Who better to honor Laura Dern than the directors who just spent a year directing her? At the IFP Gotham Awards Monday night, Dern was honored as one of the night’s handful of tributes, and Greta Gerwig — director of Little Women and love of our lives — and boyfriend Noah Baumbach — director of Marriage Story, the night’s big winner — took the stage together for a pair of tributes. “Noah and I have been looking for an excuse to wear our Laura Dern sweaters. Luckily this came along,” Gerwig began. The duo was in a pair of matching sweaters adorned with Dern’s face. “Noah and I sometimes get competitive about who loves Laura Dern more, and who Laura Dern loves more out of us. For this reason, I’m going to read Noah’s speech and he’s going to read mine, that way at the party afterward when we ask her ‘Whose speech did you like better?’ it’s too confusing to answer.” Behold Greta’s speech, as read by Noah:
Thank you, Greta. Or Noah. Laura Dern is my girl crush dream. I first became aware of her when I was an awkward young teenage girl. I saw her in Citizen Ruth and I couldn’t believe it. She was all the things I wasn’t sure we were allowed to be as women: messy, mean, funny, loud, ugly, sexy, wild, raw, dangerous, glorious. When I saw her in Jurassic Park, I didn’t even know she was the same person. That’s how much she was able to transform from role to role. I fell deeper in love with her because of it. I loved her even more than I loved Leonardo DiCaprio, who I sincerely believed I would marry.
Laura Dern does that thing that all great actors do: You feel like you are them, and they are you, and also you want to be best friends with them. As I grew up into a lanky blonde lady who had too many feelings and talked with my hands, I felt that she and I were even more spiritually linked.
As an actress, I spent most of my time unconsciously imitating her, trying to find the thing that made her so alive and so vivid. When I started writing and directing, Laura Dern became the actress I had to work with, and I finally got my chance on Little Women. I got to see in person that what she does is absolutely singular and inimitable and totally hers. Getting to work with her was better than the dream of getting to work with her. Her care, her research, her joy, her openness, her enthusiasm, her unpredictability, her talent, her power, it’s all there, every single time in every single take.
In the middle of filming with her I went home to New York for Thanksgiving break, and Noah showed me a cut of his new film Marriage Story. And again, incredibly, there was Laura Dern transformed. She was totally this character, this silky, seductive, she-devil of a divorce attorney, and I never would’ve recognized her, even though I had just seen her the day before.
From the first time I saw her onscreen to now, she is still melting invisibly into roles, she is still shape-shifting beyond recognition, she is still my ultimate girl crush. It was the joy of my life to work with her, and I can think of no one better to honor than Laura Dern.
And now Noah’s, as read by Greta:
I remember when I saw Blue Velvet for the first time at Waverley Cinema on 6th Avenue, now the IFC. I was a 16-year-old Brooklyn boy with a faded photo of Christie Brinkley in a plastic insert of his Velcro wallet. Laura Dern’s reaction when Isabella Rossellini says, ‘He put his disease in me,’ a kind of extended vocalization that both feels like pain and ecstasy, both an exhortation and an inhalation. It’s sound and silence.
As a 50-year-old man with too many feelings and who talks with his hands, I now recognize this as a perfect cinematic moment. The 17-year-old, however, went out and got a hoop earring to match Kyle MacLachlan’s. Laura Dern and I are the same age, but I grew up with her. Well, she didn’t grow up with me, but I grew up with her: Smooth Talk, Rambling Rose, Mask, Blue Velvet, and then there was Wild At Heart, more kinds of indescribable vocalizations. My emotional memory of that performance is as if music and light beamed out of her body. My mental images of her performances are like the way I remember dreams or songs. When I saw Laura in a movie, I was also inevitably watching a movie by a great director: Peter Bogdanovich, David Lynch, Martha Coolidge, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Robert Altman, Alexander Payne.
Laura doesn’t so much as invade and conquer it. It’s physical, it’s visceral, it’s emotional, it’s brilliant. Laura finds opportunity for character and storytelling not only in the script, but in her wardrobe, her props, the set. Last spring when Greta first showed me Little Women, I had been living with Laura the divorce lawyer. As embodied by Laura, the mother, Marmee, Marmee’s goodness is born from hardship and struggle, not in contrast to it. This wasn’t the woman I knew anymore. I felt like I was discovering Laura Dern all over again.
Laura is a true artist. Even though Marriage Story is our first actual collaboration, I feel like I’ve been making movies with Laura my whole life, and in a way I have. Again, she was unaware of this. I’m truly honored to be your collaborator, your friend, your family, and to be honoring you here tonight.