The Real Reason Laura Dern Was Once Blacklisted By Hollywood

Laura Dern grew up in the Hollywood spotlight, so it's no surprise she followed in her parents' footsteps. The daughter of Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, Laura started her career at a young age after spending her childhood at television studios and on movie sets with her actor parents. Laura logged a few uncredited film roles before she was 10 years old, according to IMDb, but she became a steadily working actor in her teens with parts in the 1980s movies "Foxes," "Teachers," "Mask," and a starring role in "Smooth Talk," the dark 1985 coming of age movie based on Joyce Carol Oates' short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

By 1986, Laura's lead role in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" made her a star and she ushered in the 1990s two other big flicks, "Wild at Heart," "Jurassic Park," and "Rambling Rose," the latter of which scored her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading role, per IMDb. So, with all of that early success, why is it that Laura's career hit a major lull just as she turned 30 years old?

Laura Dern said playing a lesbian stalled her career

On April 30, 1997, Laura Dern was a guest star in one of the most famous TV episodes of all time: the "coming out" episode of Ellen DeGeneres' eponymous ABC sitcom. "The Puppy Episode" featured Dern playing a lesbian named Susan who helped DeGeneres' character discover that she was also gay — and say it out loud for the first time. According to Entertainment Tonight, the episode made television history as the first time a lead character came out as gay, but it also caused Dern to become "blacklisted" for her participation in the episode, and because some people assumed she was gay in real life.

Dern told Vulture that while she "didn't think twice" about accepting the role, she soon began receiving calls from people advising her not to go through with it. "A lot of people in my life were really worried," she said. Dern added that she considered being a part of the famous coming-out episode "an incredible honor," but in the aftermath, she lost jobs and needed a security team. 

Dern also noted that during the shoot, which included Oprah Winfrey playing DeGeneres' therapist, the cast had to evacuate the set due to a bomb threat. "We only did it for what, 10 days?" Dern told the outlet. "We all spent the next couple of years really struggling in work and safety. It was radical to experience that. It was the only time I ever experienced having to have full security detail."

Laura Dern made her comeback on the big screen and TV

Laura Dern was unable to book acting roles for a year after appearing in the historic "Ellen" episode, according to Entertainment Tonight. But once she was back, she was bigger than ever. Dern's foray back into work came via roles in TV movies and shows, per IMDb. By 1999 she was back on the big screen with "October Sky," and a few years later, she reprised her "Jurassic Park" role for its sequel.

In addition to reviving her big screen career, she logged steady roles on television, including the "Twin Peaks" revival and HBO's "Big Little Lies," which won her both Emmy and Golden Globe awards, according to NBC News. "Careers are long, and complicated," Dern told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2019. "There definitely were periods of time where I either wasn't working, or wasn't getting offered things that I wanted to do." In the same article, Dern's father Bruce noted she's at her peak now that she's in her 50s. "She's just becoming a movie star," he quipped. And we cannot wait to see what else lies ahead.

Laura Dern, Ellen, and Oprah didn't reunite for 20 years

Despite the tremendous impact "The Puppy Episode" had on the careers of everyone involved, Laura Dern, Ellen DeGeneres, and Oprah Winfrey didn't actually speak about it together for nearly two decades. That all changed during a 2017 appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," when the three women sat down and frankly discussed what filming the episode was like for them. Dern in particular said that filming that episode was a "gift" to "be there" for DeGeneres and talked about how cathartic the pivotal scene in the episode between the two of them was. "Thank you for being there for me," DeGeneres responded, "because it really was a charged moment."  

Of course, Dern's (and DeGeneres' and Winfrey's) career completely recovered, culminating in an Oscar win in 2020 for her role in "Marriage Story." Following her win, Dern headed backstage to answer questions from the press. When asked about what can be done to make Hollywood films more diverse, Dern implored everyone watching to use their voice. "We have power to say something, and when we don't see our culture reflected around us, we get to say something," she shared. "Voices matter, and a community of voices rallying around the truth really matter."