Not being elected president of the Academy doesn’t change anything.
When John Bailey was announced as the new president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences this week, the world was shocked. Most people had their bets on either David Rubin or Laura Dern to take over from the departing Cheryl Boone Isaacs. In fact, many media outlets were reporting that the favorite to win the election was Dern, who, it turns out, wasn’t even running for the position. She’s too busy making 2017 her best year anyway, so she has no time to be running the Academy.
Dern has nine different credits across TV and film this year. Nine! And while she’s received great reviews and awards recognition and fan support for most of them individually, she deserves to be honored for all of it collectively, for consistently standing out in a variety of roles and projects this year.
First up this year was the HBO limited series Big Little Lies, which earned stellar reviews and had pretty decent ratings. It’s also now nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, five of which are for members of the cast. Dern is one of those contenders, for a supporting role that could have been only marginally memorable played by anyone else and easily ignored by the TV Academy given the size of the show’s ensemble. But critics praised Dern specifically for her smaller part as a fellow mom who becomes the nemesis of Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley’s characters and shines as a realistically irrational and villainized parent.
Dern followed that up with Twin Peaks, which marks her fifth time working with Lynch, after Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphony No. 1, and Inland Empire. Her role in the show as Diane Evans, secretary to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, is a special one for fans of the original series. She was a prominent character back then despite never actually making an appearance. Diane existed only in mentions until now. The return of Twin Peaks has been a critical success and a cult hit among its devoted audience so far, and Dern giving fans a long-awaited image of a character that’s been everywhere but on screen has been a big part of that.
She also made guest appearances on the shows The Last Man on Earth and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The latter is reminiscent of her famous guest role on Ellen 20 years ago, again offering an important reveal about the title character that will affect the way sensitive topics are written on TV. Dern plays Wendy, the woman intending to marry Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm). In a scene with Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), who’d been held captive by Wayne for 15 years, she’s told her future husband is a rapist, the wording of which was a big deal for the show and television in general. Once again, a Laura Dern guest role is part of a big change in the industry’s view on talking about taboo subjects.
As for big screen releases, the actress is highly regarded as one of the best parts of the otherwise negatively reviewed Wilson, and this fall she can be seen reunited with another of her early years directors, Alexander Payne, for the highly anticipated Downsizing. Dern starred as the title character in Payne’s controversial yet successful feature debut, Citizen Ruth, and technically was reunited with his words on Jurassic Park III. In the new movie, she and Neil Patrick Harris are a miniature married couple who live in a doll house and pitch lead Matt Damon on the idea of joining them in “downsizing.” It sounds amazing.
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And then, of course, there’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This movie alone could be the reason this is her best year, because it’s just the world’s biggest franchise and her involvement is not just great for her but also great for the prestige of the sci-fi sequel. When Vanity Fair posted their exclusive portraits of the movie’s new characters, we could see this was a new step for Dern as an actor. She’s done classic sci-fi blockbusters before (ahem, Jurassic Park), but she’s never had a role quite like this, playing Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, an officer for the Resistance. Rumors are now swirling that she actually could be General Leia’s enemy. Only 125 days until we get a definitive answer!
Dern couldn’t have been a better pick for the universe. Every time she’s made a press appearance so far for the upcoming film, she’s been joyful, funny and fangirling about her time on set. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she says, “You feel like an actor on a movie until you see R2-D2, and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m 8 years old, what’s happening? I’m pretending to be in Star Wars, but it’s real.'” Dreams really do come true, and Dern joining the Star Wars universe is proof of that.
Speaking of things coming true, Dern’s other projects released this year include the short The Black Ghiandola, a zombie film also starring Johnny Depp, J.K. Simmons, and David Lynch and co-directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Sam Raimi, and Theodore Melfi based on a script by the late Anthony Conti, for whom the whole thing was produced as his Make-A-Wish Foundation wish (sadly he died this year after privately being able to see the finished product). And it played Cannes. There’s also the short feminist Western The Good Time Girls, which is the directorial debut of costume designer Courtney Hoffman (Django Unchained). That one was just released online, so you enjoy it here.
When a position like Academy president comes up as a possibility, it’s understandable why people would want Dern to take the position. She’s grown up in the business and has her feet in deep enough to understand what could be improved within the organization. But the problem with that is the time commitment a position like the presidency would require. Dern wouldn’t be able to act in as many projects as she’s been doing lately had she run for the position.
You could argue that Dern’s best years have been in the past, maybe 1991 when she starred opposite her mother, Diane Ladd, in Rambling Rose and scored her first Oscar nomination in the process. Or 2015, when she earned another Oscar nod for the late 2014 release Wild. Or perhaps she hasn’t had her very best year yet, still. Dern has a lot of great stuff on the horizon, including her leading portrayal of Laura Albert in JT Leroy and an untitled collaboration with Judd Apatow. Plus she just scored a juicy dramatic role in Ed Zwick’s Trial by Fire.
Laura Dern is just getting starting on her career high, so who cares that she’s not the Academy president? She’s clearly still ruling Hollywood anyway.
Additional reporting by Christopher Campbell.