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New Trend: Parents Playing Parents?

Date updated by JeromeWetzelTV on 2013-01-22 20:36:48

Article first published as New Trend: Parents Playing Parents? on Blogcritics.

Acting is a craft honed with many years of practice and a large degree of talent. But talent alone may not be enough if the actors have to work with other performers with whom they just do not have chemistry. One of the greatest challenges in casting a series is picking people who have the right fit with one another, who can make it seem like their relationships go back way further than the show's timeline.

Hollywood seems to have a new solution to that problem. Why fake a relationship, when you can use one that already exists?

In HBO's Enlightened, which just began its second season, the main character of Amy is played by Laura Dern. Amy's mother is played by Diane Ladd. What may not be obvious to those who haven't bothered googling the two women is that Ladd is Dern's actual mother. They don't look a lot alike, but considering that Ladd is the person who raised Dern, it's no surprise that they can pull off a great dynamic on screen.

Their characters are antagonistic towards each other in the series, and this isn't too far-fetched to believe. Dern once sued her mother for emancipation so that she could do a movie to which her mother objected. Clearly, the two have a rocky back story, and have some real life material to draw upon for their mother-daughter roles, and this isn't the first time they've played opposite one another.

Maybe they've worked past those differences; everyone grows up. Everyone spats with their parents; not everyone sues for emancipation, but not knowing the family, I couldn't say what what motivate such an action, or how it was received. Those of us on the outside can only guess at Dern and Ladd's actual relationship.

That isn't really the point, though. The point is, these two women, both terrific actors in their own right, have found a way to use their relationship in their careers. Being on set together gives them an opportunity to spend time together. It also gives them a very authentic feel for their characters.

I wonders how much of their real relationship goes into the parts? Do they work better if they keep the characters purely on a fictional plane, or do they have no trouble pulling things from reality, in order to make the scene even more realistic? This is personal choice, of course, and there is not formula that will work for everyone.

Thinking about how it would be to work with my parents, I feel like it risks quite a bit of unprofessionalism while filming. I mean, I can't see my parents willing to set aside the fact that they are my parents, even if they are happy to help and work together. It would definitely make for a different dynamic once the cameras stop rolling, and with Dern having some creative control over the series, does that cause any tension between them?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, whether this will work or not depends on the individuals, how they feel about one another, and what the established hierarchy is in the project. It's not a choice everyone can make, even if both parent and child happen to be in the same industry. But it works for others outside of acting, too, such as when a kid takes over a retiring parent's business, and spends years training to prepare for that day, so it's about time that this is tried in the world of television.

Dern and Ladd are not alone in this arrangement. Recently, after guesting once last summer, Martin Sheen has joined the cast of FX's Anger Management, which also just began a second season. He plays Martin, the father of real-life son Charlie's character, also called Charlie. Keeping the same names blurs the lines even more. Is this a play for ratings, or did the pair really just decide they wanted to work together? 


Not so long ago, Charlie (the actor, not the character) had a huge public meltdown, which few could have missed. Martin got involved then, too. This will only fuel rumors about why Martin is now on set, and what might be going on. It could also potentially be disruptive to the filming process down the line, so it seems like a tenuous pairing, especially on a television show committed to cranking out 90 episodes over the next two years, making for a high stress, very busy environment.

Then again, maybe it's not a problem. As I said before, we can't know for certain what their relationship is, and as long as their bosses trust that whatever happens will not interrupt the production process, and it works for the network, good for them. I am certainly enjoying both casting choices so far.

There are all sorts of implications if this should become a full-blown trend. Will it be one that works, making for better television and films. Or are these two pairings just anomalies, a footnote in the history books? Could one or both of them flame out miserably because adults don't always work well with their parents? Or will it lead to them having even better relationships and more respect for one another? These four could be a bell weather if others are considering the move.

Or I could be making something out of nothing.

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