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And that is really the thing that calls me to the material often: something I struggle to understand in human behaviour.” In The Fault in Our Stars, based on the bestselling novel by John Green, Dern plays a “progressive hippie mother” struggling with the knowledge that her daughter Hazel, played by Shailene Woodley, is dying of cancer.“In a way, the movie is less about cancer and more about how to celebrate the time that we have and how to love deeply in the most honest way possible.” Dern and Woodley became very close.

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Although close to her mother, Dern says she is more like her father in character.

“We have the same sense of humour and the same level of irreverence. My dad was always interested in characters he didn’t understand – he was such a great bad guy in movies.

And as if that weren’t emotionally gruelling enough, she also spent every working moment shooting not one, but two “devastating” films about cancer. “It’s a pa-a-arty now,” she sings out, as she walks into the room where we meet to talk about The Fault in Our Stars, in which she plays the mother of a teenage girl who is dying of cancer. “Let’s get as close as possible,” she says as we choose chairs around a large table in a Los Angeles hotel.

She orders a cup of green tea with honey and submits me to a charm offensive, going out of her way to set up a rapport. Dern, 47, is an Oscar-nominated actress (for Rambling Rose) with four Golden Globes to her name.

But, like me, they never really knew a mom and dad sitting down at the table for dinner every night.

So I think that creates an easier transition.” Dern’s own parents divorced when she was two and, in effect, her grandmother brought her up. I was so lucky to have her.” She spent many weekends in Malibu with her father, who famously “shot dead” John Wayne in The Cowboys (1972), and describes her childhood as happy – “although I was like any other kid who missed their mom because she had to work, but that was my only real negative”.

And, despite the recent turmoil in her own life, Dern says she hasn’t given up on relationships: “Love means a lot to me, and I love loving and I love boys.” But she is not with anyone at the moment. I’m really enjoying my life right now.” She says she no longer really believes in the fairytale of marriage.

“I don’t think kids expect the fairytale anymore, either.

Aged seven, she was an extra on a Martin Scorsese film that her mother was shooting, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, eating an ice-cream cone in a scene at a diner.

The scene was shot 19 times and afterwards Scorsese said to her mother: “If she can eat an ice-cream cone 19 times, she’s got to be an actress.” Knowing that the job can entail repeated knockbacks, her parents tried to discourage their daughter, but Dern was smitten.

He appears on the American television series The Biggest Loser.

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