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But, like me, they never really knew a mom and dad sitting down at the table for dinner every night.So I think that creates an easier transition.” Dern’s own parents divorced when she was two and, in effect, her grandmother brought her up. I was so lucky to have her.” She spent many weekends in Malibu with her father, who famously “shot dead” John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972), and describes her childhood as happy – “although I was like any other kid who missed their mom because she had to work, but that was my only real negative”.
“I was raised on movie sets and I decided for myself at a very young age that it was what I wanted to do.” She started acting classes at the age of nine but had to cycle to them as her parents wouldn’t drive her.
Her commitment paid off and, at 11, she won a role opposite Jodie Foster in the teen film Foxes (1980). “It wasn’t popular to be a child actor, unless you were on a television series.
Aged seven, she was an extra on a Martin Scorsese film that her mother was shooting, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, eating an ice-cream cone in a scene at a diner.
The scene was shot 19 times and afterwards Scorsese said to her mother: “If she can eat an ice-cream cone 19 times, she’s got to be an actress.” Knowing that the job can entail repeated knockbacks, her parents tried to discourage their daughter, but Dern was smitten.
We quickly establish that we have children of similar ages. Born into a Hollywood acting family (her parents are the actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd), she has a 40-year career of considerable range under her belt.
“By the time I was 25, I was the sexual siren [in Wild at Heart], I was the good girl [in Mask] and I was the dinosaur lady [in Jurassic Park].” Dern is tall with an angular, expressive face and long, thin hands which don’t lie still for a second.
“I used to regret not having a full college experience, but I don’t grieve it.
I had to quit college to make Blue Velvet, Mask and Wild at Heart.
“Before I met her,” Dern says, “Alexander Payne [who had directed both women in different films] had said to me, ‘You guys really remind me of each other – you use your limbs the same way, you have a very similar spirit.’ Then the studio asked me to play [her mother]. We have a very similar outlook on life.” After wrapping the film, Dern went straight into shooting Wild, due out in December, based on the bestselling book by Cheryl Strayed, in which she plays a mother dying of lung cancer.