"Rambling Rose" is a personal thing for Diane Ladd. In the film, Ladd plays Mother, lady of the house where the title character is hired as housekeeper.
Laura Dern, Ladd's daughter off the screen, plays the tile role, that of a sexually permissive young lady. Robert Duvall plays Father in the new film.
The time is 1935. The place is the South.
''It's like 'Driving Miss Daisy','' Ladd said. ''It's like 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.' It goes back to that kind of film.''
''Rambling Rose'' is the second film in which Ladd and her daughter have worked together. The first was David Lynch's ''Wild at Heart.''
''Actually, we're the first mother and daughter to play leading roles in a movie,'' she said. ''Maureen O'Sullivan did 'Hannah and Her Sisters' with Mia Farrow, her daughter, but O'Sullivan had a very minor role. Ours are leading roles.''
The question she hears most lately is: Would she work with her daughter again?
''Well, sure,'' she said. ''I can't think of anything more JTC pleasurable than that, but it will depend on the material.''
How about working in a film with both Laura and her father, Bruce Dern?
''Absolutely,'' said Ladd, ''But again, it would depend on the material. Who knows? If Laura should have a child, we might all work together. We'd be part of an acting family.''
Ladd drew a lot of attention when she played Flo in Martin Scorsese's ''Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.'' That was in 1974, and when she won an Academy Award nomination for the film, everyone thought she was on her way.
''Well, I was, but I decided to go back to the stage,'' she said. ''You know what I did? I turned down an offer to do 'Enemy of the People' with Steve McQueen. It doesn't matter that the film was never really released. A movie like that, successful or not, adds to your credits. It leads to other roles.''
So why did she decline?
''Well, I wanted to do 'Texas Trilogy' on stage. But it didn't do well in New York. In fact, it did very badly there, thanks to the critics. It was said that Preston Jones, the author, died of ulcer complications, but the truth was that the critics killed him,'' she said.
When ''Trilogy'' folded, the producers hoped to revive it, but that never happened, so Ladd went back to Hollywood where she joined the cast of 'Alice,' the television series based on the Scorsese film. Polly Holliday had assumed the role of Flo but left it to do a spin-off (''Flo''), so Ladd joined the cast as a totally new character.
''I was Belle,'' said Ladd. ''It was wonderful, and I did it for one and a half years.''
It was director Martha Coolidge (''Real Genius'') who took the ''Rambling Rose'' script to Laura Dern. ''Laura showed it to me and said I was ideal for the role of the mother and that we should do the film together,'' Ladd said.
''Of course, it wasn't that easy. We had to knock on a lot of doors to get the necessary financing. I put $3,000 of my own money into it.''
Though she may have lost the momentum ''Alice'' gave her, Ladd has done well, over the years. Among her films are ''A Kiss Before Dying'' and the television version of ''Shadow of a Doubt.''
She her recent theatrical films include ''Plain Clothes'' with Coolidge.
''I put on 15 pounds and played a character 15 years older than I was, but it didn't matter because nobody saw the movie,'' she said. ''I don't think it was ever released.''
According to official sources, Ladd was born in 1939, but you want to be very careful when you give her age.
''They do awful things in the press,'' she said. ''One newspaper in England said I was 12 years older than I am, and I was ready to sue.''
''Well that sort of thing can cost you work,'' she said. ''I lost a job because of that.''
She needn't worry. She may have lost that one, but she'll always have work, whatever her age. Ladd is the kind of actress who can do character roles until she quits and lets her grandchildren take over.
''Rambling Rose'' opens at area theaters tomorrow.