Recap | Laura Dern and Diane Ladd at UC Santa Barbara Arts & Lectures
Catherine Remak Moderates a Lively Conversation Between Mother and Daughter
Arguably the most complicated of familial relationships, the mother and daughter connection took the spotlight at Campbell Hall last week at when Laura Dern and Diane Ladd spoke about their new book, Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life and Love, out not accidentally just in time for Mother’s Day.
Skillfully moderated by Catherine Remak, the UCSB Arts & Lectures presentation was a wide-ranging conversation covering their careers — Ladd is probably best known for her film roles in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and Chinatown; while Dern has starred in both TV shows like Big Little Lies and Enlightened, and movies such as Mask, Blue Velvet, and Jurassic Park — as well as their personal histories and outlooks on life.
I’m not sure if it’s a generational thing, the difference between being raised in Mississippi and raised in Los Angeles, or just a personality thing, but the dispositions of mother and daughter could not have been more different. Ladd was definitely an actress with a capital “A” up on stage, there to share great stories and entertain the audience, which made an interesting contrast to Dern’s low-key and much more natural seeming approach. In any case, the love and affection between the two was evident throughout the night as they talked about Ladd’s illness a few years ago where she was told she only had about six months to live. In order to build up her lung capacity, she and her daughter walked and talked, and recorded their conversations, initially for the grandchildren, in what ultimately became the basis for their book, which is a compilation of their intimate reflections, including photos, family recipes, and other mementos.
Along with talking about working together in Rambling Rose — the 1992 film in which they were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress (Dern) and Best Supporting Actress (Ladd) — Dern also talked about what fun it was being “the only woman in history to direct her ex-husband in a film.” That would be the 1995 Mrs. Munck, which has the logline: “A recent widow (Diane Ladd) takes in her disabled father-in-law (Bruce Dern), then tortures him for an affair they had when she was a teen (Kelly Preston).” It definitely sounds like a great revenge opportunity, if not a great movie.
Determined to be an actress as a very young child, despite her mother’s misgivings, after working as a child actor for years, Dern became an emancipated minor at age 16 in order to be able to work on set without the otherwise required guardians. “If you’re young and you find your passion, your vocation, and you’re among people who haven’t found that, it’s a challenge,” she said of her late teen years. She also told a story about asking for a leave of absence a few days after she had started at UCLA, to go work on a film, and being refused once the head of the film studies department read the script, which was David Lynch’s Blue Velvet — now ironically considered one of the curriculum’s seminal films, according to Dern.
While the Hollywood stories were interesting, some of the night’s personal revelations were equally compelling. Before Dern was born, her mother had an older daughter who died, a subject they had never talked about before their walking and talking and eventually book writing sessions began. “There was such a sense of relief after we finally talked about it,” said Dern. “Mom seemed stronger and healthier.”
Indeed, the now 87-year old Diane Ladd shows no signs of illness these days. One of her secrets is Banana Pudding. Her mother’s recipe is shared in the book as Ladd claims, “Banana Pudding can literally solve any problem.”
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