Dern sees some potential in the pairing of her 'Citizen Ruth' layabout and Witherspoon's machiavellian politician

By Darren Franich
March 24, 2017 at 05:21 PM EDT
Miramax/Everett Collection; Paramount/Everett Collection

In the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, Laura Dern looks back at some of the most memorable roles in her brilliant career. As a performer, she’s been at the center of nearly every kind of movie there is. Blockbusters like Jurassic Park and the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi sit on her resume alongside some of the high classics of independent cinema, to say nothing of her ongoing always-experimental collaborations with David Lynch or her memorable side career as a TV star. Currently, she’s on the small screen with Big Little Lies, playing the nemesis of Reese Witherspoon’s character.

Ironically, the two were kin in Wild, where Dern played Witherspoon’s mother. But the actresses share another lineage: They both worked with acclaimed director Alexander Payne earlier in their careers, both playing utterly unique characters. For Dern, her role as Ruth Stoops in 1996’s abortion satire Citizen Ruth stands above and apart in her filmography. “I’ve never fallen in love with a character more,” she explains, laughing. “There was not a scene where I wasn’t barfing or f—ing or vomiting or burping. I was just a disgusting mess!”

She credits Payne for his confidence in the material, and in her far-out performance. Now the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind movies like The Descendants and Nebraska (starring Dern’s father, Bruce), Payne was a first-time director when he collaborated with Dern on Citizen Ruth. “No one had laid the rules out yet, you know?” Dern says. “He’d made his thesis film at UCLA, but this is his first professional feature. He put his trust in Ruth. He loved her, and he believed in her, and she could no wrong for him.”

For more from Laura Dern, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, or buy it here — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Dern credits Payne and his writing partner Jim Thompson for putting their faith in such an unsympathetic (yet oddly lovable) protagonist – a faith that Dern also perceives in Payne’s follow-up film, 1999’s high school farce Election. “The confidence he showed in never questioning [Ruth], I think he carried that beautifully with Reese’s character in Election,” says Dern, referring to Witherspoon’s memorable star turn as ultra-ambitious Tracy Flick. “They’re real symbiotic characters,” she laughs. “She’s equally hateful. She’s the worst!”

But Dern sees some potential in the pairing of her Citizen Ruth layabout and Witherspoon’s machiavellian politician. “I wanna do a sequel,” Dern says. “Tracy Flick and Ruth Stoops in a heist, or a road picture. because they are the biggest s—show in town, man!”

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