When Laura Dern accepted her Oscar for best supporting actress tonight, for her role as a predatory divorce lawyer in Marriage Story, she capped off a triumphant year more than three decades in the making.
In her acceptance speech, Dern thanked her children and also saved an emotional moment for her parents, actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern. “Some say never meet your heroes,” Dern said, looking out toward her mother, who had accompanied her to the ceremony and had begun to cry softly. “But I say, if you’re really blessed, you get them as your parents.”
Dern first came to prominence in her star-making role in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet in 1986, but the 19-year-old actress was already a well-known figure in the Hollywood community by then. The daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd (and the god-daughter of Shelly Winters!) grew up on sound stages and film sets, which seemed to presage her future career. “I literally, literally, would not be here if it were not for actors,” Dern joked at the Screen Actors Guild during her acceptance speech in January, pointing toward her father, who was sitting at the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood table. That award came after her win at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards and was followed up with another win at the BAFTAs last Sunday.
All this follows, of course, her critically acclaimed (and Emmy-winning role) as Renata in Big Little Lies. And on Saturday, at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles performed a song recapping the “LGBTQ highlights of the year in film,” which included several of Dern’s scenes from Marriage Story: “Laura Dern kicking her feet on the couch, Laura Dern ordering a kale salad, Laura Dern dressed slutty in court.” The song ended when gospel singer Alex Newell Āoncè joined the group for its final chorus: the words “Laura Dern, Laura Dern” soaringly sung over and over again.
As social media has repeatedly proclaimed, this is the age of the #Dernaissance.
Dern’s first film role, at 7 years of age, was a non-speaking extra in Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Her mother played a waitress and she played a young girl eating an ice cream cone in a diner. Her mother was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar for that role but lost to Ingrid Bergman (for Murder on the Orient Express), and was nominated again in 1991 for Wild at Heart, losing to Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost. In 1992, Ladd and Dern became the first mother-daughter duo ever to be nominated for acting Oscars in the same film, the Depression-era drama Rambling Rose. (Dern lost the best actress prize to Jodie Foster for Silence of the Lambs; Ladd best supporting actress to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King.) Meanwhile, her father, Bruce Dern, has been nominated twice—in 1979, for best supporting actor for Coming Home, and in 2014 for best actor for Nebraska—but has never won. With her Oscar win tonight, Dern becomes the first in her acting family to come home with a gold statuette.