National Equal Pay Day goes down on April 2, 2019, which is the occasion that equal rights advocates hope to use to shine a light on the gender pay gap. To that end, Golden Globe and Emmy-winning actress Laura Dern has partnered with NUT-rition snacks to raise awareness of how, in the U.S., women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. She also executive produced a hidden camera video to highlight how customers feel while purchasing gender specific bags of snacks — especially when male customers are limited to purchasing packs containing 20% less than the ones offered to their female counterparts. As one might expect, the folks in the video are surprised at the lack of equality before coming together in the end.
Dern was gracious enough to speak with Uproxx about pay equality as well as some juicy topics. This includes her role on HBO’s darkly comedic Big Little Lies (co-starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoe Kravitz, and Shailene Woodley), which will return in June for a second season that moves beyond Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel. In addition, she gave us some insight into working with Jeff Goldblum on Jurassic Park while fielding questions on the public’s enduring fascination with his notorious shirtless scene. We may have gotten a little carried away with the below conversation.
Hi, Laura. Happy Equal Pay Day?
Hi, Kimberly! You may have heard laughter in the background because [we’re talking] about gender pay parity and fierce generations of new girls, like my daughter, who are constantly making jokes about how absurd it is that we’re having to have these conversations.
Let’s hear about your partnership with NUT-rition and why you think it’s so important.
Well, it’s so important because it should no longer be a conversation. We’ve gotten to a place where we’re aware awareness exists. NUT-rition has come up with a really clever way to come on board and be a producer and creating this video that can help spread the word, not in a way that is assaultive, but in a way that’s asking for partnership. Men and women, they can both say, “Isn’t this nuts? Shouldn’t we do the fair thing, and let’s do this together.” I really appreciated that and helping raise awareness. That continues to be a passion of mine, but more on an activist level but also as an actress. With my job requirements, part of that is to help empower women to ask for more, to demand more, to use their voices. To demand that they be treated with respect and dignity and on a level playing field with their male colleagues.
How’s your pay gap experience in 2019 versus when you started out?
Now the light is on. When I was a kid starting out, I was sad that there were no women to talk to. Already, my mind was in the environment I worked in, which was a movie set that was all men, and maybe if you were lucky, there were three females. That’s the way movies are made. What I didn’t know is that there were women across all industries and all workplaces, thinking the same thing. It’s very exciting to find that when there is a discrepancy, and when there is something to be outraged about in terms of the lack of equality or parity, there’s a tribe around me of voices, and they’re not just female, they’re also men and sometimes men in positions of power who will at times thank you for pointing out something that is unjust. Part of that is because, as you and I both well know, something has shifted, and the consumer is asking questions differently, [and] the shareholders, the people in the boardroom. We must use our voices now that we have this slight foothold and a space to demand a difference.
That’s what the video reflects — the attitude of consumers. Did that turn out the way you wanted it to?
Oh, it was so great. We’re so excited and I think the creative was spot on not only in making the video in capturing the disgruntled nature of the shopper, but the outrage about the lack of parity and that it isn’t right. And then the sense of community at the end, you get a sense of people on the same side to point out the issue. But NUT-rition went further to team up with Equal Rights Advocates at PayGapIsNuts.com and to help fund a legal helpline for anyone who believes they’re experiencing the pay gap in the workplace. That’s massive.
Let’s talk about HBO’s Big Little Lies. Your character will still be in next season, correct?
This cast is largely an ensemble, female one. Do you feel that this reflects on any potential pay gap issues?
The amazing thing about this experience is to get a group of women together, and they have all gotten together and decided, “We should be treated equally.” There’s a lot of support for that. The women can ask for that through their studio and their network, their boss, if you will, because we’re also bosses. If you’re producing your own content, you have that much more of a voice than if you were just given the job. That’s what we’re seeing in so many industries.
And are you surprised that Big Little Lies got a second season, or was that something that evolved?
It definitely was not a plan — it was a limited series. We didn’t have any expectations to do it again, and [the decision] was solely based on how excited the audiences were. We still didn’t know if we could do it, but then our novelist had another idea for a continuation and sort-of wrote a novella-style bible of where these characters went from there. It was certainly hard for any of us to not want to continue because we love each other so much, and we really love our characters. I could have no more fun than playing Renata, my god.
Renata is one of those working parents who seems to do it all. I consider that a myth because it’s really hard for me to do it all, but do you think it’s at all possible to do everything and do it well?
I think it’s possible to almost do everything, and I don’t think it’s possible to do it all well. My experience is that the more I live in the nightmarish reality of multitasking, and the more honest I am about how I struggle with it, including with my own kids, the more compassionate those around me are, and I do a better job. If I try to prove I’m doing an incredible job, it’s a disaster. But I couldn’t do it without fellow female workers and transparency.
Well, Renata had a falling out pretty early with several female characters. I imagine this is different than how you and the co-stars actually get along?
Noooo, I fight with them constantly.
Yay! Now we’re really getting somewhere.
It is very different. We fake fight, but we don’t fight for real. We are so close, and we really, really love each other, and we’re very lucky.
And Meryl Streep’s coming onboard next season. Can you give us any hints on where the series will go? A new mystery?
Unfortunately, I can’t. We’ve all been saying that we’re the most boring interview in town right now, but I can say it was the time of my life, and Meryl is such a hero, and I actually had the outrageous luxury of finishing Big Little Lies and going straight to a film that Meryl was also on, so I’ve spent the majority of the last year with her, which is crazy. It was such a dream come true, and I mean that for her as a woman and an artist, obviously, but also as a gender parity advocate and human rights activist. She’s just a remarkable teacher and guide.
Okay, one more question, and I’ll kill me if I don’t ask about this. It’s been 25 years since Jurassic Park, and are you at all surprised that Jeff Goldblum’s shirtless scene is still inspiring Internet conversation?
Do they. I’m learning from you. That’s hysterical.
When Fallen Kingdom came out last year, someone installed an inflatable replica in London. I felt compelled to investigate your reaction.
I think that’s hilarious! It speaks to a very successful narrative that is now a franchise, but gosh. Is he flattered, or is he defensive?
He appears to enjoy this and claimed that he improvised the scene basically because “Costa Rica is really hot and so was I.”
Let me just say that he is one of the greatest improvisational actors ever, and he’s hysterical. So he does try everything, and Steven [Spielberg] enjoys this in actors, which is lucky in the confines of Jurassic Park, needless to say. All I know is that I felt privileged to be there, to be playing this kind-of radical feminist, paleobotanist badass, and [dissolves into laughter]. But I have no other opinion on the shirtlessness, I had no idea, that’s hilarious to me.
You’ll have to google it. It’s wonderful.
That is so great. I mean, the studly Ian Malcolm is still in the conversation!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. Watch the Equal Pay Day-themed video that Laura Dern executive produced with NUT-rition below.