By the time Laura Dern turned 7 years old, she already knew acting was what she wanted to do with her life, as she detailed in an interview with Vanity Fair. Since then, the actress has been a part of some major motion pictures — from Jurassic Park to Star Wars.
While working as an actress in the early aughts, Dern also started growing her family with then-husband Ben Harper. In 2001, she welcomed a son, Ellery Harper, and, in 2004, the couple had a daughter, Jaya. When speaking to Refinery29, Dern admitted that parenthood hasn’t always come naturally to her. "…I would say that the beginning of motherhood, for me and a lot of women I’ve spoken to, feels like, ‘how am I going to do this other thing called motherhood, as we’re busy finding our own lives?’ But with some time it starts to integrate, until every thought you have is, ‘how am I going to do this as a parent, or for my or with my children?’"
It’s hard to believe, but Dern’s oldest child is well on his way to becoming an independent adult. And, like his mom, he began forging a career long before he "had" to. Here’s all you should know about Laura Dern’s son, Ellery Harper.
A "new chapter" in Laura Dern’s life
In 2000, Laura Dern met Ellery’s father, musician Ben Harper, while attending one of his concerts. According to a People report from 2004, the then-future Big Little Lies star met her eventual husband not long after learning of her fiancé Billy Bob Thornton’s affair with fellow actor Angelina Jolie. "Something that one might have thought would destroy her made her stronger," Dern’s close friend, singer Melissa Etheridge, told the publication. "When she told me she was pregnant (with Ellery), she was very proud and very excited. She was saying, ‘This is the next new chapter in my life.’"
A little over a year after Ellery’s little sister, Jaya, was born, the couple married. However, according to court documents obtained by TMZ, Dern and Harper separated five years later in January 2010. By the fall of that year, Harper filed for divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences. Still, the couple wouldn’t end up finalizing their divorce until September 2013, according to TMZ. The two share joint custody of Ellery and Jaya.
Ellery had a life-saving surgery as a baby
For many years, Ben Harper and Laura Dern kept private a major health scare son Ellery experienced as a newborn. In 2017, Jimmy Kimmel revealed on his show that his newborn son William "Billy" Kimmel had been diagnosed with a rare heart defect called "tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia." Baby Billy required open-heart surgery at the time in order to open a valve in his heart, and Kimmel took the opportunity to highlight the health care crisis in the U.S.
"As a parent who went through surgery with a newborn," Dern revealed on Instagram after watching Kimmel’s monologue, "and who knows the luxury of my child being able to have the best care, I will never forget the faces of the terrified parents I met in those weeks. I’m so grateful to Jimmy for this plea and for what should be every child’s birthright."
In a later interview with Refinery29, Dern further explained that Ellery "had a surgery at birth and it was life-threatening." Dern has not revealed whether Ellery required open-heart surgery like Billy or another type of life-saving operation.
He’s been skateboarding since he was a kid
Thankfully, Ellery had the surgery he need and appears to have recovered from his life-threatening condition. Around the time he was in kindergarten, he even started taking up an action sport. When speaking with Juice Magazine, Ellery’s father, Ben Harper, revealed, "[Professional skateboarder Ben ‘Tuma’ Britton] has been teaching my son skateboarding since he was six."
In an interview with ESPN, Harper revealed he was 9 years old when he got his first board. But Ellery — unlike dad Harper, who continues to skateboard — moved onto a different sport prior to his 15th birthday. "My son is all surf now," Harper explained to Juice Magazine in 2018, "but he will grab a skateboard and ollie up onto something waist high and just shred." He continued, saying, "Then he’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m not really skating right now.’ I’m like, ‘If I could do one of the things you just did, I’d be so stoked!’"
He went through "men’s childbirth"
Despite Ellery being more into water sports these days, transitioning from skateboarding to surfing wasn’t exactly a smooth process. In 2014, his mother, Laura Dern, sat down with Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show and detailed a horrifying event that happened to her son.
While surfing in Santa Monica, Ellery stepped down onto a stingray. After the animal’s venomous barb went into Ellery’s foot, thus stinging him, Dern recalled the professional surfers nearby cheering her son on, saying, "Dude, you’ve been initiated! This is awesome!" She continued, "And then one man leaned into me and said, who’s a friend, ‘Um, get ready. This is men’s childbirth.’" Within just two minutes’ time, Dern said the "level of pain is so severe."
According to National Geographic, stingray attacks have become more common in recent years — especially in California. The reason for this, however, is unknown. Fortunately though, Ellery healed up just fine, despite the intense bout of pain.
He’s long been a fan of this fashion designer
Ellery doesn’t just have a passion for sports. In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily in February 2018, the then 16-year-old expressed his interest in modeling, but he revealed that he’s been concentrating mostly on fashion design.
Ellery and his mom were invited to sit in the front row at the fall 2018 Calvin Klein fashion show, but Dern clarified her reason for attending when speaking to the publication, saying, "Really I’m attending with Ellery who has a great love of Raf and is an invited guest of Raf — they have a beautiful connection." Raf is, of course, the one and only Raf Simmons, the esteemed Belgian fashion designer. "This is a great love of his," Dern said, reiterating her son’s interest in fashion. Luckily for Ellery, a connection with Simmons is quite the leg up when it comes to forming a career in fashion design.
He had to hold off on modeling
For an aspiring model and fashion designer, sitting in the front row of a Calvin Klein fashion show would be like hitting the jackpot. However, for teenage Ellery, this was actually a consolation prize. Fashion designer Raf Simons, who at that time was working with Calvin Klein, didn’t initially invite Ellery to sit and watch the show.
"He originally asked me to walk," Ellery revealed in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily. "But my dad had different opinions." Yikes. Don’t you hate it when your parents stand in the way of you becoming a model? Okay, okay, so maybe we can’t relate to this particular circumstance, but we can imagine how disappointed Ellery must’ve been. Mama Dern made sure to clarify her son’s comments about his father, saying, "He wanted him to wait a little bit more." Ellery continued, saying, "So I’m just here, spectating this."
He made his runway debut at 17 years old
Ellery’s patience paid off. A month after his 17th birthday, Ellery’s pops apparently gave his son the okay to start modeling. Not quite a year after Dern and Ellery sat in the front row of a Calvin Klein fashion show, Dern was again seated front and center during New York Fashion Week. This time, though, she spectated the show as the mother of one of the models. Clad in what W Magazine described as "a textured V-neck sweater vest" and "futuristic slim cargo pants made out of a material reminiscent of a deep-sea diver’s suit," Ellery hit the catwalk. The 17-year-old also donned a graduation cap — complete with a tassel — and a red earring, the latter of which all of the other male models in the spring 2019 show also wore.
Ellery’s mom was, of course, excited. "Always a privilege to witness Raf [Simmons’] genius for Calvin Klein especially when I am the proudest mama witnessing my son walk for him," Dern revealed in an Instagram post at the time.
He’s dating a fellow young model
Laura Dern’s son may be a newbie on the modeling scene, but he’s already found love with a fellow model. "One whole year with you today that has meant more to me than a caption could begin to do justice," wrote model Beanie Boylston in a January 2019 Instagram post. "I love you always." Since then, Boylston has posted several other cutesy photos depicting their relationship.
Although it’s not publicly known how these two lovebirds met, they appear to be about the same age and obviously share a passion for fashion. As of this writing, Boylston is currently represented by Vision, a Los Angeles, California-based modeling agency founded in the late ’90s. The company bills itself as "a boutique-styled, high fashion and beauty agency dedicated to the discovery and development of fresh, unique talent in the U.S." that represents men and women with the "ultimate goal … to manage each talent on an individual basis, presenting them with all the necessary tools to build a lasting brand within the fashion industry."
He could become the next big thing in the modeling world
Not long after Ellery made his runway debut in the Calvin Klein Spring 2019 fashion show, Raf Simons parted ways with the brand. Then, in January 2019, Simons debuted his own line of menswear for the fall season. This time though, Ellery did not step onto the catwalk. Hmm. Was he already over modeling? After all, he did say he was more interested in pursuing fashion design than hitting the runway. Following Ellery’s first steps for Calvin Klein in September 2018, W Magazine reported, "No word on whether Harper might pursue modeling as a career or if he was just doing a solid for his favorite designer."
It wasn’t long until we got some clarity on his career trajectory. IMG Models took to Instagram just days after Ellery’s big runway debut and announced that they were "now representing" Laura Dern’s son. We’ll have to wait and see how his modeling career pans out, but he could just be the next big name in the business.