Laura Dern plays the mother of a teen with terminal cancer in "The Fault In Our Stars." Credit: Getty Images
Laura Dern is used to taking on serious roles, but morphing into a character whose daughter is dying of cancer is emotional on a whole new level. But when "The Fault In Our Stars" (out June 6) director Josh Boone offered the role of Franny to Dern — a role she didn't even audition for — she jumped at the chance. "I read John Green's book [on which the movie is based] and just fell in love with it and what this movie could mean for all people, philosophically who are fearless enough to love even though a love may end," she tells us. "I'm really happy to be a part of it."
In case you've escaped the year-long hype and anticipation, "The Fault In Our Stars" is about a teen with terminal cancer named Hazel (Shailene Woodley) who falls in love with Gus (Ansel Elgort), who is in her cancer support group. Their love is as sweet as teenage love can be, except for the fact that it is destined to be unfairly short lived.
For Dern, it was author John Green who helped her carry the heavy weight of her role as Hazel's mom. "He was there to hug us and thank us each day, which I can't imagine another author doing. His love of us made us fiercely protective of him and the book and it was an amazing, joyful experience. We would have dinners together as a cast every single night and laugh so much. That really carried me through," she says.
She also had long talks with Green about her character and the inspiration behind her. "He's definitely known parents going through something similar and there are specific parents that I think meant the world to him. He would tell me about how he's seen how extraordinarily tireless a mother can be while she is trying to normalize her daughter's diagnosis so she can have a regular teenage day. ... It's just unimaginable and yet there are so many people going through it."
The mother-daughter relationship in the movie is its own love story, as strong as the romantic one between the two cancer struck teens. Naturally a strong bond carried over in real life between Dern and Woodley. "We're best friends now," Dern says. They both have similar outlooks on life, a bit hippyish in a way, and while filming they spent their off-time cooking healthy meals and going to yoga classes together.
Though filming ended last year, Dern says her life is forever changed by playing Franny. "It absolutely was such an incredible gift in my life to be grateful for these small blessings each day and really try to remain in the moment and not be overwhelmed by the fear and pain that one will go through in life, for whatever one's life traumas are," she says. "Life sucks sometimes and it's inescapable. This is a movie about how to navigate that."