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Cannes Lions

Laura Dern Dishes on Her Dream Gig: Repping Palmolive

By Published on .

Credit: Illustration by Emma Kelly for Advertising Age

Laura Dern has appeared in major blockbuster hits, art house darlings and on TV. But the star who can be currently seen in the new "Twin Peaks" reboot and the forthcoming Star Wars installment "The Last Jedi" says there is still one dream role she has yet to play: Madge, the sassy manicurist from those old school Palmolive commercials.

Dern sat down with Ad Age backstage at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity Sunday to discuss her take on advertising today, her favorite apps and aging gracefully in Hollywood. This interview has been slightly edited for flow and readability.

Will you get to see any of the work while you're here?
I don't know if I'll be able to. But I'm learning so much just getting to talk to brands and advertisers. It's interesting to start to figure out how you can participate in the world, especially if you have a mission statement, a goal in mind, so you start to be able to invent where it is a match that also can be purposeful, be it a product you love or a cause you love.

What's your mission statement?
I love being an actor, but as an individual and as a woman particularly who was not only raised by actresses but is an actress, I'm very excited about the paradigm shift in America, finally, about race and wisdom and sexuality being a little more like a fine wine as opposed to something that we're supposed to hide or run from.

When you say fine wine, you mean aging?
Aging and experience and being a mother and being a mother as this beautiful being. Being a mother as this beautiful and creative experiment versus something you have to be prepared for.

Which brands or marketers are doing it right?
Nonspecifically, in the area of beauty and fashion there's a massive shift happening. It's happening in body type and age and starting to consider empowered woman versus just the super model prototype and I think that's meant a lot for women and girls.

And specifically?
Lines that focus on women in their 40s versus only women in their 20s, particularly with skincare and hair products. L'Oréal has done it beautifully and certainly there are a number of lines of products for the face and skincare that are marketing to the women who actually are using things that deal with not wanting to age ungracefully. It's also the ad companies and editors of magazines who are bravely trying to shake it up. Like Laura Brown, the editor of InStyle, putting Amy Schumer in a bathing suit on the cover. That's the paradigm shift. It gives me chills – I love it so much.

Could you have imagined that in 2017 you would be in 'Star Wars'?
What's cool is I've been lucky to — maybe because I was considered an actor first, not a starlet or model — that I've played really empowered women. Even in "Jurassic Park" in the '90s, she's a feminist and there's a lot of fantastic lines of Ellie Sattler that have become cool iconic feminist lines. I love that Steven Spielberg at the time wanted this powerhouse that kicks dinosaurs' ass. And that's gone backwards a bit. There were things we got away with more 20 years ago than we do now. Now we're sort of having to fight to return to our place.

You think there's been a setback?
In some areas, a major step back. Hint, hint. I think all of us are scrambling, not just women. Men are scrambling to make sure that women are respected and considered in a very beautiful and empowered way. And I think that's gorgeous.

Do you have a favorite app?
Well, last night I downloaded Airbnb and I was in. I was in like it was the best television show of my life. I was like, "Wait, what? A Costa Rica day exploration with paddle boarding and food?" It was amazing to go into the rabbit hole of gorgeous places if you're going to go on a vacation that actually is affordable.

What else is on your phone?
The app that blows my mind is BuyCott. It runs a barcode of any product and it tells you, not only what's in the product — any product, including an iPhone — it tells you the companies they support. It's really politically amazing.

Do you consider yourself politically active?
Yes, very much so. Isn't everybody right now? We're all awake to what we want things to look like.

But he created a massive, global brand.
And I think McDonald's would be exactly what it is today if he included the brothers or if they have gotten their 1%. At the handshake of the deal, they were promised 1% and they never saw a dime of it.

What is your favorite ad from childhood?
My number one favorite ad – and it's the part I most want to play in my life – is I want to be the new Madge from Palmolive. I've always wanted to play Madge. I loved that advertising. Alexander Payne, who wrote and directed "Citizen Ruth," and I want to do the Palmolive ads together. I'd be the new Madge and he'd direct all the ads. We have to find out if Palmolive will allow us to do this because it'd be hilarious and we were both obsessed with those ads. And the only other ad I've quoted since I heard my mom talk about it when I was 3 years old was Calgon's "Take Me Away." I loved women being fearless and sassy in the workplace.


Have you ever said no to brands you wish you hadn't?
Sure. I've been asked to do major campaigns, particularly at a time I would've been paid so well, but an actress couldn't do that. In the last five years, I have said no to things and I didn't understand this world and that's it's okay for me to do it, so now I'm just catching up.

Brand integrations in Star Wars?
Yes. Haven't been asked as of yet, but I'm sure.

What's your 12-year-old daughter into these days?
Instagram. But it's a battle. That's another thing I think I could be a good spokesperson for. As we're teaching the next generation of girls, it's essential we teach them about value from a different place. Even in the world of fashion, don't be defined by what you see so you replicate it. What happened to the day of cutting up denim and mixing it with some crazy thrift shop shirt you found? The things that are iconic don't always have a lot of followers because it took you being bold enough to be who are you. We can't lose sight of that.

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