There is no lawyer quite as feared as the divorce lawyer, and there is no portrayal of a divorce lawyer quite like Laura Dern's. In Noah Baumbach's Oscar-nominated film Marriage Story, Dern plays Nora Fanshaw, the stiletto-wearing, perfectly coiffed, tough-talking family law attorney representing Scarlett Johansson's Nicole. The movie, which revolves around a fictional, heart-wrenching divorce between Adam Driver's Charlie and Johansson's Nicole, has stacked up to be an awards season favorite, with Dern already receiving a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award.
In preparation for Dern's expected Oscars win this Sunday, we decided to dive deeper into her character, Nora, and the story behind the role. While Dern certainly has impressive acting chops, the inspiration for the character may have come from someplace more personal: her own divorce lawyer.
Laura Wasser, dubbed “Hollywood’s Divorce Queen” and a partner at L.A.'s Wasser, Cooperman, and Mandles, represented Dern in her divorce from musician Ben Harper, along with a laundry list of other famous clients. Said clientele includes Ryan Reynolds, Johnny Depp, Maria Shriver, a few Kardashians, Angelina Jolie (twice), and, finally, Baumbach’s now ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh. It has been widely reported that, given Wasser’s relationships with the Marriage Story power players, she was the inspiration for Nora—Wasser, however, disagrees.
Wasser was involved in the making of Marriage Story.
Were you admiring the sun-filled, elegantly decorated law offices featured in the movie? Well, they are actually Wasser’s own offices. While she was not around on the day of filming, the conference rooms shown in the movie are those from Wasser’s practice.
“Noah asked me whether he could shoot some of the scenes in our office,” Wasser told Vulture. “The larger conference room… and the super-small one, are both actually in our firm.”
Additionally, Wasser spoke with both Baumbach and Dern as they prepared for the film. Dern especially enjoyed consulting with Wasser as she researched her role. "She's one of the great powerhouses," Dern told the Hollywood Reporter. "Despite empathy and heartfelt intent—and I think Laura is an example of this—the business of divorce is the business of winning for your team."
Wasser, however, tells T&C that she was one of many divorce professionals filmmakers and actors spoke with for the film. “My understanding is that Noah Baumbach and the Marriage Story cast spoke with many Family Law professionals: Judicial officers, attorneys, child custody experts and all pulled from their own experiences having been touched by divorce,” Wasser said via email.
“Laura [Dern] had given me a head’s up that there were some similarities [between Wasser and Nora] (office, shoes), but not to take it personally as Nora is a conglomeration of many professionals in the field.”
Wasser thinks the office space and shoe choices are where the similarities end.
Despite the fact that Wasser and Nora are both chic, high-powered family law attorneys, Wasser found Nora to be a dramatized, more aggressive version of a divorce lawyer. “I must say that I did not really see the similarities beyond the offices at all,” Wasser said. “I thought that Laura Dern did an excellent job portraying kind of the worst version of a Family Law attorney. A caricature of the evil divorce lawyer. I thought she was brilliant and actually rather funny at parts.”
Wasser believes that it is advantageous during divorce proceedings for clients and lawyers to be more generous and understanding than what was portrayed in Marriage Story. She also credits her emphasis on reconciliation as the basis for her online dispute resolution tool, ItsOverEasy.com. Wasser hopes that her clients do not think of her as analogous to Nora.
“Most of my clients and colleagues have told me that, although I am a force to be reckoned with, they know I am not as aggressive or disingenuous as Nora,” Wasser said. “I do think that people who know me realize that my entire career is based on problem-solving not crushing my opponent.”
While Wasser enjoyed the movie, she warns against modeling a divorce after Marriage Story.
Part of why Wasser resents the implication of similarities between her and Nora is because she thinks that the Marriage Story divorce was handled in an incredibly flawed manner. In fact, Wasser sees Marriage Story as what not to do.
“Marriage Story is a cautionary tale for people who may embark upon a divorce path to do it better and save the heartache and aggravation that the protagonists experienced at the hands of the fictional divorce attorneys,” Wasser said.
However, Wasser does concede that, for the purposes of entertainment, Dern’s character was essential. “Admittedly, without Nora the story would not have been nearly as interesting (terrifying)!” she said.
Indeed, while Wasser shirks against the idea that she was the basis for Nora—of course, aside from the offices and shoes—the rest of the world certainly has not gotten the memo. Wasser has had no shortage of attention due to this unverified theory. As Wasser said, “Guess the joke was on me because then the calls and emails started coming in…. a ton.”
Want to watch Marriage Story ahead of tonight's award ceremony? It's available to stream on Netflix.
You Might Also Like