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"How Being a Single Mom Made Laura Dern More Ambitious"

"Raising kids gave me enough street cred to feel like I deserved the right to make money."

For June cover, InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown sat down with the five stars of Big Little Lies to hear what they had to say about their hit series, their lives, and their relationships with each other.

Photographed by: Pamela Hanson

Laura Dern in a Rosamosario bodysuit, Irene Neuwirth earrings, and a Dior skirt and belt 



LAURA BROWN: How ambitious were you when you started out acting?
LAURA DERN: Not at all. “Ambition” was a dirty word for women when I was a little girl. Women who are ambitious are cold, calculating, and unsexy — that was the idea presented to my generation. To be sexy was to be demure, subservient even. And I was raised by actresses, like my mother [Diane Ladd], my godmother Shelley Winters, my mom’s friend Jane Fonda, and Gena Rowlands. I saw powerful women as artists or daring to challenge the medical profession and fighting to be doctors — but they weren’t in a boardroom. They weren’t CEOs. That’s where the pants came in. And women didn’t wear pants, so they couldn’t do that.


LD: In [1992] I was lucky enough to be nominated for an Oscar along with my mom for Rambling Rose. We were offered a very prestigious hair campaign for high-fashion magazines. An agent told me, "Men can do it, but women who sell things are 'whoring out.'" Women were categorized as "whores" for being businesswomen.
LD: I will say, the thing I feel proudest of is that I can be cynical about businesses, politics, and the environment, but I’m not really cynical about love on any level. The more I learn about my mistakes as a mother, the deeper I enjoy how fully I love my children [son Ellery, 17, and daughter Jaya, 14]. Because I can let them know I really screw up sometimes. I hide from blame in a lot of areas in my life, but I’m trying not to do that as a mom. This is the first time in my life that I am being ambitious because I am a single parent. Raising kids gave me enough street cred to feel like I deserved the right to make money. This moment in my life is so sexy and freeing because I’ve had many relationships, I’ve had a marriage, I have my amazing children, so I’m not hiding who I am to get somebody who is willing to have kids or be married.
LD: I love being an actor. I love film, art, documentaries, narrative storytelling. I’ve been given more opportunities to do those things. And that’s great. The deeper thing that’s happening now is I’m starting to feel that my voice can matter.
"Being part of a tribe handling this subject matter and realizing everybody knows these stories has been really healing and powerful. I’ve also learned that bliss is a birthright, and so is ambition for what we want to achieve, how we want to change the world, and the person we see ourselves growing into".