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The actress Laura Dern has been so good for so long that I think people have begun to take her for granted.
Over the 40-plus years since Dern's first onscreen roles as an extra in White Lightning (1973) and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) — two films that starred her mother, the thrice-Oscar-nominated actress Diane Ladd — she has been a central part of a number of all-time classics, including David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990), Martha Coolidge's Rambling Rose (1991), Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) and Alexander Payne's feature directorial debut Citizen Ruth (1996). She has also been excellent in films that haven't necessarily gotten as much attention, but are worth seeing because of her, including Peter Bogdanovich's Mask (1985), Joe Johnston's October Sky (1999), John Curran's We Don't Live Here Anymore (2004) and Lynch's Inland Empire (2006). And, from 2011-13, she did some of her best work ever in the medium of television — into which she'd previously ventured for short stints via Ellen (1997), The West Wing (2002) and Recount (2008) — on Mike White's tragically short-lived HBO series Enlightened, which she also produced.
From late 2013 to early 2014, Dern, a notorious class act, devoted much of her energy to supporting her 78-year-old father, the actor Bruce Dern, as he vied (successfully) for a long-shot Oscar nomination for his work in Nebraska. And then she spent the rest of 2014 reminding us how, even in just mere minutes of screen time in a film, she can be more effective and memorable than most thespians at the centerpiece of a movie — specifically, in the roles of two mothers facing horrible predicaments, in Josh Boone's summer blockbuster The Fault in Our Stars and Jean-Marc Vallee's fall art film Wild, both of which were adapted from best-selling books. For the latter, in particular, in which she plays Cheryl Strayed's mom, she has generated great reviews — if also some wonder about how she, at just 47, could be the mother of Reese Witherspoon, who is 38 — and some of her most serious Oscar buzz since her one and only prior nomination, 23 years ago, for Rambling Rose.
Earlier this month, I sat down with Dern, whom I'd previously met several times last year, at Robert De Niro's Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca to discuss her life and career.
It was so nice watching you and your father last season — you were so supportive and he was so obviously appreciative. Have you two always had a very nice relationship?
We have. I mean, we got remarkably closer as I became an adult, you know? I mean, he's so who he is — him with a little kid, as sweet as he is, isn't as tender as him with an adult. He talks very directly and authentically about life, so I sort of had to catch up to that. As close as we've always been, we've definitely evolved in my adulthood into a really tender relationship. And he's so supportive. It's a really interesting bond, being an only child — it's very specific. And obviously, with my mom single-parenting most of my early childhood, that mother-daughter bond is also huge.
What was it like for you watching him getting such a warm embrace from the industry, at long last?
Beautiful. Particularly beautiful because I was not just a daughter experiencing it, I was a peer and an actor experiencing it with a group of peers of mine who felt very close to the same way about him — Alexander [Payne], Quentin Tarantino, Jack Nicholson, you know; and his friends of many years — Stacy Keach, who was in the film and brilliant in it — who have always revered him and always wanted to work with him; and the many directors who haven't worked with him who were just like, "Oh, my God, I grew up obsessed with Bruce Dern. He was my favorite actor. This is so exciting." Bradley Cooper — I mean, friends who are actors who just love his work. Leonardo DiCaprio, who was so generous about Dad when he won his Golden Globe — that meant so much that Leo did that, I thought that was really beautiful, to pay tribute. And so, it was lovely to watch the whole energy of an artist being recognized and supported. And as you know, maybe more intimately than me from talking to him about the work, he was so excited to be in his late seventies doing his favorite work. How great? May we all have that.
You mentioned that you were raised mainly by your mom. So many of your films — including several in which you acted opposite her — have been about mother-daughter relationships. What was yours like? What was it like growing up with a mother who was so accomplished at what you also wanted to do?
Amazing — and a very good shortcut. I mean, who knows about talent or how we find it, how we acquire it, if it's given at birth or genetic or what? I just know that my choices as an actor have been very defined by the kind of actor my parents wanted to be, and that I am so grateful for — my awareness of the longevity of a career and being gentle with oneself and one's own ego. It's a real achievement and a battle. I have learned that from watching the ebb and flow of careers, my parents and my godmother — you know, my godmother was Shelley Winters, and Shelley was a really great, huge inspiration, too — just because I watched them have to consider making a living. I watched them want to be pure artists. I watched them go back to do theater. I watched them doing the commercial movie and the benefits and the negatives. Like, I saw it all. I don't know if it taught me anything in terms of how to handle my career; I just know it taught me about humility and it taught me about needing to really be in love with what you do if you want to do this the rest of your life and how to manage it. And that's been maybe more of a gift — and one that I don't talk about, because people usually say, "How did it teach you about the craft or acting?" But I think maybe it's more useful.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an actress?
You know, I've said it before — I always go, "God, is that right?" You know, you can really start to enjoy the sound of your own stories, and I'm like, "I'm used to telling that story. Is that the true story?" The true story, I think, really, is that I spent the summer when I was 7 visiting my dad on Family Plot, a Hitchcock film, and my mom on Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, for Scorsese. I went back and forth to those two sets. And maybe if it had been any other directors, maybe if it'd been a different dynamic than what my parents had with those specific directors, it may not have been the same for me, but it hit me like a lightning bolt: "This is what I'm going to do." What I fell in love with wasn't like, "I want to be an actor." It was very specific, and I think speaks to kind of my whole career, which is this very specific, intimate, irreverent collaboration between an actor and a director — letting them try things, improvising, needing to find funny in a broken or dark place. I mean, after watching Hitchcock and Scorsese — that I would work with David Lynch my whole life, that's not surprising. That's what I fell in love with, because that's what he lets me do, or what Bogdanovich did or Jonathan Demme did or Robert Altman did. I've been so blessed to work with the very people that matched my formula for what I fell in love with. In a way, it was more the filmmaking that I fell in love with — that kind of filmmaking, you know?
That's so interesting. And you really have stuck to that sort of filmmaking throughout your career. I mean, what's the biggest studio movie that you've been a part of? Jurassic Park? Even that is a Spielberg film.
Well, it seemingly was — and yet it was the first CGI movie. And so it was Steven who attracted me. He was one of my heroes and, on an acting level, both Close Encounters and Jaws had some of the most incredible, improvised, wild performances I'd ever seen. I really desperately wanted to work with him, Close Encounters being one of my favorite movies of all time — you know, it's messy and it's organic. And Steven, I think, never gets enough credit for being that kind of filmmaker for actors. So, already, it was amazing. But then, literally, my introduction to the movie was, "We're going to do this crazy thing that hasn't been done. This is Stan Winston and this is Dennis Muren — he comes from northern California — and they have this little company called ILM, and they're going to take the computer and like, paint images around you." We were like, "What? That's crazy. It will never work," you know? It was that new and inventive, so it felt as raw as any independent movie, in a way, even though, when it came out, certainly, it was a very different experience.
Yeah. I mean, it's not like it was a "sell-out" or something. It was a great movie.
Yeah, oh, it's great. And A Perfect World, which was probably what I did right after that, also was seemingly like a studio movie — Kevin Costner was the biggest movie star and Clint [Eastwood] was directing and starring opposite me — and yet it's one of my favorite movies of Clint's. It's really a raw, beautiful, independent voice. So I don't know, I keep somehow getting luckily in that kind of world.
When you decided that you wanted to pursue acting, how did your parents take that? I've read that you — like Michelle Williams and others — sought emancipation from them, and I think that's been misconstrued by some as meaning, "I'm done with them." Can you clarify? I think it's a little more nuanced than that.
Yeah, yes — good for you! My son was doing a report recently, and he had a reference about a descendant of ours historically on one of the sites where you can look up information about someone, and everything about me was wrong — my age — and this story was like, "Sued due to," I don't know, whatever. I mean, they probably sound much more interesting, like, all the reasons why I had to separate from them. But in fact, I had already, at that point, gotten close to my required solids that you need in high school to go to college, so I wanted to emancipate to work more easily as an independent. And my mother actually went with me, which is even more boring — like, "Yes, I totally supported her" — and then, we went home to our house, where I still lived with my mom. [Laughs.]
You're not a runaway!
No. But preceding that, when I really decided at 9 and I told my mom I really wanted to do it, thank God she wasn't for it and said, "You've got to show me that you're really committed to this, so you've got to study for two years, give up your weekends to do that, and let's see how it goes," which I did, "and get yourself to class," so I had to ride my bike and find the class and do all that stuff. And after two years, when I was 11 and I said, "Yeah, I really want to try to be an actor," she wouldn't help me at all. She said, "If you do it, you have to give up" my other great love, which was horseback riding. And I danced pretty much since I was five, so I had to give up ballet, too, ultimately, to audition and go to class and all of that. So, in its own kid-like way, there was sacrifice, and it became kind of a vocation, but it's just — I liked it better. It wasn't really sacrificial.
And you first actual movie appearance, even if it was very small, was in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore?
I don't consider it that. I mean, to me, that was like being on the set with my mom and Marty letting me sit there. I was eating an ice cream cone in the scene where Ellen [Burstyn] and Kris Kristofferson kiss. I loved it — and I loved him. I think he was my first crush. I was just sitting there like, "Oh, my God, Kris Kristofferson is so amazing." They just seemed so cool. And I think he had to do 19 takes, so I had to eat 19 ice cream cones. And I heard Marty say to my mom, "Your kid ate 19 banana ice cream cones and didn't vomit? She's got to be an actress!" And then, I used that when I was 11. I was like, "Mom, Scorsese said that I—" [laughs]
That's fantastic. So looking back, as you see it, what was the first big break?
Foxes, Adrian Lyne, I auditioned for him, and he let me screen test for the lead opposite Jodie Foster. I lied to Adrian — which he's since learned — and said I was 17, I think. And the part was a 19 year old. I was 11. I was 5-foot-10 so, you know, it seemed plausible. And my favorite thing was when Adrian called my mom and said, "Your daughter looks a little young on film. [Laughs.] So we're not going to cast her in this role, but I really want her to be in the movie." And so he gave me this part that was, I think, two weeks' work. So that was my first job.
And then, the first time people sort of perked up and said, "Wait a minute, she's really good" — was it Mask?
I think so. I did a few things before with Diane Lane, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, and I forget what else — I did a few things. But I did Mask and then Smooth Talk pretty much within about a year of each other, and those were the things that I think started an actual career.
And then David Lynch came along. How did you guys first cross paths? Do you know what brought you to his attention?
I don't know. I think it was probably his casting director knowing me from Smooth Talk and Mask and making him aware of me. And so then I had a meeting with him. I walked in the room and we talked for half an hour or something. And he, in the room, told me that he wanted me to do a movie. I never auditioned. I don't know that he saw my work. I think maybe he saw Mask.
And had you seen the script? Did you know what you were signing up for?
I hadn't seen the script yet. I had seen Elephant Man, which I was madly in love with, and I'd seen Eraserhead, so I knew who he was as a director — which was lucky because maybe if I'd only seen Eraserhead at 17, I might not have known what do or think. And then I read Blue Velvet, and I was really lucky because I was 17 and my parents were not just actors, they were Bruce and Diane. And my mother's very dear friend, Susan Strasberg, had read the script, and I think maybe talked to David about a role in it or knew David or something. And Susan was very instrumental, too — Susan being best friends with my mom and Shelley — because then I read the script and my mom read it, and I sat around with Susan, my mom and Shelley talking about, like, what the movie was about. And this was a group of people, including my mother, were like, "It's brilliant. It's extraordinary. He exposes the dark under the light, da, da, da—" I mean, what mom reads that script and goes, "I'm going to let my daughter go off and do that instead of go to UCLA?!"
Right, because that was the plan at that point?
Oh yeah, I had started college the day I got offered the movie. It was a huge dilemma and I went to the school and begged for a leave of absence to write a story report, do anything, thesis, you know, something with film, but they didn't do that then. So, it was being booted to go do Blue Velvet.
But, I guess in the grand scheme, it was the right move, huh?
As my friends like Alexander Payne say, you know, "It's one of the films you study now at UCLA Film School." So I feel like my own little way, at least, I stayed involved in UCLA. [Laughs.]
That's great. And I bet right now they'd beg to have you back at this point.
God, I'd love it. It was a sacrifice. And I came back and went to another college for a semester and then got booted to do Wild at Heart, I guess.
You would obviously know a thousand times better than me, but my sense is that David is not like very many other people. What did you make of him at first? And did you know that this was somebody that you would want to keep working with?
I think from the moment I met him, I knew — which I can't explain — but I knew he was family. And it happened to be the most, you know, creative environment I could be a part of. And David, myself, Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini all became the best of friends on that movie. And you know, even though David and I have had periods of time where we've spent a lot of time together and then not, he's grown into really, like, my best male friend of my life — like, he is really family. As a friend he's been there for me in so many ways, but as a filmmaker, he was my college education, you know? Because if I wanted my children to go to university to learn one thing, it would be to know if art, in any capacity, interested them — car design, fashion, journalism. It would be to, within a discipline, be boundary-less, and that is the art of David Lynch.
And was it right after Blue Velvet that he said, "Hey, let's do Wild at Heart?"
Pretty quickly. And I mean, how about that? How about to do that film, to have done Mask, and to have done Blue Velvet? I mean Smooth Talk was a very, frankly, sexualized character, but it was a smaller film. But Mask was very successful and Blue Velvet was. And so suddenly I was offered every beatific girl next door. I was very nervous about ever – which was big training for my dad – ever being pigeonholed or thought of as one thing, which he struggled with a lot, once he killed John Wayne [in the 1972 film The Cowboys]. And so here comes David, asking me to do the polar opposite of what he'd just asked of me, in every way. I mean, that's such a treat, such an amazing thing — and he continues to every time I work with him.
Even though it was made right after Blue Velvet, there were a few years before it came out, right? Do you remember what that was about?
No, there was. There was definitely a wait. I know for David, he always has a few trains running, so I can't remember for him what it was — as well as working on the screenplay and preparing Wild at Heart between the two — but I know for me, I did a few films in between, this movie Fat Man and Little Boy, which was a very long film to be on, a Roland Joffe movie, and a film called Haunted Summer, this Ivan Passer film. So I worked and then, yeah, it was like two-and-a-half years or something.
I don't know if this is coincidental or you would feel it was causal, but it sounds like right before that run of those movies that you're talking about is when you started working with an acting teacher who you've given a lot of credit to, Sandra Seacat. How did you two cross paths and what was her impact?
Well, amazingly, a few friends had worked with her. I did Smooth Talk and Treat Williams said, "You would really love my acting teacher," and brought up Sandra, who was in New York at the time. And then I became dear friends with Rosanna Arquette and she said, "You know, you have to know Sandra Seacat. You really need to know her." And she was very passionate and helped me get into her class, because she would sometimes come to L.A. and do workshops. And then I did Blue Velvet, and she was coaching Isabella. So it was literally, like, three in a row. And so, I was like, "Oh, my God, I have to." So then I begged her. And then I started studying with her in class and, pretty quickly, would also work with her privately on a film, character development and whatever it was.
Was she teaching the Method? What was her approach?
Well, she was trained at the Actor's Studio, so people would label it Method acting and, as were my parents, I'm a child of and a student of that. And all my teachers have sort of been in similar schools, Peggy Feury and The Studio and Lee [Strasberg] — I had the privilege of auditing his classes and sitting beside him a bit, and that was amazing. So it's all of that. But what Sandra brings to it — or gave me, since I can only speak for myself, and I'm sure she works very differently with different people — is a deeper interest in the, you know, as Gregory Peck called it — and I had never heard it until he deemed it as such — "the healing arts." You know, he was like, "Wow, you chose the healing arts." It's just so beautiful, to consider it as an opportunity to heal oneself and others through questioning the complications of being human, whatever that means, not in some, you know, preachy way, but in a genuine way. And so that's what she is deeply interested in.
It's kind of interesting that David's very into the transcendental, psychological way of looking at things. You relate to that?
Well, I do, and meditation being part of that — I mean, meditation just being a daily practice that helps, and now, we're learning, scientists and surgeons are recommending it to heart patients because it's a de-stress management tool. But, in addition to that, if eastern teaching is about being in the moment, that's what's required of an actor. So it's an interesting thing to utilize anything that keeps you out of your own way, and just present enough to really take on everything that's going on with another actor — when you have the experience, it's oddly a rare privilege. I mean, we're talking about so many great actors and so many great directors, but there are a few actors and a few directors where they're kinda cracked open and you can't run anywhere but the truth. It doesn't matter if you have one scene or you're the lead in it, you just have that experience, and that's what you keep chasing. My friend Jessie Nelson made this film I Am Sam, and she let me come and just asked me to do a few scenes in it. But when Sean Penn and I worked together it was very much like that, and that was one of those rare treats — and we've known each other forever — where you're just like, looking in each other's eyes and there's no escaping being in something cool. And I just did a movie with Andrew Garfield, and Andrew works similarly. It's just so fun when you get to have those experiences, so lucky.
When the AFI put out their list of the 100 greatest films of all time, the ballot that they picked those from featured 400 titles, one of which was Rambling Rose.
Ah, that's beautiful. I didn't know that.
With that movie, did you feel like you were taking it to another level? You were so great, and I imagine that the Oscar nomination that you received for your work must have been pretty special.
I long for actors — I long for everybody — to pay more homage to journalists like yourself and organizations that create the opportunity for accolades because Rambling Roses don't get seen by the world without nominations and championing critics. I mean, it's like, Rambling Rose, Smooth Talk, Blue Velvet — they exist because of you. They exist because of Pauline Kael. They exist because of Peter Travers. They exist because of Sheila Benson, when she was at the L.A. Times. Like, these were the people who went, "Don't waste another minute. Go find this film." And we listened and we trusted our critics. I mean, now it's the Internet and it's a whole new day, but we had very few people that we turned to to kind of advise us then. That's what film criticism was — it was finding a champion.
Now, nobody seems to even pay attention to what critics write about.
I know. That's what film criticism was. So that meant a lot, because the movie got seen. And I cared about it because the Academy is part of my family history. Going to the Academy Awards is something I remember since I was six, when I went with my mom for the first time, 14 with my dad, you know, and there I am, at 22, 23, whatever I was, sitting next to my mom. You know, and then again, there with my dad. Like, there's a beauty to it, and I care deeply about film history. I'm really involved in the Academy. But the making of it was the delicious challenge, you know? And I'm really interested in the opportunity that, for whatever reason, I feel I've been given, to take a quality that's deemed a trait of a woman and — not necessarily normalize, but crack open the judgment on it. More recently, with Enlightened, it was about rage, women's rage, and, "Ew, that's ugly," and so that was so interesting to me to see. But where is the gift in it? And like, we know the damage it can cause. But where do you affect change with that energy? But, with Rambling Rose and Wild at Heart and and Smooth Talk and We Don't Live Here Anymore, a lot of it has been about sexuality, with real misunderstanding of a woman's sexual longing or being defined by a man. That really interested me. And there was a big conversation about it. It's not a movie that would be made today — I am in bed with a 14-year-old, it's pretty shocking — and yet it asks a lot of interesting questions.
I've got to ask you about Citizen Ruth. I know that you and Alexander really hit it off, but how do it even get to that point? How does somebody who's never made a movie get Laura Dern to even think about working with him?
He and Jim Taylor wrote the f—ing funniest, bravest script I've ever read. In one of the first drafts, she was written mid-40s and maybe Latina or African-American — I can't remember, but there was an earlier draft — and I read it and said, "No, I'm the only person that can play this part." And we had an amazing lunch together on Third Street in Los Angeles. I will never forget it, sitting outside. And forget it, I knew he was brilliant from the lunch. Even at the beginning, we were combative a little bit about our territory. But, he had to be fiercely protective of his vision as a first-time feature director with Harvey Weinstein being his boss, if you will. And he stayed true to his voice in a very strong way. And with me, he did — but he also listened to us and he listened to me. I advised him on only one thing, which was — I really felt like I knew his cinematographer. He didn't have one. And I begged him to meet my friend Jim Glennon, who's since passed away, and said, "I'm telling you, this is your DP." And he hired him. They fell madly in love and made every movie together till Jim died. So you know, instead of going, "Ugh, this actor's making me meet a cinematographer—" Like, I just knew they were meant to be together. And so he could trust me and I could trust him. And then, one minute into being there on set, I think we were just totally in love and obsessed with each other, the movie, the experience. It was the great time of my life. I loved it. I've never thrown myself off a cliff more clearly.
Well, if that movie had not been as good as it was, who knows what Alexander would've gotten to do next? But OK, coming now to 2014: even though I know you have children, you hadn't really played that many mothers before The Fault in Our Stars and Wild, right?
No, in fact, someone said to me, when I was doing press for Fault in Our Stars, "Have you ever been a mom?" And I was like, "Well, I was a mom in Citizen Ruth." [laughs] So yes, that's my other mother. [laughs] But it's funny. I mean, they both are mothers, but you know, in giving that I am a mother and giving that I've entered my forties, I mean, being a mother is possibly one option — although I was also doing Enlightened, and she's so not ready for motherhood and will never be a mother! So I'm interested in being complicated, interesting, true women. And I see Wild as deeper than playing a mother; as Bobbi [her character in Wild] said to her daughter, it's about finding your best self. And the whole film is about her coming back to, as she says, the person she knew her mother wanted her to be or knew she could be; that's what she saw her mother do for herself when she left this horrifically abusive relationship. And let's be clear: in the early seventies, when you didn't leave, and there were no hotlines and no one was talking about domestic violence, she left, penniless, with her kids and nowhere to go — and through that has more earned gratitude than anyone I've heard about. So I loved playing that. I loved being in a film where I could ask the question for all of us, like, "How do we remain grateful?" Because we're all going to walk through all of it.
I could be way off about this because it's been a little while since I last saw Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but what was the catalytic event that caused Ellen Burstyn to leave? Was it abuse?
No — well, yeah, that's a part of the story. Her husband dies and so she is a single parent, but then she has an affair with Harvey Keitel and he comes after her. And then we find out he's married and he's like, hitting his wife in front of her.
With Wild, was it a different sort of acting challenge to have to play a character the way somebody else is remembering them?
Well, it is, and even more maybe a deeper challenge or a more fun challenge. I never really spoke to Jean-Marc about it, but I know he knew it. And we figured out how to do it together without talking about it specifically: "How do you make a moment hold the value when later in pieces he uses it in her memory on the trail?" It will hold the value that it only gains when you've lost the person. And yet, in the moment, when it's played out and it feels like it's present time, it's fleeting and it's casual. You know, I mean, I hope I've said a few things to my children that they'll remember about holding on to their true self. But, when I say them, I'm not trying to say them as poetry; I'm just talking to them straight. And so to figure out how to act as simply and authentically as possible is a big challenge, because they're really heightened scenes, and it would be very easy as an actor to go, "Oh, it's the scene where my husband is hitting me and I'm crying." And, well, guess what? You don't cry. You're too fucking scared to cry. You hold so much inside if you're in a situation that terrifying. And so my job is to be true to the women who've been there, not to the dramatization of domestic violence, and to feel the measure, also, of the fact that she felt freedom once she left. You know, she was penniless, she was alone, she was struggling holding down two jobs, trying to go back to school, with her daughter, who's being sassy with her in the kitchen. But she says, "Happy people sing," because she's not afraid in her home. And so I was just trying to fill each moment with as much of her story as possible to know how Cheryl would become the person she became from that memory of that specific mother.
Obviously the film has only just opened, but it's been at the festivals, you've engaged in a lot of dialogue with people and it seems to have a greater than usual, I think, impact on people emotionally than your average movie out there, causing people to look at their own relationships or their own experiences. What has been the most memorable feedback that you've gotten in discussing the part that you played with viewers and with Cheryl?
Well, to be honest, I was going to say I think it's with Cheryl. I mean, you experienced her yesterday [at a luncheon and Q&A for Wild] — half the room was weeping just from listening to her authenticity, forget how beautifully she speaks. She's just so truthful. And in a world that you and I live in, there aren't many really honest people. I heard someone say the other day to me, "Oh, my God, you're doing press in New York. Are you tired of lying?" Because they think you invent yourself. I can't do that. I respect that, too, I guess, if others feel guarded about their private lives or whatever it is. And there are journalists, unlike yourself, who put on their own thing. But you and I are talking as human beings. So Cheryl will be the person that I would've had the deepest conversations with because, as I am sitting here talking about her mother, she's reliving her experience of her mother and sharing new understanding. So that's been really amazing to me. The most amazing thing, other than that, that I'll share is a woman in her sixties came up to me in Telluride after the screening. I don't know what she did. She was in a Patagonia, walking out of the movie with some friends, and she just leaned in, tears in her eyes, and she said, "Can I hug you?" And I said, "Sure." And she gave me this big hug. And in my ear, she said, "Thank you. I lost my mommy, too." And to hear this woman, in her sixties, call her her "mommy"? It could've been last year, it could've been 30 years ago — ah, it brings tears to my eyes.
She's never not your "mommy."
Your "mommy," you know, your haven. For some of us, it's our father, it's our grandparent, it's a caregiver, it's our first love — whoever that love of your life is, in losing them, you hopefully, in a way, gain yourself. It's just a really interesting conversation to have.