Big Little Lies’ Laura Dern Was Ghosted By This Actor Who Was Her Fiancé

Actress Laura Dern has starred in a plethora of groundbreaking films including Wild with Reese Witherspoon, the original Jurassic Park, and 1986’s Blue Velvet. Previously nominated for an Oscar and several Golden Globes, and now winning over critics and viewers in her Emmy-winning role as Renata Klein in HBO’s hit Big Little Lies, the actress continues to show her talent on a range of projects.

Dern keeps her personal life relatively under wraps, though she made some headlines when her fiancé, an Academy Award-winning actor and screenwriter, ended their relationship without even telling her. She realized it was over when she discovered he married someone else.

Actress Laura Dern
Laura Dern | Matteo Chinellato/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Family business

Dern is the daughter of actor Bruce Dern and actress Diane Ladd. Being around sound stages and movie sets inspired her to join the family business. “My dad [Bruce Dern] was shooting Family Plot with Hitchcock, and my mom was shooting Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore with Scorsese and, believe it or not, at the end of that summer I was, like, ‘I think I want to be an actress,’” Dern told The Guardian in June.

Her mon was less than thrilled at the idea. “I did not want my daughter to be an actress, but she outsmarted me,” Ladd recalled. “She said, ‘Oh mother, if I could play the piano, would you tie my hands behind my back and tell me I had to wait until I was 21 to play?’”

To pursue her profession, Dern decided to sue for emancipation at 17 so she would have the freedom to make decisions without needing her parents approval.  Her mother let her leave home under the rule that she life with self-help writer Marianne Williamson (yes, the same Williamson that’s currently trying to land the Democratic nomination for president).

Met on the set

Dern met musician Ben Harper in 2000, and the two married in 2005, according to the Huffington Post. The actress was reportedly shocked when Harper filed for divorce in 2010, which was made official in 2013. They have two children – son Ellery, 17, and daughter Jaya, 14.

In 1997, Dern guest-starred on the groundbreaking episode of the sitcom Ellen, where Ellen DeGeneres publicly came out as gay. She met actor Billy Bob Thornton on that set, where he also had a bit part in the episode. Dern had recently split from actor Jeff Goldblum, and Thornton was going through his fourth divorce, according to InStyle.

Thornton had won an Academy Award for his adapted screenplay of the film Sling Blade in 1996, which he also starred in and directed. He and Dern started dating shortly after meeting on the Ellen set. His relationship with the Big Little Lies star seemed to be going along wonderfully, where the couple even got engaged at one point. That is, until Dern had to go on location for a film in 1999.

Ghosted and then some

“I left our home to work on a movie, and while I was away, my boyfriend got married, and I’ve never heard from him again,” she told Talk magazine in 2000, as reported by InStyle. Dern was referring to Thornton’s sudden marriage to actress Angelina Jolie, whom he met on the set of the film Pushing Tin. “It’s like a sudden death. For no one has there been any closure or clarity.” Dern said of Thornton’s abrupt change of heart.

Laura Dern and Billy Bob Thornton
Laura Dern and Billy Bob Thornton | Photo by SGranitz/WireImage

Thornton commented in 2001 on the unorthodox way he left the relationship, telling The Guardian, “Others may say that you left our girl and married someone else. But it made me happy and somebody else happy. I’m sorry it caused pain.” 

Singer Melissa Ethridge weighed in on the harsh breakup on Andy Cohen’s Sirius XM radio show in 2016, where she apparently witnessed some interactions between Jolie and Thornton. “I was around when Angelina was not doing nice things with Billy Bob to Laura Dern,” she shared. “I helped Laura move out of her house with Billy Bob – I like broke into their home to get their stuff out because it was so nasty.”

Thornton and Jolie split in 2002, evidently realizing they were very different.  “Hers is a global lifestyle and mine is an agoraphobic lifestyle. So that’s really the only reason we’re probably not still together, maybe. There was a different path in life we wanted to take,” Thornton said of his breakup with Jolie, according to InStyle. He went on to marry for the sixth time in 2014.

Dern is clearly doing just fine, enjoying a career high and a close relationship with her children and friends. She is also starring in the upcoming film Marriage Story, and the remake of Little Women, which is scheduled to be released December 25.