First of all, in retrospect, it makes no sense whatsoever that Laura Dern, as she says here, wasn’t asked back for The Lost World, the second of the now six Jurassic movies. She makes a good point that, back then, she really didn’t think of the first Jurassic Park as a franchise. The press surrounding the movie was about the dinosaurs, and it was underestimated how much people liked the human characters — notably Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum, who now appear onscreen together in a Jurassic movie for the first time since 1993. Dern made a brief appearance in Jurassic Park III, but now 29 years later, her Ellie Sattler (finally) returns as a starring role. (But, seriously, it’s really remarkable it took this long to reunite the main three characters from one of the most successful movies of all time.)
In Jurassic World: Dominion, Dern’s Ellie Sattler is investigating swarms of large locusts that are destroying the world’s food chain. She suspects their DNA is being manipulated with dinosaur DNA, which leads her asking for help from her old friends Alan Grant (Neill) and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum).
Talking to Laura Dern is quite the experience. Not many actors today can casually mention how they met Alfred Hitchcock (on the set of Family Plot, which starred her father, Bruce) then, out of nowhere, ask if I want to hear a story about Clint Eastwood meeting a T-Rex that she’s never told. The answer, by the way, was, “Yes. Yes I would like to hear the story of Clint Eastwood meeting a T-Rex.” And then, for good measure, she tells us how much she loves Bill Hader.
By the way, I just have to say, since the pandemic started I have watched so many of your movies and your entire family’s movies. So, hours and hours of entertainment.
Aw, that’s so beautiful to hear. It’s my dad’s birthday today!
Oh, it is? I got to interview him once for Nebraska. He’s great.
Aw, well I will tell him you said that. Beautiful.
I just watched Family Plot this week. I had never seen that. It’s really funny.
Oh my gosh!
I didn’t know it was a funny movie.
I know! It’s really funny and odd and kind of amazing. I was on that set ….
So you met Alfred Hitchcock?
Incredible. I know. So lucky. That was amazing.
So with Jurassic World: Dominion, Colin Trevorrow said one of the most important things about making this movie was getting you onboard. I don’t know if you’ve heard him say that…
Because he felt some of the sequels had been driven too much by men as characters and I know you’re in Jurassic Park III, but not as a main character. Do you agree with that? Because I do.
Oh, that’s beautiful to hear. What I agree with is if Ellie was going to come back that she would have to come back very specifically, having evolved in her area of science, having evolved in her independence, in her activism, in her feminism – or she should just be who she was in the original movie. And that really mattered to Steven and to Frank Marshall and, obviously, to Colin in his vision. And so, when I spoke to all three, and then Colin and I had lunch and he laid out his plan of great mastery and consideration, he was very open to my collaboration with he and Emily Carmichael. And really, talking about what that would look like. And that’s when it really clicked for me and felt like … For all the fans, really, who’ve come up to me saying the influence that this female character had for them, both now in their work and their path in life, but also young men and boys saying to me, “This is the first female character I saw who was an equal to the boys in the movie.”
That was amazing thing to want to be protective of.
Back in the ’90s, I always just assumed that you were doing other things and that’s why you weren’t in The Lost World. Reading more about that productions, it sounds like they just didn’t write you into it.
To be direct, I was not asked. I was doing other things…
Oh, obviously. You made a lot of movies around then.
Yeah. No, I mean, I was so happy to be playing other characters, I guess I should say? I didn’t think of Jurassic Park as a franchise film when we made it. So, I just felt so blessed to work with Steven and tell that story and, yeah, was off discovering all kinds of different universes. But it was not a consideration. And in Jurassic Park III, it was, “Would you come and save the day in this little moment?” Which seemed fun to be with Sam and that was lovely. The director of that movie I’d just done a film with called October Sky and he was lovely.
Right, Joe Johnston.
Yeah. So all of that, it was somewhat organic. Alexander Payne, who was working on some scenes for it …
And you had just done Citizen Ruth with him…
Exactly. So it was just like confluence of friends. But there had never been a conversation of, “What if Ellie Sattler came back and really affected change in the stories?”
That’s really interesting what you said about not looking at it as a franchise. When Jurassic Park came out it was like, “You have to see these dinosaurs!” But I think people were into those characters: you, Sam and Jeff. And maybe that was overlooked for awhile.
It’s funny now in retrospect … I talked to Steven the other day and he said, “I may have done a disservice, in some ways, by talking so much about what we were able to do.” It’s about the dinosaurs coming to life. It’s about the first CGI film. And he was like, “But, Laura. Everything we’re experiencing, and people’s excitement about these characters, is a reminder. I knew the only way to make this work was I had to make a movie about the people.” Which is why we didn’t even see our first dinosaur for half an hour.
Oh yeah, that’s a great point.
And I was like, “Whoa.” And now that the franchise is embedded in knowing what’s coming, you need all these characters that we now have gotten to know. But again, I think in this culmination story, knowing who they are, knowing where their love stories and their friendships and their passion, knowing what happens with corporate greed when it’s not harnessed by activists around it using their voice. All of those things were an embedded part about what this franchise has become so we had to have this movie hold all of that.
I guess my point is it’s kind of nuts it took almost 30 years to get you three back together again doing these movies, especially because there’s been six of them.
We certainly feel it. And just hearing from people, as people are beginning to see the movie, people speak about that as part of the great excitement of the experience for them, which is amazing. And it’s interesting. It is interesting to think about this feeling of getting away with something in 1993 with an equal character who, when in jeopardy, wasn’t a damsel in distress, but took care of things by herself and didn’t need a man. And she was human. She wasn’t a superhero. And she wore no make up and had practical clothing. And all those decisions took so much effort from so many people to agree. But it is amazing that at that time when you think about, “Well, who would be the character that we might have lead the show?” It just inevitably was going to be a male character at the time.
And unless they were super heroines and had a big gun, they weren’t traditionally allowed to be in a position of power in the same way. And now, here we are these years later and we are all equals and there are other amazing badass women with me. And that feels incredible.
And anecdotally, a lot of people ask me, “Is Laura Dern actually really in it? Or is it just a cameo?” And people seem excited when I tell them you are legitimately a main character.
That’s so awesome. Yeah, I know. And that’s a tribute to Colin. He said, “When I’m asking you if you’re up for this, I mean the movie’s got to be about all of you, or we don’t do this.” That felt really good. And then really focusing on the environmental storyline that she would want and also the question of this love story and also this still kind of awkward dynamic between the three of us.
But that awkward dynamic works.
It so works. It so works.
You three just went back into the dynamic between each other like it was yesterday. Did it feel like that on set?
Instantly. The moment Ian Malcolm showed up, even though it was about needing to sell me secrets, our intimacy felt so inappropriate to Sam, and Alan Grant is miserable. And it just was so fun to be back in that play with those two amazing, gorgeous gentlemen who are dear friends of my heart, for sure.
The first scene with you three together, was there a buzz on set?
Sam and I had done another scene together but it’s the first time I saw him with Alan Grant’s hat on. And I turned to my right and Jeff walked up to me with a black leather jacket on and we got into a jeep for a scene we have in a jeep. And we sat down and camera was almost ready and we looked out thinking they were still buzzing around getting ready. And as we looked out, the whole crew had stopped and people were wiping tears.
And we got choked up, all three of us. And then Colin just came over and took pictures and he’s like, “Laura, text this to Steven.” And I texted Steven and Steven’s like, “Oh my God. I’m starting to cry right now.” Just that we all, together, all of us, shared something iconic seeing that first movie. And it wasn’t like three of us were just actors in a movie. We were just like you because we’d made a movie where we had this new technology that none of us knew what it was.
Oh right, I had never really thought of that.
So we sat in a movie theater with Steven for the first time watching this come to life.
Right, “How are they going to do this?”
“This will never work.” I have to tell you. I’ve never told this story but I’m just remembering it. I was so lucky. We were on the lot at Universal. We had been through a level five hurricane. They were juggling unbelievable crew coming together to rebuild sets now on the lot.
And the dinosaur had a tough morning. The T-Rex had slowed down a bit and needed some massaging, if you will. And we were waiting and I was going to finish the movie and work with Clint Eastwood.
Right, A Perfect World.
Yes. And Clint came to the set.
We were going to have lunch at the commissary. First of all, I am such a movie lover so to be on the Universal lot, to go to the commissary to have lunch with Clint Eastwood is crazy. Pinch me! And then, because it broke, Steven came and joined us and Steven said to Clint, “Come back with us and see the T-Rex.”
Nobody had seen it. Nobody was allowed in. And this is one of my favorite moments remembering Clint. He is seeing this life-size beast. He was like, “That’ll scare the hell out of you!” I was just like, “Oh my God, my life is so amazing.”
Dirty Harry Callahan didn’t like what he saw with that T-Rex.
No. No! Probably why I still have PTSD about dinosaurs. People are like, “Was it so great going back?” I’m like, “No. I was with a raptor again and there’s nothing I hate more!”
In this interview you had a Hitchcock story and a Clint story. Those are pretty good pulls right there.
Can I just say, I say this as the highest compliment because I worship him as an artist, director, writer, actor and person… One of my dear friends is Bill Hader.
Oh, yeah. He’s great.
And you guys have a similar rhythm. Just the way you speak. There’s a similar rhythm in your cadence or something.
Oh, okay, I appreciate that. No one’s ever said that before.
It’s a compliment!
Oh I very much take that as a compliment.
Isn’t he great?
Oh, he’s the best.
Barry is so brilliant.
I’m a fan.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.