"I was on the cover of a lot of magazines and there were compliments about beauty and fashion and what I was wearing. Man, if you get locked into that, you can lose your freedom as an actress," she says. "If you're not locked in it, and if you're lucky enough to get that part with the right group of people, then suddenly you're in the makeup trailer like, 'Can I have a herpes sore? Can I have a hickey? Can it go further?'"
For Dern, that moment arrived with "Citizen Ruth," a politically charged film from a then-unknown director. She played the titular role of Ruth Stoops, a pregnant, shiftless, paint-huffing mother of four who unwittingly becomes a pawn in the culture wars.
It was, to say the least, a risky decision for a young actress on the rise, but Dern calls it her favorite film experience to date. "That was the turning point role for me to really explore and fall in love with comedy," she says.
She was equally fearless — if slightly more made-up — in her portrayal of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris in 2008's "Recount."
In "Enlightened," Dern takes a vanity-free approach to storytelling. And in an inspired programming choice, her show now airs after Lena Dunham's "Girls." "It's a good hour of uncomfortable entertainment," she promises.
Coming from Dern, that's a ringing endorsement.
When: 9:30 p.m. Sundays
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)