Laura Dern: Going for the broken-funny

Actress Laura Dern, star of the HBO series "Enlightened."
CBS News

(CBS News) Laura Dern played opposite dinosaurs in the 1993 movie classic "Jurassic Park." These days, she's playing opposite her real-life mother on cable TV. And right now she's playing opposite our Tracy Smith for this Sunday Profile:

As breakdowns go, Laura Dern's in "Enlightened" was pretty spectacular.

"She's mad as hell and she's not gonna take it anymore. That was sort of our starting point of our first season," she said.

Dern plays the sometimes funny, sometimes hysterical Amy Jellicoe, a woman on a mission to make the world right in the HBO dramedy, "Enlightened."

"She's someone who feels everything in an enormous way," Dern explained. The Academy Award-nominated actress said she gravitates toward characters and writer-directors "who are interested in the broken-funny in life. . . . That's the kind of funny I like."

Dern won a Golden Globe last year. The series, which she co-created, returns next week.

Dern plays the daughter of actress Diane Ladd . . . a part she was born to. "I have had so many people come up to me, not knowing we're really mother and daughter, and it's amazing," Dern said. "It's amazing that there are people who are fans of the show who don't know - and get such a kick out of the relationship: 'Oh my God, I love that relationship. Diane Ladd is so amazing. I love her acting. You guys, what's it like working with her? Is she nice?'

"I'm like, 'Well, yeah, I mean, I've known her for a long time, 'cause she's my mother!'"

"There's work and there's love," said Ladd. "And then to work with someone you love, it's a great thing."

"And to share a love of something, too, with your child is an amazing thing," Dern added.

Dern was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her parents divorced before she was two. Her father is another famous actor - Bruce Dern. She spent her childhood shuttling from dad's movie set to mom's.

"It was an incredible time to grow up and want to become an actor," Dern said. "It was the '70s. And my parents were working with Hal Ashby and Hitchcock and Scorsese. And it's really hard to be in that environment and not want to become an actor. So there was no rocket science in that choice. I was very blessed for that beginning."

"Laura's carrying the torch," said her dad. "She's out there and she's made both Diane and I extremely proud of her."

Bruce Dern says Laura was about nine when she told him she wanted to act. "She came to me and she said, 'If I want to be an actress, what's the drill? I mean, how does it happen?'"

He told her to take risks. Her mother was more cautious. "I said no. No, you be a writer. You be a cook. You be a chef. You be a lawyer. You be a housewife. You can be a leper missionary. You are not going to be an actress."

Dern did it anyway. She auditioned for the lead in the coming-of-age film "Foxes," when she was 11 years old.

"And she sobbed" over not getting the lead, Ladd recalled. "I said, 'Oh honey, don't cry.' She said, 'What else can I do? I'm too young to drink. Candy'll make me fat, and then you don't let me eat sweets. So what am I gonna do besides cry?' And it just broke my heart."

She did get a small part in the film, and it changed mom's mind. "I'm watching her on the screen, she had three little scenes. And then I saw it. I saw the talent that God gives. I'm sorry, I saw it."

"She thought I was good," Dern said.

"And then I started crying and I thought, 'This soul chose me to be her mother.'"

But when Dern chose to make, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains," Ladd did not approve.

"I didn't want to let her go. She was 14 years old, going to Canada to shoot a film."

"Twelve," Dern said.

"No, you weren't still 12."

"Yeah, I turned 13 in that movie."

"Oh, Lord God," said Ladd. "So I paid somebody I knew I could trust."

"My co-stars were the Sex Pistols. Big deal. Who wouldn't feel secure?" Dern said.

"Yeah, Sex Pistols. There were dope addict bands!"


"Maybe some of 'em were."