Laura Dern Had Trouble Getting Roles After an Episode of “Ellen”

Everyone looks at Laura Dern as one of Hollywood’s ultimate success stories after more than 40 years of winning awards and managing to land some of the most coveted movie/TV roles. Twenty-three years ago, though, things were a little dicey after she played a lesbian on Ellen DeGeneres’ ’90s-era sitcom Ellen.

Anyone who remembers the famous coming-out episode, The Puppy Episode, will remember Dern playing a lesbian who encourages the Ellen character to come out as gay. Of course, that created a landmark moment, but also some serious divides on a national scale.

It appeared to prove there was a stronger conservative movement in Hollywood than anyone assumed in the ’90s. What’s most surprising is what Dern had to endure for a while after.

Laura Dern needed security after doing the episode

Everyone was so thrilled in 1997 to do that Ellen episode, they didn’t realize what the repercussions could really be. After all, 1997 was still a time when a lot of people who were gay were still afraid to come out. They were also bigger targets than they realized, outside of some views on things beginning to change.

The biggest changes didn’t occur until a decade later, which is why Dern faced serious problems after her Ellen appearance. She explained in a New York Magazine interview last year she didn’t initially think anything of it when first being asked to appear.

Being asked to do something so brave for TV was probably readily accepted on the set. Beyond there, she didn’t see it coming how much of a nightmare it would turn into.

These circumstances even led to death threats, something not typically seen today in a time when the turn of the tide has already been mostly accepted.

How serious were the death threats?

According to Dern, an interview with Oprah Winfrey on the ’97 Ellen set proved things were about to get weird. A bomb threat had apparently been called in, leading to law enforcement swarming the studio. Word had apparently gotten out about the episode and what it would probably do to change TV characters from then on.

Not that Dern didn’t have some warnings. She also received calls from gay men she knew asking her to not do the show because they were afraid of what the career implications would be. With a genuine fear for her safety, it’s chilling to imagine how crazy this time was.

Nowadays, many people look back at the ’90s as being a complacent decade where most everyone was comfortable. Stories like this remind everyone how a few significant events caused some major earthquakes on a social level.

Let’s all remember 42 million people watched the above Ellen episode. No wonder those opposed thought it would lead to a new TV precedent. Well, it hasn’t entirely; some TV shows and movies are still trying to fit in more inclusive characters.

Laura Dern smiling
Laura Dern | Matthew Eisman/Getty Images

Laura Dern clearly rose above for a successful career

Reportedly, Dern had to face the repercussions for a year after the Ellen episode aired. Roles were a little less available until memories started to fade by the 2000s. By then, she was back to becoming one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood.

Just in the last five years alone, she’s acted in numerous projects everyone can’t deny were absolute career peaks. Part of this includes winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for Marriage Story.