Academy Award-nominated actresses and mother and daughter duo, Diane Ladd and Laura Dern, hosted a conversation to discuss their new book on May 3 at UC Santa Barbara. The discussion was held at UC Santa Barbara’s Campbell Hall and ran from 7:30-9 p.m. to celebrate Mother’s Day later this month. The event was moderated by local radio show host Catherine Remak and was co-sponsored by UCSB’s Arts & Lecturers and UCSB’s Center for Aging and Longevity Studies.
Ladd and Dern’s autobiographical novel entitled “Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)” was released on April 25, 2023. It was announced just hours prior to the event that the book had placed No. 9 on the New York Times bestseller list — approximately 100 books behind Prince Harry’s autobiography “Spare.”
When asked to react to the news, Dern shared her thankfulness and noted the connections that many readers had made to her and her mother’s story.
“I’m so touched that people connected and gravitated towards it,” Dern shared.
“We didn’t plan to write this book,” Ladd added after her daughter. “I think the angels did.”
Ladd and Dern’s book began as a series of short walks and conversations after Ladd fell ill in 2018. Initially, the cause of her illness was unknown, but the family was able to identify Ladd’s sickness after Ginger, her 3-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel, fell sick and passed from a seizure related to pesticides that were being sprayed in her neighborhood. Ladd was then diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and only given months to live due to the lung disease.
“Mom was not being notified that her community was being sprayed, and she kept getting sicker and sicker,” Dern recalled. “I think I was terrified because I was given no hope other than a prognosis.”
When recalling her illness, Ladd noted that she was grateful for Ginger.
“That little dog gave up her life to save my life,” Ladd emotionally recalled. “And that’s what dogs do for us.”
After Ladd’s diagnosis, she and her daughter began to talk daily walks in order to help with her health. However, the daily outings soon turned into deep, personal discussions that the mother and daughter had never had before.
“We seemingly talked about everything, and yet we covered so little. We had run from the deepest conversations till this moment,” Dern said. “The more open and vulnerable we were in our conversations, the stronger she seemed to get and the healthier she got.”
“We decided that because I was dying, we’d spill the beans … But instead of dying four years ago, I did two movies, a TV series and wrote a book,” Ladd joked.
Ladd also highlighted the importance of having conversations with loved ones, especially in today’s age with constant distractions.
“I long for the innocence of two hour conversations,” she said. “You had the privilege of boredom and imagination.”
With over 50 years of acting experience between them, Ladd and Dern further discussed a diverse number of topics, ranging from memories of the past to their experiences as female actors to the complex but loving relationship they share as mother and daughter. Dern noted that her mother is “an only child who raised an only child” and thanked her for providing her with friendships and life-long connections early in her life.
“My mom as an only child created sisterhood and that was a profound gift for me … It set me up for success in found family,” Dern shared.
When recalling her daughter’s childhood and her beginnings in acting, Ladd admitted that she worried for her daughter due to the lack of female roles in the industry and the possibility of rejection.
“There’s 21 parts for every man and only one part for a woman,” Ladd elaborated.
But after an interaction with famed director Martin Scorsese, in which he confidently told Ladd that Dern was going to be an actress, and seeing Dern in a film for the first time, Ladd realized that it was her daughter’s destiny to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“This child has been given a gift, and she chose me to come through,” Ladd shared.
Dern is most known for her roles in films “Jurassic Park,” “Blue Velvet” and “Marriage Story,” the latter of which earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2020. However, Dern shared that one of her best experiences in the acting industry was starring in the acclaimed HBO TV series “Big Little Lies” due to the connections that she formed with her female co-stars, producers and crewmates.
“When you work with other women, it’s like ‘bring yourself to work day,’” she joked. “I love that the women that I work with bring the whole story with them to work.”
Dern further reflected upon the differences between acting in the start of her career and acting now, noting the number of experiences that are now available for women in the entertainment industry.
“Flying now as a young female in the world means you get to do all of it … This generation doesn’t have to pick a lane,” Dern stated when asked to give advice to young women hoping to enter the entertainment industry. “I hope if it’s your passion you will tell your story — because we need it.”
Ladd similarly urged the importance of following your passions.
“If you’ve got a dream,” she advised, “By golly, if it’s not going to hurt anyone, you fight for it.”
At the discussion’s conclusion, moderator Remak asked the crowd to join Ladd and Dern in a sing-a-long of Woody Guthrie’s “Crawdad Song,” which features the lyric, “Honey, baby, mine.” Ladd’s father used to sing the song to her as a child, and the duo chose to name their book after the lyric to honor him.
“Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding)” is currently available at most major booksellers, including Santa Barbara’s own Chaucer’s Books.
This appeared in the May 11th Daily Nexus printed edition.
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