10/06/2011 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Enlightened' Laura Dern Talks Rage, Politics

Although Laura Dern has yet to experience her own major meltdown, her character, Amy Jellicoe, on the new HBO series "Enlightened" isn't so lucky. In "Blue Velvet" she wept without a sound, but this time fireworks go off. Here, Dern sits down to discuss her own breakthrough moments and the administration that filled her with rage.

Have you ever had a nervous breakdown?

Not yet! But it could be coming.

Have you come close?

I think I've come close often probably, in my own way, and without girlfriends, I’m sure I would have had many. It's interesting that breakdown and breakthrough are such close terms because I feel like the moments in my life I've said that I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown, where you’re in such grief or loss or despair about something, you know you have a cellular experience, you start shaking or you can’t stop crying or whatever, that thing where you feel like your body is literally falling apart, in fact those truly have been the moments that have been breakthroughs for me.

In general there is this very beautiful idea starting to shift culturally to the awareness that life is both things. People are both things and when we approach it like that rather than -- we must be good and life must have no pain. Man, that's a horrible set up, that’s like setting up life like maybe you can escape death.

Have you called friends to talk you off the ledge?

Oh, sure. But to be frank, the reason why I wanted to play this character and why it meant so much to me, I really wanted to play a rager who becomes a whistleblower. That was the inception that was interesting to me. What does that mean? And for me it was because I wasn't on the ledge quite enough for my own liking. I was filled with rage as an American and I was a partner in what I felt like was cultural apathy. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t spending every single day in the streets the last 12 to 15 years. I thought what if someone who feels everything in a tremendous way, who doesn't think through what not to say or do, is the person and the only person able to take it to the streets.

What do you mean 'as an American I was filled with rage?'

Well in a million areas, as the average citizen of the world might be in this moment on the planet, but particularly as an American. I think there was plenty to be outraged about in the last administration, both terms. There was a lot of confusion in this country. I feel like we sat in front of our TVs watching.

For example one of the most horrible environmental disasters of our time is occurring in front of our eyes. A little thing called a BP oil spill and suddenly something may have stopped it and we haven’t heard another word about it -- unless you’re going on Huffington Post or you’re an environmentalist who is learning about all the endangered species because of the accident and how actually it's highly toxic and it hasn't been cleaned up. You wouldn’t know that because there's a murder trial to follow.

And the Kardashian wedding.


Sometimes I think we're watching the decline of the American Empire.

It certainly feels like everybody wants one guy to bail us out. I’m a fan of the one guy and I worked to make sure he was in the White House but it's a big job, as we knew going in, asking anyone to clean up. I think recognizing that this is an outmoded platform and setup that needs to be reinvented is perhaps what we’re facing and I have no idea what that looks like.

Your mom, Diane Ladd, plays your mom again. Is that now in your contract?

Actually it was Mike White’s [writer] idea this time. But our only real experience working together was in my early 20s. What was amazing was now working with her as a 44-year-old mother, it was extraordinary. I don’t [need] to have some detachment, entering adulthood and needing to be separate and needing to have anonymity from your mother and all of that was gone now. I’m a mother too, it was just very gentle and grown up.

I know exactly what you mean but there must still have been moments when she irritated you.

When I was 23 and working with my mom, every word she said triggered me. Now, every eighth word she said triggered me. So there's growth!

The poster is very arresting. On some vanity level were you like, ‘Argh, I look like shit!’

Can I tell you? I love the way I look. In Hollywood a billboard went up and it's between one poster which was extremely airbrushed and another which had a lot of exposed body parts -- much of which was not real -- and I looked at the three billboards in a row and I thought, 'how refreshing, this is awesome.' We should start selling women that. That should be a beauty campaign. Give me a Revlon campaign. I’m telling you women all over the world would buy some mascara.

"Enlightened" premiers October 10th on HBO.