Laura Dern Explains How Filming in Prison was Heartbreaking

Laura Dern gives a compelling and beautiful performance in the new film ‘Trial By Fire’.  The film based on the true story about Elizabeth Gilbert, a teacher who fights tirelessly for the freedom of a Texas inmate on death row. Laura gives details on how hard it was filming in a maximum security prison. 

What is the film about?

Laura Dern was cast to play the role of Elizabeth Gilbert in Trial By Fire. The film created by Edward Zwick tells the real-life story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who is played by Jack O’Connell. He is a poor, uneducated man with a violent history and a criminal record, who finds himself on death row in Texas in 1992. Cameron awaits the death penalty after being convicted of the arson-related homicide of his three young children. He would sit on death row for 12 years. Although he has very few people in his corner, he maintains his innocence. When he meets Elizabeth, a teacher, the two instantly become close, which leads to her fighting for his freedom before his execution.


Laura Dern had mentioned that she spent a great deal of her time researching the life and story of both Elizabeth and Cameron. She wanted to prepare for her role. The film was partially filmed in a maximum security prison.

“As an actor, you immerse yourself in the story and sometimes it really impacts you in a way that it is hard to move from it,” she said in an interview with Hollywood Life “But, to film in prison, and particularly in maximum security prison, and even prisons that have death row inmates, was deeply heartbreaking to experience the reality of the numbers of those incarcerated in this country and why they’re there. — It’s tragic,” she said. “We have a lot to learn in terms of race in this country. It’s just horrific.”

After becoming more educated about the death penalty and Cameron’s case, in particular, Laura hopes that the film, Trial By Fire will contribute to a deeper conversation about the controversial topic.

“I’ve been learning so much about death sentence in general in this country and the idea that anyone, but particularly people who consider themselves conscious of being Christian in this country, that they hold the words, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ so close to their hearts, and yet we’re still killing people in this country,” she stated. “And, looking at the statistics has really taught me a lot in just how much money it costs the United States and individual states. It’s so mind blowing.”

Abolished Entirely

Laura continued to explain how she believes if even one innocent life was taken by the death penalty, then it should be abolished entirely.

“We have a lot to learn and hopefully we can do it much faster,” Laura pleaded, “Because, many great films, many beautiful articles, and books have been written to teach people the tragedy of innocent men and women who have been sentenced to death wrongfully in this country. And if one person is sentenced to death and was innocent, then, in my opinion, we have to abolish it,”


Laura explained how lucky she felt to have the real Elizabeth Gilbert,  as a “guide and mentor” throughout her time filming Trial By Fire.

“I feel like I can relate to her very much so because she’s here and I got to know her,” Laura said. “She really taught me a lot about how all it takes is one small act of kindness to change the law, not only to change another person’s life.”

An article published by the New Yorker‘s David Grann, titled “Trial By Fire” is what inspired this film,  Ten years after Elizabeth and Cameron’s first time meeting, the article was released and went into further detail about the questionable methods and illogical conclusions in Cameron’s case and eventual death.

 Trial By Fire is not only a true story about the death penalty and the justice system, but it’s also a story about a “relationship that, because of its connection and intimacy, two people support each other in discovering what the real truth is,” Laura elaborated. “So, I think it’s a really important movie for Americans to see.”

Release Date

This film was released on May 17, 2019. It is a highly reccomended movie to go see.

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