Laura Dern has been beloved by queers before since far before she uttered the words “I will not not be rich” on season two of Big Little Lies. Some of us fell in love with her in Enlightened or Jurassic Park, some as far back as David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. And of course, many of us knew her as the woman who Ellen DeGeneres came out to on Ellen.
Dern appeared as Susan, a confident out lesbian, on “The Puppy Episode,” the 1997 episode that helped the comedian come out to the world. It was a groundbreaking moment in television and pop culture, but many are quick to forget that it came with a fair amount of backlash, especially for Dern.
“I was doing successful independent movies, and, only months before that, I was in Jurassic Park, the most successful movie ever,” Dern recalled in an interview with Vulture.
“So it was like, you’re being offered this, you’re being offered that – and it just stopped. Which is kind of wild.” For almost a year, Dern said she was unable to find work simply because she’d played a lesbian on TV. Still, she said that the episode of Ellen was the “greatest thing I could’ve ever been part of,” and called it “an incredible honour.”
Prior to the groundbreaking moment, Dern was told by Hollywood advisers, who were themselves gay men, not to take the role. “A lot of people in my life really worried. And I was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ This is where I grew up in a bubble and didn’t realize we weren’t there yet or something.”
In addition to the lost jobs, once a bomb threat was called in while she was on set with Oprah. It was then that Dern realized how serious the situation had become. “We all spent the next couple of years really struggling in work and safety,” she said. “It was radical to experience that. It was the only time I ever experienced having to have full security detail.”
But Dern added that the moment’s legacy on pop culture and her part in it “has shaped and continues to shape who I am as an advocate, as an activist, as a parent.” The actress added that “it’s a profound thing when you see someone bring their truth, but also all the layers of shame and fear that have been put onto you because of feeling like the other, whatever your experience is. So I’m forever grateful.”
Dern is currently appearing in Marriage Story, for which she’s an Oscar favorite, and will star in the upcoming adaptation of Little Women. So clearly, helping Ellen come out didn't hurt her career that much!