Laura Dern

  1. Brooke Shields, Pretty Baby, 1977.   The plot sickens… A prostitute allows her 12-year-old daughter’s virginity to be auctioned off in a brothel in the red-light Storyville district of New Orleans, circa 1917. Elegant French director Louis Malle saw 29 hopefuls and/or instant (parental) refusals for pretty little Violet. From Laura Dern aged 10 and future Sex And The City co-stars Cynthia Nixon, at 11, Sarah Jessica Parker, 12 (like Shields) and (the often too buxom) teenagers: little Melissa Sue Anderson on the prairie, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Blair, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bridget Fonda, Jodie Foster, Mariel Hemingway, Helen Hunt, Anissa Jones (who tragically ODed at 18 before her audition), Diane Lane, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kristy McNichol, Tatum O’Neal (Dad said no), Dana Plato (Mom said no), Michelle Pfeiffer, Ally Sheedy, Meg Tilly, Charlene Tilton (pre-Dallas)… to seven twentysomethings. However, no make-up and soft lenses could make 12-year-olds out of Isabelle Adjani, Bo Derek, Carrie Fisher, Melanie Griffith, Amy Irving, Mary Steenburgen or Debra Winger.

  2. Molly Ringwald, Sixteen Candles, 1984.    Dern and Robin Wright auditioned as Samanatha Baker but never stood a chance. The new teenage angst maestro John Hughes had noticed Molly at another casting session, considered her to be the perfect American teenager and kept her photo on his desk as he wrote the film – in two days.   They made two more hits together and then rowed over a fourth – “I can’t be 16 forever!” – and never worked together again.

  3. Molly Ringwald, The Breakfast Club, 1984.   For his second film, teenage angst maestro John Hughes wanted Jodie Foster. She wisely passed. Way too old at 22 for Claire Standish. Dern was on the cusp at 17 – Ringwald (from Hughes’ 1983 debut, Sixteen Candles) was just perfect at 16… like her second-time Hughes movie co-star Anthony Michael Hall. They dated between the two movies.

  4. Jennifer Connelly, Labyrinth, 1985.  For (alas) his final film as a director, Muppeteer-in-Chief Jim Henson saw 14 candidates  for his adolescent heroine, Sarah, forever in a dreamworld.  They included Dern, Yasmine Bleeth, Helena Bonham Carter, Kerri Green, Mary Stuart Masterson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Laura San Giacomo, Mia Sara, Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei. Choices reached a final five – Maddie Corman,  Jane Krakowski,  Ally Sheedy,  Sarah Williams… and the stunning Connelly.  The wondrous names of folk in JK Rowling’s Potterverse (Moggle, Dometrious, etc) seem inspired by such Hensonversers as Ambrosius, Didymus, Hoggle, Ludo… 

  5. Geena Davis, The Fly, 1986.   “Be afraid, be very afraid!”   After Linda Hamilton passed – “it’s too disturbing!” – Canadian director David Cronenberg suggested Dern for Jennifer Jason Leigh as Victoria Quaife. His producers (Mel Brooks included) preferred an unknown. “I think I can help you there,” said their star, Jeff Goldblum, introducing them to his then-lover. And, said Cronenberg: “Nobody else even came close.”
  6. Geena Davis, The Accidental Tourist, 1989.    And so Davis won the flakiest Oscar of that year. Not justified then – or since.  (Incidentally, Laura was was conceived during the making of The Wild Angels, 1966. When people asked about her folks, she took great delight in showing off a  still of them (Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd) in their biker clobber!).
  7. Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman, 1989.”
  8. Catherine O’Hara, Home Alone, 1990.  For the zero roles of Macauley Culkin’s forgetful parents (in a film written for and duly stolen by him), an astonishing 66 stars were considered – including 32 later seen for the hot lovers in Basic Instinct:Kim Basinger, Stockard Channing, Glenn Close, Kevin Costner, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Douglas, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Linda Hamilton, Daryl Hannah, Marilu Henner, Anjelica Huston, Helen Hunt, Holly Hunter, Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Christopher Lloyd, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Annie Potts, Kelly Preston, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Martin Sheen, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, John Travolta.   Other near Moms were Kirstie Alley, Lynda Carter, Kim Cattrall, Geena Davis, Laura Dern, Jennifer Grey, Gates McFadden, Kelly McGillis, Bette Midler, Ally Sheedy, Mary Steenburgen, Debra Winger… and the inevitable unknown: Maureen McCormick,  part of The Brady Bunch for seven 1981 chapters.
  9. Kelly Lynch, Curly Sue, 1990.    “That was another movie that started out as one movie and ended up being another movie entirely,” reported Kelly. “But a great experience… like a throwback to one of those Depression-era movies that you’d seen  Jean Harlow in.” Kirstie Alley, Geena Davis, Laura Dern, Linda Hamilton (off shooting Terminator 2), Goldie Hawn, Sigourney Weaver also suggested for  the cynical Chicago lawyer missed up with a Paper Moon II act: James Belushi and  young Alisan Porter.   Critic Roger Ebert fell for John Hughes’ final film  – “could have been written by Damon Runyon, illustrated by Norman Rockwell and filmed by Frank Capra.” Kirstie Alley, Geena Davis, Laura Dern, Linda Hamilton (off shooting Terminator 2) , Goldie Hawn, Sigourney Weaver also suggested for  the cynical Chicago lawyer missed up with a Paper Moon II act: Jim Belushi and  young Alisan Porter.   Critic Roger Ebert fell for John Hughes’ final film  – “could have been written by Damon Runyon, illustrated by Norman Rockwell and filmed by Frank Capra.”
  10. Darryl Hannah, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, 1991.    Laura was set as missionary John Lithgow’s wife until finding she’d have to swim in “a parasite-filled river” in Venezuela. Daryl Hannah took her place and told the only other woman in sight, co-star Kathy Bates, how embarrassed  she was about her nude scene. Bates look her in the eye and rasped: “Why do you think you’re here?”

  11. Sharon Stone, Basic Instinct,  1991.
  12. Geena Davis, A League of Their Own, 1991.   “There’s no crying in baseball…” Long-time ball fan, director Penny Marshall had never heard of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954) until seeing a 1987 PBS documentary. She swiftly contacted the makers to join her Hollywood writers to use their title for a fictional comedy-drama version.  Penny staged baseball tests for about 2,000 actresses – if you can’t play ball, you can’t play the Rockford Peaches!  Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty were best; those turned down included Farrah Fawcett, Lori Singer, Marisa Tomei and Maria Maples (before becoming the second Mrs Donald Trump).  Jim Belushi and Laura Dern were set to star in 1990 when Fox suddenly pulled the plug; Tom Hanks and Geena took over at Columbia.  Also on the plate for the star player Dottie Hinson were Sally Field, Nicole Kidman, Kelly McGillis, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Brooke Shields, Debra Winger and Sean Young.
  13. Rene Russo, Lethal Weapon 3, 1991.   For a lively addition to the battle-fatigued  franchise, director Richard Donner leafed through Kirstie Alley, Joan Cusack, Geena Davis, Laura Dern, Jodie Foster, Linda Hamilton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brooke Shields… and a “too young” Winona Ryder -to be Lorna Cole, an Internal Affairs cop who, after a few suspicions, becomes the partner of Riggs and Murtaugh duo, aka Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. And she survived into #4.   Carrie Fisher was the #3 script doctor but Lorna’s best line – “Close is a lingerie shop without a front window” – was a Russo  ad lib.

  14. Sadie Frost, Dracula, 1992.     Director Francis Coppola replaced Laura with “the busty one.”

  15. Mary Stuart Masterson, Benny & Joon, 1992.      MGM offered her biggest ever salary but she quit due to her third billing to Johnny Depp and Aidan Quinn.  Well, she’d been Oscar-nominated, after all, not them.
  16. Anne Archer, Short Cuts, 1992.     In Robert Altman’s wish-list for his great tribute to the blue-collar characters created by Raymond Carver.
  17. Joely Richardson, I’ll Do Anything, 1993.   The first idea of auteur James L Brooks for Cathy Breslow. His second idea was to make the films as a musical with eight songs from Prince.  Both ideas were droppcd from the rarity – a Brooks flop.
  18. Olivia d’Abo, The Last Good Time, 1995.    “Different people had been in my mind for her part,” said writer-producer-director Bob Balaban.  “At one time Laura Dern was maybe going to do it – and she would’ve been great.”  Then, Balaban, the actor, worked with The Wonder Years sister in a Kirk Douglas film, Greedy. “She’s beautiful, she can act,  being British she can do all accents.”
  19. Mary-Louise Parker, The Portrait of a Lady, 1995.    Dern passed on  Henrietta Stackpole in director Jane Campion’s take on the Henry James classic. 
  20. Helen Hunt, Twister, 1995.      First choice for Dr Jo Harding,  a twister-chaser with husband Bill Paxton.

  21. Julianne Moore, The Shipping News, 2000.   Pleased (initially) with his All The Pretty Horses, Columbia Pictures offered Billy Bob Thornton another directing gig. Sure, said he, iff’in mah gal can play Wavery Prowse.  Well, no she couldn’t.   It had to be Julia or Meg or Meg or Julianne.

  22. Jennifer Aniston, The Good Girl, 2001,  The One That Jen Fans (And Critics) Always Mention When Moaning About All That Jennfier Aniston Froth Out There.  Here, she is perfect. She was still shooting Friends   during the shoot  and told director Miguel Arteta to stop her getting too Central Perky. “Please don’t let her be Rachel,.” She wasn’t.  Her rivals for the role, Laura Dern, Catherine Keener and  Reese Witherspoon, could never have matched her. But then having proved she could do it, she didn’t anymore.

  23. Charlize Theron, Waking Up In Reno, 2002.    Powers Boothe, Barbara Hershey,  Mary Steenburger  and Laura read for the poor white trash couples when it nearly took off in 1997.

  24. Joan Cusack, Chicken Little, 2004.     To find the right voice for Abby Mallard in Disney’s paltry poultry pic, Disney went through Dern, Jamie Lee Curtis, Geena Davis, Laura Dern, Jamie Donnelly, Jodie Foster, Helen Hunt, Holly Hunter, Madonna and, of course, Sigourney Weaver. (By now many Alien fans were working at every studio). Plus Sarah Jessica Parker, when her husband, Matthew Broderick, was in the frame for the titular hero.  Dern and Cusack both auditioned for Sixteen Candles roles… twenty years previously! 





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