Laura Dern: Enlightened is a big dream for me. Because when I became an actor I had two favorite films. One was Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I always wanted to do a Ms. Smith Goes to Washington. The other was Network. To me, one of the great scenes ever in any film is [when disaffected workers] open up their windows and scream out, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” I basically said to Mike White: What if we could take those two ideas, but that someone goes to Washington and uses their voice to create change, not by being the befuddled innocent, but by being the raging innocent. Somebody who says, “This is fucked. We’re losing our country, and we have to use our voices or it’s going to be gone forever.” I feel like that’s where Amy lies: somewhere between the two.
Now I have dreams that are based entirely on very surface needs like, I really want to live in New York, so I want to do a movie in New York. I really want to move to Paris, so I think I want to go make French films. I’m seeing Jonathan Demme today who directed some of the episodes and who is a huge influence on the creation of Amy. I am ecstatic at the thought of making a movie with him. I was like, “Come on Jonathan. New York, Paris, great clothing, good food, French hours.” This is my new thing. Maybe it will happen. I kind of keep saying what I want.
Slate: Back to politics and rage—you’re a former member of the Hollywood Women's Political Committee. How are you feeling about the 2012 elections?
Laura Dern: I wish I could be more articulate about my candidate, who is our current president, because I understand the frustration, because I have it too. I really feel that we have put this idyllic concept of what a president gets to do on a man that we knew, going in, was never going to achieve the goals he or we set out for him based on this shit storm that was handed to him. So, I’d love to speak more articulately in defense of him because I don’t see any other option.
Slate: After your excellent portrayal of Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris in Recount, I feel like you could do a really good Michele Bachmann. You could really channel that inner rage she has simmering beneath the surface.
Laura Dern: Beneath the smile and the teeth. That would be a fun one to take on. That could be very exciting.
Slate: You’re in The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie about a religious guru in the ‘50s [according to rumors, the character is based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard]. Is your character an acolyte of this religion?
Laura Dern: It’s someone who is very involved, for sure. You know what I love about Paul, I love a zillion things about Paul like so many of us do, but Paul is old school in the best sense of the word. I was raised in the ‘70s and I’ve worked with people I love and I’ve been on sets with my parents, with people who run a set and require of actors a sense of liberty and freedom and exploration and failure into brave achievement. Other than Jonathan Demme, Paul Thomas Anderson, bless and rest his soul, Robert Altman, who was such a pioneer for Paul and myself, there are very few people making movies like that, so just working on a set with him is so extraordinary. In terms of the subject of the film, and all of the films he makes, he dances so comfortably in the gray. When he takes on the subject matter, any subject matter, he is there to examine what it offers; not just take anything down. It’s funny when people think filmmakers are irreverent. It’s like, “Ooh, what’s he doing. I heard the movie’s about dot dot dot.” They go, “I bet he’s really going to attack it.” In fact, he tries to uncover what he loves. What the worth is in something.
Slate: Jurassic Park 4. Is that happening?
Laura Dern: I hear it’s happening. I think it’s got a ways to go. Steven is about to immerse himself in Lincoln, which is really exciting and something he’s poured his heart and soul into for a long time. I’m so excited because Daniel Day-Lewis is playing Lincoln. Once that’s finished, there’s always been talk that my character is deeply involved in [Jurassic Park 4] somehow, but I haven’t heard yet.
This interview has been edited and condensed.