucky for that. 

Youve said doing The Puppy Episodeshaped and continues to shape you as an activist, advocate and parent. How did it affect you in those ways? 

I would say, yes, that that moment was pretty profound. And you could feel the gratitude of the moment for everybody involved and the consequence. Thats part of what made it so amazing, that I was so thrilled (DeGeneres) asked me, and I got to be part of that experience. And then after it aired I did not work. 

But still, you seem to have gratitude for being a part of that moment. What kind of acknowledgement did you get from the LGBTQ community at the time?

There were a lot of threats and challenges in the immediate, and then, suddenly, after some weeks passed, the letters started coming in. The thank-you letters from parents and grandparents for being part of something that gave them more understanding around their loved one coming out was what just really hit me hard. 

I watched that episode when I was a teenager with my mom and it helped me to eventually come out to her. 

Aww. Literally top three moments of my entire life: staring into (DeGeneress) eyes and feeling her shake as I was holding her hands, the tears welling up as she said those words for the first time in her life, out loud. So I just feel so lucky to have been on that journey with her, and then in and around the tragedy of the loss of Matthew Shepard for (human rights organization) Amnesty International we did a lot of fundraising concerts. 

Melissa Etheridge, who is one of my best friends in the world, and I did these presentations and rock shows to raise awareness, and we had our intro. Shed be like, My names Melissa Etheridge, and Im a lesbian,and Id go, My names Laura Dern, and I play one on TV(laughs) and just from that Amnesty tour we had so much fun meeting so many people who were so grateful for that show. It was an amazing moment. So yeah, definitely that was a shift. But I guess (regarding) my previous comment: It never occurred to me it was a community; it was a part of my childhood. And thats why I forever am grateful to my parents to have raised me that way. 

Lets shift to Little Women, which is essentially a story about identity.

Absolutely.

And we see that particularly with Jo (portrayed by Saoirse Ronan), who, as a rebel spirit, has been sort of a literary queer icon. More than any of the other films, this version strongly alludes to Jos queerness. How might this particular version of Little Women resonate with the LGBTQ community more than previous iterations? 

I would say particularly held in Gretas work, in the adaptation, in the spirit of the film, but also in not only Saoirses performance but in the relationships between myself and Saoirse and between she and Timmys characters (Timothée Chalamet plays Jos neighbor, Laurie). I think that theres a real gender fluidity between she and Timmys characters: role play, a real comfort in self, a real clarity about longing and different kinds of love and redefining what love looks like in their relationship. Its my interpretation and I believe Gretas, because (Saoirse) and I have a scene where we are talking about love, that I am letting her know that she should be free to love who she wants. I think its very clear that that mother is letting her know that she knows she needs to be her true self and whatever that looks like for her is incredible.

So you think Marmee would be accepting of a queer Jo.

Whats incredible is when I was growing up and I dont know if it was this way for you –  it was like, are you straight or are you queer? And my kids dont define it like that at all. Love is love. And its so gender-fluid that none of them are being defined. They dont identify as anything but loving people, and I feel like Jo is an even more modern icon in that she loves men, she loves women, she loves being alone, she loves her own independence, she doesnt want to be tied down by relationships, she feels attracted to everybody. That is Jo. 

Do you think having less restrictions at Jos age wouldve changed the way you explored your own sexuality? I think about that sometimes.

I do too. I think certainly removing stigma from our own childhoods would make us all wildly different. And I say that not just in sexuality but as artists: If shame had been removed we wouldnt have had to define, like, OK, well, youre a writer, and youre an actor and youre straight and youre gay.” “And if you like dresses” … I mean, my son (fashion model Ellery Harper), who has an amazing girlfriend, spent his childhood so comfortably like, literally his entire childhood – loving to be in dresses, loving manicures; he loves fashion, he wants to design, hes always painting his nails, hes always wearing rings, he loves to explore. And he doesnt need a definition. Ahh! 

You sound so inspired by him.

I really am. I do believe that it would have shaped me differently. I dont know what my choices wouldve been, but they definitely wouldve been different, without question. 

Regarding your role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I want to ask you what its meant to you to have Holdo celebrated by the queer community for her interspecies lust?

(Excitedly, boisterously laughs.)

Is that the most accurate way to describe her sexuality?

I think thats genius! (Laughs.) And I know there was lots of very interesting speculation about her sexuality. Its so exciting to play a character in that world that also will not be defined. I praise both (writer-director) Rian Johnson for his creativity, and I praise Oscar Isaac (who portrayed Poe Dameron) for playing up his sexism toward what a leader should look like. And so it is not just a character on a page, and it is certainly not me as an actor bringing that to it; its me only as one of the participants in creating an iconic character based on what everybody invested in it. 

It really was exciting what they wanted a hero to look like. I mean, all the way to having the privilege of (Star Wars composer) John Williams I mean, such an icon come up to me to say, Do you like your theme?And I said, What?He goes, Laura, its the first time, ever, that it was such a profound moment that I just took score out and went silent.Isnt that beautiful? She was like the ultimate badass that even John Williams went, No, there should be no sound.Im like, amazing. 

What did you think of the fan-fiction that said Holdo and Princess Leia were lovers? Did you read any of it? 

I did! And Rian was like, God, that sounds fantastic.I cant say its true, or that was in our minds, but I love that we live in a world where its all possible. How gorgeous is that, if we think of the resistance as an advanced species, that we might consider fluidity as one of their traits, as opposed to the less-evolved being the outsider or the outliers. I dont know. I like our club, guys. I like that the other whatever that looks like are now the popular kids. 

Its invigorating and inspiring, and I could talk to you more about sexuality and identity, but I know you have a busy day of press. 

But I am thrilled to talk to you, and I am thrilled to talk about what it means to think differently about everything. Ill share that, for example, when Im trying to understand who I am as a woman at this moment in my life and what that looks like, I have the privilege of meeting a lot of different writers to say, I need someone whos gonna get me.One muse was (Enlightened co-creator/writer/producer) Mike White, and more recently I had the great, good fortune the person Im currently collaborating with on an idea is (Slave Play playwright) Jeremy O. Harris because I feel like hes gonna get what it is to be a woman in her late 40s trying to understand her sexuality. So you know, we all are figuring it out together. Its an exciting time. So my love affair is equal to anybodys whos willing to be a part of this party. Its a really exciting time, and I feel privileged to talk to you.

Thank you. I admire the choices that you make and continue to make. To end, lets bring this back to the beginning: What are your parting words for all of Laura Dern Gay Twitter? 

(Laughs hysterically.) Oh my GOD! 

Because you know, theyre gonna read this, Laura. 

Um(ponders deeply, committing wholeheartedly to the question like the professional #GayTwitter icon she is). Lets see: May we never again read or hear the quote, Im gay and Im proud,” ’cause, girlfriend, if youre gay, you already know youre proud! Its redundant! Im over that!

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