Laura Dern was a young girl when she saw "Star Wars: A New Hope."
"I will never forget it. That was the first long line I ever waited in. When I saw it, a whole new world opened," Dern recalled. "At the time, I don't think I had caught up to knowing I wanted to be an actor. But, what 'Star Wars' gave to me was knowing the world of make-believe."
And now, people will be standing in line to see her work, as Dern has taken on the pivotal role of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."
Her discussion of the role in the follow-up film to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is only in the most general of terms, as the secrecy force around this movie is strong. What can be said is her character is the head of the Resistance at a time when the battle with the First Order is going badly.
It's not the first time Dern has been involved with a project that has been shrouded in secrecy and had so much attention from rabid fans. She faced the same situation with her work in the blockbuster "Jurassic Park" films and with the revival of the David Lynch TV series "Twin Peaks."
Being part of the "Star Wars" universe is a completely different experience for her.
"There's nothing like 'Star Wars.' With 'Jurassic Park and 'Twin Peaks,' you certainly didn't want to ruin anything," Dern said. "You want people to have the experience that they care so deeply about. But, there had never been a 'Jurassic Park.' It was the first of its kind.
"What is so incredible about 'Star Wars' is that it has established itself and ingrained itself in the storytelling and mythology of our lifetime. We all grew up loving the characters and loving the legacy of the Force. In this case, it's easy to keep secrets because the fans really want you to."
Becoming part of the "Star Wars" legacy gave Dern a chance to reflect on her own feelings about the movie franchise and develop some new notions. She was reminded of how the films bring people back to their childhood. That came through when she met Chewbacca during the filming. As she was being hugged by the big Wookiee, Dern started to cry as it brought back so many fond memories associated with the movies.
As for new insights, being part of "The Last Jedi" reminded her of how the franchise has thrived because of continued storytelling. Joining the cast made her feel like part of a tribe where the elders continue the story and the next generation begins to explore the characters in a new way.
Dern has been creating characters for nearly four decades, having started acting at the age of 11 in "Foxes." Along the way, she picked up two Academy Award nominations, with the first coming in 1992 in the best actress category for her work in "Rambling Rose." Her next Oscar nod came in 2015 as best supporting actress for "Wild."
'A lifetime career'
Her chance to play a broad spectrum of characters can be seen over the course of a week. It starts with the Dec. 15 release of the blockbuster of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," and then a week later she makes a tiny cameo appearance in Alexander Payne's sociological satire "Downsizing."
This willingness to take any and all roles is something she learned from her parents, actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
"My parents taught me that acting is a lifetime career," Dern said. "I didn't just get lucky to be able to do so many different types of roles, but it was a strategy formed by being raised by actors. The goal is to play different kinds of roles both because it keeps you interested to explore all these different aspects of people but also speaks to never getting pigeonholed.
"My dad always encouraged me to do that."
The majority of films Dern has made have not come with so much secrecy. Dern's cautiousness in regard to talking about "The Last Jedi" includes not even talking directly about whether she got to work in any scenes with Carrie Fisher. She did say that being in the same movie with Fisher as one of the stars was an amazing opportunity for her. It all goes back to when she saw "A New Hope" for the first time.
"Thanks to Leia, thanks to all the amazing characters — but particularly seeing this female heroine — I had the experience of imaginative play. Suddenly we had this profound, sassy heroine to invent with," Dern said. "To be in her presence, I feel very, very blessed not just because of the iconic character she left us but for the energy, the wisdom, the authenticity she brings.
"That's paid tribute to in this film."