As Amy Jellicoe, the rage-rehab survivor-turned-eco-activist at the center of HBO’s new dramedy Enlightened, Laura Dern, 44, displays a gamut of emotions within a single episode: screaming at her drug-addict ex (Luke Wilson), pleading with her taciturn mother (real-life mom Diane Ladd), and scheming to reform her environmentally unfriendly employer. EW checked in with Dern on what makes Amy tick — and ticked off.
Amy’s emotions are extreme, to say the least. What drew you to this character?
In the times we’re living in, it’s just a matter of survival that we learn how to not be Amy. If we were Amy, watching the news would be an almost suicidal effort. Amy just acts on a lot of the feelings that some of us have learned not to.
How do you feel about the show’s poster of your mascara-streaked face of fury?
I’m thrilled. My son’s third-grade best friend saw it, turned to his mom, and said, ”Tell me that’s not Ellery’s mother.” It’s very rare to see a woman in that light in ads. I’ve played people who look like that, but the poster never did. Larry David’s last poster for Curb Your Enthusiasm matches it, a nice male counterpart to Amy.
What’s it like being the lead of your first series and also an exec producer?
Super fun. There is so much focus on Amy and her emotional life. She’s not solving crimes. The special effects are her emotional ups and downs. You couldn’t ask for a better job as an actor. There are, like, 99 gifts, and the only hindrance is that it is a marathon.
How did Luke Wilson get involved?
[Exec producer and costar] Mike [White] and I both are enormous fans of him as an actor. There is a sort of potentially imminent danger to his gentle kindness in movies. You’re like, ”Can I trust this? Is this real? Is he on something?” He’s very willing as an actor to live in the gray of that kind of character.
What else can we expect from Amy this season?
I’ve never talked about a season of television in my life! [Laughs] When everybody else [leaves rehab] going, ”Okay, all I can do is heal myself,” she goes, ”I know! I’ll fix my ex-husband! I’ll make my mom lovable! And I’ll make my sick corporation Greenpeace!” Talk about going to the liquor store to buy a loaf of bread. But that’s what I love about her.