Laura Dern on Returning to the ‘Jurassic Park’ World
Yout’s been nearly 30 years since Laura Dern starred in Jurassic Park, but to many fans, she’ll always be paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Satler. It’s why she felt a little nervous to step back into the role for Jurassic World, DominionOn June 10, in theatres She knew how much this character meant to fans of the Steven Spielberg blockbuster, and specifically women for whom Ellie was the first female hero they saw on screen who did everything the men could do—maybe better. “I felt protective of what other people have said to me about her,” she told TIME. “Women in tech, women in science, women who went into paleontology cite Ellie Satler as an inspiration all the time. It’s incredible.”
Dern was fortunate to find a partner creative in Dominion director Colin Trevorrow, who asked for her input in shaping who Ellie had become in the years since fans last saw her in 2001’s Jurassic Park III. The Academy Award winner actor also brought her passions to the part, such as her dedication to combating the climate crisis. “These are huge conversations that in a matter of a few scenes are deeply part of Ellie’s storyline, which I’m really proud of,” Dern says. “They’re interesting things for all of us, including the next generation of dinosaur fans who will be seeing this as their first Jurassic movie to be asking about.”
Below, the frequent David Lynch collaborator talks about revisiting an iconic character, radical filmmaking, and one real-life hero she’d love to play onscreen.
Stefanie Keenan—Getty Images for CDGA
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TIME: Tell us about what excites you the most about playing Ellie Sattler again in this new film Jurassic installment?
Dern: It was uncommon to see a woman in a movie with no makeup or wearing sexy clothes. Everyone [working on Jurassic Park]We carefully considered how Ellie would dress and what she would do with her stunts. It really mattered to us—and it really mattered to [Jurassic World: Dominion director] Colin [Trevorrow]It was amazing to see how her life would unfold. Ellie was so interested in climate change and soil science, that I became an integral part of my story.
How do you define it? DominionWhat are you trying to communicate about climate change?
At a time in our country of such great tragedy, there’s nothing more profound than the simple messaging that we must consider how we peacefully coexist. Ellie is a soil scientist because soil can save everyone. She’s focused on how to protect us from the ills of industrial farming, petrochemicals, genetically modified seed, and the corporate greed around our food table.
It is amazing that you believe so many people. across generationsAre you familiar with this person?
Little girls and boys have come up to me and said, “You were the first female character I saw onscreen equal to the men.” Recently, a woman I deeply admire, the first female Congresswoman in her district, who’s a committed supporter of a bipartisan gun bill, told me Ellie Sattler was the reason she went into politics.
You can find so many lines that are quotable in Jurassic Park. Is there a favourite?
Maybe my favorite line, even more than “Women inherit the Earth,” is when she’s confronted with going to take care of everything while certain men need to rest and take care of themselves. She says, “We’ll discuss sexism in survival situations, when I get back” from saving us!
Cast and crew from Dominion While filming COVID’s early days, I had to live inside a bubble. Does that have any effect on the film’s chemistry?
Inevitably. After three weeks of the movie’s premiere, we were all swept away by a Category 5 hurricane in Kauai. This event forever altered Sam’s life. [Neill]Jeff [Goldblum]Sir Richard Attenborough, I and I are one another. Steven Spielberg and his family, including his wife, were my extended family. My son was born to them. [in 2001]. We were back in the same situation, filming just as the pandemic was enveloping the country. The only solution was to stay together. All the cast. [director] Colin [Trevorrow]Alex is our producer [Ferguson-Derbyshire]They lived together for five months in England’s countryside and only left to return to the set. This created a strong bond, which people can hopefully see in the film.
How was it to get back together with the animatronic dinosaursOn Jurassic World: Dominion?
Although it was as jaw-dropping as the first time I walked in a Kauai field along with Sam Neill, I will never forget that moment when I saw a triceratops. It was the first time I saw a dinosaur, and it will be a part of my life forever. Working with real animals was amazing. Even if there are a couple of puppeteers involved, all you’re seeing is this beast after you.
You made Jurassic ParkYou were an Oscar nominated independent actor who worked with stars like David Lynch. How was it to be a part of the Steven Spielberg team and work with all these dinosaurs.
I worshiped Steven Spielberg. Jaws Near EncountersTwo of my favourite movies are still favorites. Without knowing the plot, I was there. It was just as experimental and independent as everything else I’d made. It wasn’t yet a franchise or a blockbuster, it was a bunch of people standing around going, “How are we going to do that?”
Nicolas Cage was a dear friend and so much excitement in my life. Wild at Heart with two years before, called me saying, ‘Oh my god, what was the meeting [with Spielberg] like?’ I said, ‘Steven told me, it’s based on this book and I guess I would be working with dinosaurs?’ He was like, ‘You have to do that movie! You have to work with dinosaurs, are you kidding me?’ I’ve never heard someone so excited about anything. His excitement at the prospect of doing something revolutionary was contagious. That Steven was about to do something that hadn’t been done. I don’t think my brain had made that connection yet.
David Lynch has ever spoken with you about this. Jurassic Park?
I don’t remember talking to him specifically on whether or not to take it, but Steven and David have a profound kinship as fellow radicals in the world of cinema. Lynchian and Spielbergian are two of the most common cinema names we have in our dictionaries. There’s a beautiful connection there and over the last 30 years, I’ve been able to help them send messages to each other after they’ve seen each other’s films.
Your love for Spielberg is admirable.
David is considered insanely radical. [on Jurassic Park] with Steven and I was like, “You’re completely insane! You and David, only you two could do something like this.” He was like, “Are you kidding? That’s such a compliment, comparing me to David Lynch. Why is this insane?” I said, “Dude, I’m standing in a basement, terrified, a beast is coming at me and finally I feel a man put his arm on my shoulder. I feel so relieved that Sam Jackson has shown up—and it’s his dismembered arm! Who else is going to put me in that circumstance?”
After playing Ellie Sattler again, are there any other characters of yours you’d like to revisit?
I would want to play Ruth Stoops from Alexander Payne’s 1996 film, Citizen Ruth.It is a fact that not only does no one know, but everyone knows it. [Payne’s 2013]Film Nebraska, my dad [Bruce Dern]Ruth Stoops is seen walking down the block behind Ruth Stoops, who is in a pickup truck driving down the street. Ruth is probably looking for some sort of relief as she walks down the street. You can see my car in the corner when I turn around. But, instead of throwing myself in a huge dumpster as we had figured, she will. This made me more eager to one day be Ruth and Alexander.
That movie, which focuses on one woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, feels even more prescient now as the U.S. awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe V. Wade.
Please, streamers, anyone, put that movie on the internet right away. It’s the most important movie I could have made for this moment. I think for my kids’ generation, teenagers, new voters to see that movie is really powerful. I’m so proud of that movie, and as a first feature [for Payne], it’s so radical.
You characters are being widely shared on the Internet. Are you able to name a favourite?
Do I have the right to cuss in public? So, in honor of you being there, my favourite meme is Diane. Twin Peaks: The ReturnF-U is constantly uttered by. I’m in the Red Room with the curtains and the black and white floor, sitting in the chair with my little white bob, smoking a cigarette, but it looks like a mockup of a cover of TIME Magazine[‘s Person of the Year issue] that features her quote, “F–k you, TIME.” It just really made me laugh.
Since 1980, you have worked in Hollywood. Which career goal is on your bucket list?
I’m longing to play former Senator Wendy Davis. I’d love to tell her story and remind a generation of young women about that kind of fearless determination to stand up for other women, particularly around the choice issue.
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