In The Tale, Oscar nominee Laura Dern plays a mother who uncovers her own repressed memory of sexual abuse. She talks to Michele Manelis.

As a mother, how was the experience of portraying your character in The Tale?

It does make you incredibly paranoid. There's a lot you can't escape. I was already paranoid ... I felt like I couldn't even be around my kids and it just breaks your heart so deeply. My kids wouldn't understand sometimes when I would be like, "Why didn't you text me? You said you were going to be there eight minutes ago." Just freaking out and so over the top.

Do you think this movie changed the way you parent your children?


It deeply impacted my parenting, annoyingly for them - but it does get in our cells. I think that it definitely speaks to a deep longing to be the champion for a generation of kids to know their own boundaries and to be able to set them for themselves. We never had those conversations at that age. I was making movies at 12, 13, in a very adult environment and the conversation wasn't there about boundaries and making sure you always had a guardian in every room, including the audition process, which we have all heard a lot about with #Time's Up.

How would you describe your childhood?

I would say I am very blessed. I was raised here in LA by actors, which is kind of crazy. And there are all kinds of things that I was steered around and away from and guided by a fierce mother. I was so lucky to be raised by the people I was but I had a grandmother, an Alabama grandmother, who moved out here and took care of me while my parents worked. And I think she is my heroine.

This movie contains a lot of heavy themes, including child sexual abuse. What did you learn from making this movie?

How people live a full life and allow themselves, from that level of trauma, to not only be survivors but to soar and not live the victim life. I think the film is so interesting because I have never had an outpouring like this in my entire life as an actor. We shift stories in our own lives to be able to survive them, about our own family and whatever traumas we have walked through, to make them somehow palatable. And somehow, in adulthood, it's like we have to relive those stories in order to find healing in them. So I think it is such a universal theme, even though it is specific to this trauma of child sexual abuse.

Laura Dern and Isabelle Nélisse in The Tale. Photo / Supplied
Laura Dern and Isabelle Nélisse in The Tale. Photo / Supplied

You've played a lot of roles that weren't completely likeable.

Yes. I like to be a little bit of a rebel as an actor, so I am interested in the unpopular person and the lesser-understood character. It's a bold choice to try to find empathy in an unlikeable place in storytelling.

It's incredible how prevalent sexual abuse and child abuse is in the US.


Yes. Tragically, in this country alone, the statistics are so shocking. Generally every eight minutes a child is sexually abused in the United States. And 93 per cent of the time, it's someone they know. It reminds me how much we lie to ourselves about the experience in order to survive it.

How are you expecting the audience to react to The Tale? Specifically, the younger generation who have a better idea of boundaries?

We are all learning together and there are some things that are generational and behavioural where a man might think he is being complimentary but that is going to be a grey area right now. We are all needing to embrace the sort of re-educating of what society has said is okay. The Donald Trump ideology of, "I can do whatever I want and I can grab a woman if I want to," that broke open for a generation of girls like mine - who were watching that election as their first experience of politics, and saying, "What did that guy just say about women? Wait, what?" They are being raised in a completely different world and they've had to learn from their elders that there was a time when people thought they could do whatever they wanted.

Do you have a method or hobby to help get you out of a role at the end of the day, particularly an emotionally gruelling one?

I think being a mother has been incredible for that, because you're constantly reminded where you are needed. And other than that, I love yoga and I am a meditator when I remember to. I am so stressed, I forgot to meditate this morning.


The Tale,Mondays, 8.30pm, Sky SoHo