Laura Dern isn't one to half-ass something, a trait which becomes apparent any time you watch her on-screen; she puts her whole self into her characters, bringing intensity and authenticity to the women she embodies. As it turns out, she approaches her own beauty and wellness routines with that same careful consideration and passion, which means that when she attaches her name to a brand, it's one she believes in whole-heartedly — and in the case of natural skin-care company True Botanicals, that shows.
Dern's relationship with the brand came about first as a consumer. As a shopper looking for a natural beauty product with a minimal environmental impact and ethical manufacturing processes, she discovered True Botanicals Pure Radiance Oil, which she claims she quickly adopted as a key part of her beauty routine, even going so far as to say it served as the bulk her skin-care regimen and her foundation while on set for "Big Little Lies." Dern became so passionate about the brand's formulations that she eventually personally emailed True Botanicals founder Hillary Peterson saying, in her own words, "I love everything you do and fell in love with all the products." The rest, as they say, is beauty contract history: Dern joins Olivia Wilde and Zazie Beetz as the brand's "Band of Activists," appearing in a campaign and making the media rounds to discuss transparency about the formulations, environmental practices and ingredient safety.
It's also through this partnership that I got the opportunity to sit down with Dern in New York City for a brief conversation about all of the above — plus the beauty and wellness philosophies she hopes to pass on to her children, the skin-care tips she's discussed on set with Zoë Kravitz and how she copes with the stress of living in 2019. Read on for the highlights.
How would you describe your approach to beauty?
I think I started honoring my mom's sentiment, which is: Ask questions, educate yourself, know how you're treating your body and go from there. Whether it was in physical exercise or meditation or the products that I eat, the products that I consume in terms of skin care and beauty in general, I've always tried to approach it with an education. And now as an adult, as an environmentalist and as a mom of a teenage daughter, that's continued and deepened. I became a massive fan of True Botanicals just being a consumer who witnessed [how] one product changed the way I looked on screen and the way I felt as an actor.
I was raised by a Southern grandma who really cared about healthcare and loved essential oils and baths and self care, and she loved her red lipstick. And so, there are a few things, like putting lipstick on, [which make me] feel like I'm ready for the day.
This is embarrassing to admit, but I recently saw "Jurassic Park" for the first time. Having watched that, and then watching your recent work now, you have not aged. Why does your skin look so good, and what pearls of wisdom can you share?
Meditation. You're going to be stressed. I hate when people are like, 'You know, I just don't have stress, I'll never age.' It's like, how dare you? We're stressed all the time! We watch the news! But I think releasing stress, talking about what scares you, getting angry, having dialogue about what feels complicated — those are huge things. Having an anti-stress regime, meditating and trying to get sleep — all those things can help. But I don't know, it's not my place to say if there's a difference. All I can say is that I'm starting to get more compliments about my skin or how I'm aging than ever. And I only use True Botanicals products and have facials.
It may speak to a culture's need, not just women's need, to see aging. We've moved so away from it by trying to transform ourselves medically to stay away from that, to stave something off, and honoring the truth might be super sexy and pretty, that might be an option. So I appreciate your compliment and I think that doing whatever you do to support skin elasticity, and balancing your skin, your pH, your hormones, your body as it's changing is really important, but also to do it authentically and generously and with research behind it as a woman is a really cool thing to teach the next generation.
On that note, you have a daughter, you have a son who's done a bit of modeling; is there anything that you hope to pass onto them when it comes to beauty and how they see themselves?
To watch when I fail, to really see when I'm hard on myself. I think if I try to do anything it's when I screw up, then I try to circle back and say, 'Hey, that thing when I put myself down: that sucked. I didn't need to say that. That was unfair to me.' Because we all do it and that's not pretty parenting. I try to be mindful around when I am unkind to myself. But on good days, when I am more compassionate toward myself, it's about how we set examples. And they have heard ad nauseam about organic farming and pesticides and what they're eating and what they're ingesting and how things are packaged and if they're safe for the planet, for animals and therefore hopefully us as well.
They will tell you they've heard a lot. They've heard a lot about it. And my daughter takes it to heart and I think they both meet it with balance.
Do you notice a difference in how their generation approaches shopping for or using products?
It's a generation that's asking of their beauty and skin-care brands not just, 'Are you testing on animals?' but now: 'How do you bottle? How do you package? Is it recyclable? Is it off-gassing into the product? How is it good for the planet? When I wash my face, is it safe for me? And when it goes down the drain, is it then safe for our oceans, our animal life?' They're looking at not only gender equality and pay parity and conversations that we never had as teenagers, but they're also looking at how we are caring for the very people who pick and pack the food and the products we are ingesting. And if it's toxic for them, then why are we supporting that brand? Who's considering everybody along the process to get this to me?
And that's really exciting. They're revolutionaries, and we know why. We're at a critical turning point in this country. And I think they're fiercely political, and so they're asking way more questions than we ever did. If people just want to make money, and their heart's not even in the right place, they're going to be turning to green brands because that's where the consumer is going to be spending their money.
Do you have a favorite beauty look associated with any of the characters you've played?
In the film I've just done for Noah Baumbach called "Marriage Story," [my character] uses a specific kind of beauty and fashion to tell a story that serves her client. She's a divorce lawyer. So that was a really interesting experience of beauty as armor to win a case. And how women use beauty sort of to be in a position of power or winning.
What about ["Big Little Lies'"] Renata? She has such a glamorous lifestyle and aesthetic. Did you find yourself gravitating toward more glamorous looks for the red carpet when you were working on "Big Little Lies"?
I'm obsessed with fashion design. I love designers. They are huge influencers in transforming me, in redefining what a woman is, in redefining gender and identity, now that there are brave, radical influencers blurring the lines of identity like Raf Simons does, or considering how we're going to protect the planet while continuing consumerism in the industry, like Stella McCartney does. I'm clocking what leaders in fashion are doing, but I also love that designers offer women an opportunity to transform themselves, as costume designers have done for me with each character I've gotten to build with them. I love design.
But back to Renata, she's just the most fun character possible. She's exhausting, but I love her. Her connection to design and her identity isn't about wealth and beauty, but her presentation is about proving power, proving her deserved spot as the woman in the boardroom. And she uses fashion and she uses wealth to remind people of that narrative, which is very specific and really interesting, but it gets her nowhere in terms of meeting friends and being honored as a mother and all that stuff. So you know, that defines the character.
A blowout and Stella McCartney and Raf for Calvin Klein and Proenza, those were big influencers on that character. It's just so fun. Valentino, I feel like they all had a big part in helping her feel like Renata Klein, you know? And that's so fun.
Were there any beauty tips that you passed on or that maybe you picked up from your "Big Little Lies" co-stars?
We do share everything and definitely the Pure Radiance Oil is something I shared. I talk a lot about skin care and health and environmental health with Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz particularly, so we shared a lot about that. And Shailene's makeup artist and mine are close and shared secrets. They're both German and very interested in organic lines, so they talked a lot about the products and why we love the oil. We don't just care about how we're using things for our body, but we care about how we're influencing my own daughter and other young women and how we can lift them up, while also taking care of the planet. It's the future of consumerism.
Why is it important to you, as a public figure, to make sure that you're putting these messages out into the world, and that you can feel 100% confident about promoting the brands you partner with?
I saw 'An Inconvenient Truth' like everybody else and was like, 'Oh my God, could it be that we only have 20 years? That's crazy.' Last weekend, I was with a couple of extraordinary people from South Africa who were running an amazing wildlife preserve for elephants; I was like, 'There's been such a change in the level of poaching. Are you so excited?' They're like, 'Excited, but in probably six years we won't have elephants.' I was like, 'What?' And I consider myself knowledgeable in this area. Six years we won't have elephants! That's where we're at now. We're at maybe in five to seven years, we may not have polar bears. We may not have rhinoceros, we may not have elephants.
So the next generation doesn't have a choice but asking these questions because the Amazon has been on fire. That's a massive shift. And my kids are like, 'Mom, you're not going to eat that are you? It's meatless Mondays. You can't eat meat on Mondays. At least one day a week, don't be eating meat.' They're figuring it out because they want to have a place to live. It's simple. It's about math now, it's not even about being conscious.
It's like Amabella [from "Big Little Lies"] having a panic attack about climate change. That was the most relatable thing in the show.
Exactly. I love that that story of all places was weaved into the family that's all about money and presentation, but it of course would be my daughter who would be having a panic attack because the planet's on fire. To be able to make a living and build a brand and raise major money and consciousness and success for your investors by doing the right thing, like True Botanicals? I want to jump on that bandwagon. And of all companies, this is a company that I feel could blow open the beauty industry because of its consciousness, because it works on a surface level and because it's truly doing the right thing for everybody. That's really cool.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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