Deauville: Laura Dern Talks 'Big Little Lies,' Hollywood Pay Gap

Laura Dern - Photographed by Austin Hargrave - H 2017
Photographed by Austin Hargrave

"We're changing the game for actresses over 40," she said of the Emmy-nominated drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

Tipped for an Emmy win for Big Little Lies with her sixth nomination, Laura Dern says the show has been a watershed for women in the industry.

“We’re changing the game for actresses over 40,” Dern said of the show produced by and starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

At the Deauville Film Festival to receive a career honor for her film work, the actress noted that television has taken over much of the indie film world, and compared cable to the United Artists studio of the 1970s that brought us Annie Hall and Network.

“It’s a place where filmmakers have more autonomy to explore without the pressure of an opening weekend. It’s exciting for female-driven material and female characters, there’s no one saying, ‘She needs to be little nicer,’ or ‘She needs to be a little less complicated.’”

Kidman and Witherspoon scored competing best actress Emmy nominations, and Dern is competing against co-star Shailene Woodley in the supporting actress category. While she joked that the outspoken environmentalist Woodley “is a terrible person that doesn’t care about the planet, and once gave me a black eye,” she emphasized there is no competition between the actresses and the nominations are an example of how much stronger the roles for women have become.

“What a wealth of great female characters. You want [everyone] to win so they can go up together and they can all say how lucky we are to be collaborating,” she said, calling her co-stars "brave, raw, hilarious and heartbreaking." “It’s the absurdity of comparison. You can’t say one is better than anyone else.”

But since Hollywood has failed to close the pay gap for women, actress have to take it upon themselves to even the playing field.

“We are demanding nothing less right now,” Dern said of the battle for equal pay for women in Hollywood. She noted that it had been a battle for her mother, actress Diane Ladd in the 1970s, adding her surprise at how little has changed in 30 years.

Even after Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win for The Hurt Locker and Patty Jenkins’ box office success with Wonder Woman, studios are still reticent to hire female directors.

“People will ask me why I haven’t worked with more women directors  it’s because they didn’t get the job. And it’s tragic.” Dern said while she’s worked with Kelly Reichert and Martha Coolidge, those were personal projects the directors ushered through. “But if a financier is hiring, from a list of directors it is rare that one female name is on there.”

She said there are talks to bring back Mike White’s and HBO's Enlightened in the current political climate.

“We have a very adversarial relationship in America right now, culturally, towards feminism in general,” she said, adding that a “ferociousness” has built up as backlash to the current hostility. “I think it’s rubbing off on all areas of art and work for women.”

“If I’ve played any character that needs to be particularly talking about American culture right now it would be Amy Jellicoe,” she said. “Because since our election, every frustrated American feels like Amy Jellicoe.”