Laura is the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd and the grand-daughter of Mary Lanier. Her great-grandfather, George Henry Dern of Salt Lake City (1872-1936) was a two-term governor of the state of Utah, from 1925 to 1933, then served as Franklin D. Roosevelt´s Secretary of War. Her great-great-grandfather, John Dern, was a rich farmer from Nebraska who made brilliant investments in Utah gold mines.
Laura's acting career began at an early age. When she was thirteen, she was offered a role in Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1981) - her mother said she was too young to be away from home shooting a movie, and refused to let her go. With adult support, Laura sued her mother and won.
In 1992, Laura and Diane Ladd acted together in the movie Rambling Rose and became the first mother and daughter to receive Academy Award nominations in the same year. Diane had a nomination as Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Laura as Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Laura was engaged to Billy Bob Thornton and also to Jeff Goldblum. She is now with Ben Harper, a musician, with whom she has a son, Ellery Walker Harper, born in 2001. In August, 2004, they announced their engagement, and also that they were expecting a second child later in the year.
Laura famously said of her break-up with Billy Bob Thornton - "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... It's like a sudden death. For no one has there been any closure or clarity."