It’s not your average TV show that draws its inspirations from I Love Lucy, Norma Rae, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, but that pretty much sums up Laura Dern’s vision for Enlightened, her HBO comedy that last week wrapped its first season and snagged two Golden Globes nominations — for Best Comedy Series and Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Dern, who co-created, executive produces, and stars in the series, caught up with TVLine about her vision for Season 2, the double-standards that still get lobbed at complicated female characters, and why people who were annoyed by the show’s pilot episode are actually its ideal audience.
TVLINE | In my estimation, the nomination for you as Lead Actress in a Comedy was maybe less unexpected than the show itself being up for Best Comedy Series.
LAURA DERN | I was very grateful, felt very supported by [the Hollywood Foreign Press Association] for my work as an actor. But the support of the show was a particular surprise, in its freshman year, alongside shows like Modern Family and Glee. I’m a fan of people doing unique things, and that’s why I wanted to be an actor in the first place. So to be included among shows that are trying to do something different, and to be supported and honored for trying to do that as well, hopefully gives all of us as artists far more legroom. And as a woman, hopefully this means there will be a continued fervor allowing women to be as deeply complicated as some of the male characters that have been on cable television — without having people go, “Ewwww.” I don’t say that as a feminist, I say it just as an individual who’s been witnessing the last few months of having some people watch [Amy, the central character of Enlightened] and say “Ooh, that seemed manipulative!” or “Ooh wow, she’s really an unlikable character on HBO.” I’m like, have these people never seen The Sopranos or Curb Your Enthusiasm? [Laughs] It’s not wrapped in a lovely package of Manolo Blahniks; she’s complicated, and we don’t get the payoff of the four-inch heel or the sassiness. Not that Amy won’t give those things every once in a while, too, but she’ll give a lot of stuff that’s hard to swallow as well. You know, I’ve never done a television show, but I wanted to do it because HBO is giving us the room to make a long indie feature, frankly.
TVLINE | So if there is a Season 2 (oop there will be!!), are were going to see Amy in this Norma Rae-Erin Brockovich kind of role? I know we didn’t see exactly what she did with that access to the corporate email accounts, but can she continue to work at Abaddon after metaphorically burning it to the ground? Do you and Mike [White] have a sophomore season mapped out in your brains?
LAURA DERN | We have it a bit mapped out, but we’re still exploring too. The exciting part of our work together is in how we imagine what Amy would do with these opportunities. I can say [whatever happens] will never be anything but the most unlikely version of events. Just when she’ll think she’s being a whistleblower, just when Amy thinks she’s saved the world, somebody will be like, “Boy did she screw that up.” [Laughs] What’s great about Amy is she’s the kind of person that is trying to open a can of worms, and when she does, nobody sees it, but they’ll see all these other cans that nobody even knew were there. It’s like with Levi or with her mother: “Well, he’s never going to not be an addict.” “She’s never going to not be a shut-down mother.” And yet she’ll try to open them up in her way, and she won’t succeed, but the flowering will occur in a whole other area. And that’s what is beautiful about complicated people, people who are willing to tell the truth and force us to our own truths, even if we don’t do it the way they wanted us to.
TVLINE | The show hasn’t been huge from a ratings standpoint, and I wonder when you and Mike conceived this show — which isn’t a comedy per se, but is more quiet and meditative, and not really like anything on TV right now — did you worry about finding an audience for it?
LAURA DERN | You know, we didn’t think too much about it, really. We just hoped to make something that people would connect to. In terms of ratings, all of that is so elusive. For us, cumulatively, we’re seeing that a lot of people are supporting the show, whether they’re finding it on HBO Go or On Demand or in their TiVo box. But Mike and I and everyone involved have made the story we wanted to tell. And we hoped that there would be a lot of people who not only connect to it, but who would be willing and patient enough to give Amy her due. I mean that in the same way as I would about the people who are in the Occupy [Wall Street] Movement right now. There is a lot of judgment we can put directly toward our ideas of what a person who does this kind of thing is. Or we can surrender all judgment and [appreciate] that people who are willing — at all costs — to speak up may also be complicated people.
TVLINE | I wrote a column recently urging HBO to give Enlightened a second season, and there was some feedback from folks in our comments section saying things like, “Oh, I watched the first two episodes and I just couldn’t deal.” Or, “It’s too upsetting or too depressing.” So let’s say you had to try and change those people’s minds. What would be your pitch to them?
LAURA DERN | It’s your moral duty, as an American, to stand with Amy. To me, it’s the exact same things that I would say when someone says, “My God, you know, all these hippies are like down there with tents [at Occupy Wall Street]. And they don’t even know what they’re fighting for.” I’d urge them to just go down there — I know this sounds exhausting — but go down there and start asking people why they’re there. Even if there’s someone who’s clueless and doesn’t really know why he or she is there, the mere fact that they’re there — just like the mere fact that Enlightened exists — shows that there is unrest. We all want to have a voice again, which is why I’m so excited in my own little way to get to play a character that points a finger and recognizes the same story that’s being told in a million different ways right now. We’re all considering how to use our voice and if it means something, and what it is to be a whole person so that we can do it successfully, and that is super exciting to me. So I would beg people, if they are annoyed, they are a perfect audience! We’ve been waiting for them our whole lives. The very people who are saying, “I cannot handle this,” they’re the perfect people to watch [Enlightened].
More of this long ass interview at the source
Queen Laura is right about everything as usual, especially the double standard on TV for "unlikeable" women versus unlikeable men.