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Activism: Learnin with Dern and Her Mom, Diane Ladd

Updated: May 12

“I, of course, told her. Be a doctor. Be anything but an Actor. They’ll judge and judge and judge you. It is not for everyone." The legendary Diane Ladd talking about her daughter, Laura Dern.

We know Laura Dern did not listen to her Mom and has become a celebrated Actress in every capacity. She is an empress of cinema, who has evolved into a living library of performance, collaboration and presence. An inspiration to actors, directors, writers and producers. Watch any of her films and television shows and you will see the curiosity of a storyteller. Some of it is in her willingness to 'go there', to labor under all kinds of challenges of the heart, and it is something else, so palpable, my friend, Jason Avalos, at The School House Pictures refers to watching her work in movies and television as Learnin with Dern.


When I received an invitation to TCM Classic Film Festival Event: A Conversation with Laura Dern & Diane Ladd facilitated by Ben Mankiewicz I said, 'YES!' What I didn't know, the Mother and Daughter, multi-hyphenate actors, who have Six Academy Award Nominations between them, would be using this event to launch their book into the world - HONEY, BABY, MINE: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)

Ben Mankiewicz, Laura Dern and Diane Ladd have history, a foundation from which to share lifetimes of insights. What I would learn as the evening progressed, the book itself is a conversation between a Daughter and her sick Mom, inviting the reader to consider their own relationship with their Mother, this evening was something else, it was part discussion, part storytelling, part promotion and part of returning to the world of what's next when we interweave the generations of artists they embody. It was a wonderful way to hear them and connect to the iconic movies that we know, and bridge into some behind the scenes we may not.

It began with a gasp from the couple sitting next to me. I looked up to see that Diane Ladd had entered the room glowing, just off stage, like the full moon on a crisp spring evening and just beyond her Laura Dern smiling, easy, relaxed.

Ben Mankiewicz laughed into a "Bring your kid to work day" introduction of the pair and the two Actors took the stage, sparkling in deep connected loving, for each other and for the life they have shared. It is rare that we know the details of someone's conception. But, in this case, because she is the daughter of two famous actor parents, we know she was conceived while her Mom and Dad, Bruce Dern, were filming The Wild Angels produced and directed by Roger Corman. It seems a perfect (complete with title) origin for the women that Laura Dern would grow into.

Ben Mankiewicz asked Diane Ladd,

"Could you have gone in a different direction, other than acting?"

With a pause that hits different with each decade an artist spends in the entertainment business,

"It was that feeling of inevitability, kind of a Joan of Arc courage. I had 25 dollars and a train ticket to NY to pursue performing."

Ben agreed.

"You would have had that kind of courage to follow your gift Diane. It lives in your work."

The two women acknowledged knowingly all that had led them to this moment.

Laura Dern and her Mom Diane Ladd talk about life on the cliffs of the Palisades in CA

Diane Ladd was clear eyed and had no illusions about the entertainment business.

"Being an actor is a unique profession, a parent, even if they have succeeded at any level at a career, want to save their kids the pain points, but also, know, there kid needs to have their own path. I made a deal with Laura. If she could get herself to and from acting classes, put in the dedication, she'd agree. and didn't Laura get on her bicycle and attend every class."

Laura smiled, and the audience chuckled along with Diane Ladd.

“When your children have a gift, the minute you know it, you want to support their gifts. Let your children stand on your shoulders and allow them to fly”

"If you're going to learn discipline you gotta do it yourself. It's the commitment that makes the difference."

With grace and appreciation and that inner recognition turning back to her daughter.

"She did it.

She always did it."

Back to the audience, an offering of intention, a whisper across the winds of the entertainment ancestors.

"When you find the thing you love there’s no sacrifice . You do what you love. Follow your dreams through to completion."

The conversation fell to Laura.

"My Mom definitely lead the way. My Father, now, those early days of auditioning, when a Director noticed the last name on the call sheet, Dern.

"Dern?! You’re Bruce’s kid, oh Jesus Christ. Next!"

“Mommy never cost me a part.”

Ben guided the pair to one of Diane Ladd's breakthrough roles in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore directed by Martin Scorsese, in which she was nominated for an Academy Award, which she didn't win, but, Diane Burstyn did for best actress and the film won for best film. In this scene you see the beauty of Scorsese's work, the endless talent flowing between these two women. A wonderful moment between Alice played by Ellen Burstyn & Flo played by Diane Ladd, after they stop the arguing and become true friends.

Diane said "On Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore; Laura had a small part as her daughter on the set, to play a little girl eating an ice cream cone.

Scorsese did TEN takes.

She ate Ice cream 10 times. No complaints.

At the end of filming, Marty Scorsese came up to me. "I’m sure she is going to be an actress. And, that was part of destinies playground."

Ben moved into the choice of roles, the decisions of an artist to take one role or another bringing a wry, shadow laugh from Diane.

"I looked for parts that changed humanity."

As every with every great story teller, Diane Ladd had the crowd in the palm of her heart, when she landed the next line.

"They often don’t pay a lot."

To which we ALL laughed together, connecting, with understanding and hope that a new generation of artists would be paid to do this artistic work. Feeling the unspoken intent of Diane Ladd's sharing.

"We are teachers holding a mirror reflecting times we love in. We fight for everything to be as good as possible. As artists we wanted to fight for truth and entertainment that helps life and heals and shines a light. Work with love is the greatest thing there is."

In 1985, Laura Dern was cast as a carefree 15-year-old girl, Connie Wyatt, who grabs the attention of a predatory stranger, in the film Smooth Talk. Seen as the film that launched Dern's career, winning the Grand Jury Prize, dramatic category, at the Sundance Film Festival. Watching it during the pandemic in our Criterion Collection classic film screenings, thinking through, her 2018 performance in The Tale, it was shocking. Studying the work and once again, Learnin with Dern POV, I felt I had healed something from my own childhood. In her evolution, you see that through line of the artist, discovering the complex issues of society through performance, commentary, incorporating life, story and commentary into a deep dive of a performance, and something deeper. The relationship between the actor and the director a cornerstone of the family business. Watch the discovery in the work the next time you piece through an actors career, and see what you have learned, perhaps what they have learned.

"The parts we pick, the work we share, the process that unfolds and the joy in the process, especially with my Mom. Because of my parents, instead of going, St. Elmo's Fire rat pack route, I made different choices."

Ben steered the conversation to the book release, asking how the book came into being.

Laura returned to her Mom, being the daughter beyond proud and grateful for her mom.

"Truly there is no greater fan of movies and tv than my Mom. She'll call the house and ask to talk to my daughter Gia. and say, 'are you watching, You're not it going to believe what’s happening on CSI." Mom is truly the biggest fan of artists, movies and television. One night we got a call.“

"I live on the east side of Ojai, a farming community in California. It was 2018 and my beloved King Charles dog, Ginger, died, unexpectedly, upon investigation it was uncovered, to be an overdose of Glyphosate.

Very quickly inquiries revealed food companies had forced her farmer neighbors to spray millions of pounds of poison pesticide across the farm lands. A quick rush trip to the ER, at the hospital where I learned the poison had taken over my system."

Laura jumps in.

"The Doctor told me, "Your Mom will be dead in six months if she doesn't clear her lungs of the poison. You need to get her moving. Expand her lungs, get her walking."

Diane Ladd tells the rest of the story.

"God used me.

A voice, 'Be gentle.'

Instead of dying,

I did three movies a tv series and wrote a book, Ha!

Laura made me start walking and it saved my life."

Laura shared.

"She couldn't walk ten feet, had an oxygen tank when we started walking, and I thought, I'll record the conversations, in case it's the last conversations we get to have. My mom loves to tell stories and we’ll record so the grandkids have them."

"We covered everything."

"We got to know each other on ways we never had."

Laura had things she wanted to know, little things, "I asked her what was the first movie you saw as a child?' And, bigger ones.

"We talked about deep unresolved frustrations.

How did the journey to becoming an actress inform your life?"

"We had those precious moments to find common ground."

With the intimacy of the room, it felt Laura was in the moment remembering.

"Her dreams are impassioned and she always fought for them, she chose to believe in herself."

The pause held space for two seasoned actors to connect in appreciation, for family gone, for Mother and Daughter who had been through it all, for the love they share and the work they showed up for, to be together.

"She’s your Mom." Ben added lovingly, breaking the tiny spell casting between them.

"Because I thought I was dying we told each other everything."

Diane Ladd added.

"It’s a people book. It is an all of us book. It shares a message...

Talk to each other before it is to late."

"You two are going to help save the world.

You are going to get people talking to each other."

She responded to Ben.

"That’s how we get back our lives.

Hug each other.

Talk to each other.

Love on each other.

If almost dying is the price I got to pay. To get people talking.... Well, you can imagine,"

Looking out at the adoring crowd.

"It was worth it."

Thinking about the many Mothers in my life and my own relationship with my Mom. Mothers and Daughters. Grandmothers and grandkids. Mothers are our models for a life to be loved and in this case shared as a way through to connection and healing.

"It’s hard, sometimes to make the turn into our fears, express our frustrations, the love that wasn’t shared. The pain inflicted and the joy denied. Parents lie to their kids, and kids lie to there parents. So much is left unsaid."

"We learned we’ve worked together at different times. We played. And. Beyond all my flaws, she loves me. Before this illness, we hadn’t gone to the most painful places. This was our chance to share. And through our walks and talks we found how much healing comes in the dark spaces of the pain of what is unaddressed. Now released with love."

We honor our Mother's, and the many relationships that nourish and surround us, that remind us, of family we have lost, of love we have shared and of that deepest of connection the laboring grace of Mother's and daughters, daughters and mothers. It's a bond that transcends time and space.

"Honey, Baby, Mine." is a reference to Woodie Guthrie's The Crawdad Song which Diane Ladd's father would sing to them.


Book available with 💗💗💗

ISBN: 9781399718301, 1399718304 Page count: 256 Published: April 25, 2023 Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Language: English Author: Laura Dern, Diane Ladd

"Here's to the ones who dream, with the courage to commit to the path and see it through."

As requested by Diane Ladd - please watch her latest films that got disrupted by COVID.

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Christopher Plummer passed in 2021 and William Hurt

A story about a Daughter getting a second with her relationship to her Mother.

Find your way to ask the questions, and listen to the answers.



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