No, Laura Dern did not grow up in Cherry Hill. But the actor inhabits the pages of her L.A. mom friend Jona Frank’s photographic memoir, Cherry Hill: A Childhood Reimagined, playing the role of Frank’s depressed, but still pie- and pizza-making, mom.

The book’s harrowingly detailed narrative of Frank’s family, with its cinematically staged scenes from her Cherry Hill childhood, nails the quintessential Philly suburb. The singular Dern portrays the interior life of Frank’s mom, placed into an interior Frank could never forget, from leftover Cool Whip containers to a brother’s struggle with mental illness. The book was mostly staged in an old beach house in California and enabled by the endless shelves of Hollywood prop shops.

It was a life Frank ultimately left behind for Santa Monica.

“The idea was you just keep everything within the walls of that house,” said Frank, 54, in a recent interview. “That’s why the significance of the house was something I tried to emphasize. Life within the walls. You don’t talk about stuff. It’s these things that walk around with me.”

One memory, from a time at summer rec camp when a counselor took off in his cherry-red convertible with several campers on the hood, survives along the edge of danger and humor, horror and nostalgia. The resulting photo (one of several headed for an exhibit at Bowdoin College Museum of Art) plays somewhere between Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. Basically, The Wreck of Cherry Hill.

Frank re-created and staged it in Los Angeles’ Rustic Canyon Park, grabbing kids from her neighborhood, and moms and dads to play the police.

“Making that picture was epic,” Frank recalled, via Zoom. “The kids had so much fun. All the kids just wanted more blood on them.”

Here, lightly edited for clarity and space, is the rest of the conversation:

An incredible amount of stuff in the book just kind of spoke to me, like it was right out of my childhood.

I think how much is resonating with people in that way. It’s both affirming and also surprising. The oddest thing I will say is getting notes from people from Australia, or France.

Anything in particular people connected with? The wallpaper, right?

They definitely mentioned that. It’s this story about a mother and daughter, but also about growing up, how we find our identity and connect with who we want to be. We have to reach a point where we stop listening to the shoulds in our life, and say what is it that I want.

Just a lot of the physicality of it, the sets, the details. When you’re younger, things like wallpaper, or shorts, or the ring of a phone after 10 p.m., or that slight danger of a camp counselor, loom super large.

I think that’s really true. Our minds are not filled with other stuff yet. There was a period in elementary school where everybody had these satin jackets, and were obsessed with them.

At the end, there are credits like it’s a movie. Did you write it first, or did you set up the photos in your mind, and was any of it done in Cherry Hill?

I would say, 10% of it was done in Cherry Hill. One of the images, the actor who plays me, she has the phone on her back. That’s in front of my house in Cherry Hill. I’m told people have been re-creating that photo [in front of her old house].

In the Bruce Springsteen story [where Jona is dressed as the worker in the song “Factory”], she’s walking the route that I walked to to take a bus.

Was Laura Dern ever in Cherry Hill?

She did drive through once, but not for the book.

Was it always going to be cast, with actors?

it was very intentional to make this feel like a film. The way I photographed the shot, I used lenses that are traditionally used on cinema cameras. I really wanted to create this sense of looking in. There’s a lot of images that are slightly out of focus on the edges. I was playing on this idea that people are used to being told stories in a certain way with a film language. Laura has said it is like holding a film in your hands.

I feel like family photos are really evidence. These pictures that I made are not about proof. They are about memory. They are about this idea that we absorb the atmosphere we grew up in, and it stays with us our whole life. I had a crazy memory for things. I could tell you what every kid wore in class on that day. I just took all these things in, but I never talked about them. That’s a big part of what I wanted to re-create.

Your mom hasn’t seen it yet?

Part of that is, I wanted to be the one to show it to her. We haven’t been able to do that because of the pandemic. Also my father died in March. They were married for 62 years. They were still living on their own when he died. She is coming to terms with a lot of stuff. I want to approach carefully.

When I would talk to my father about it, he would say, it’s your story. The things that would have been hard with my mom, he would have helped her with. But to not write about her depression would have changed the whole tenor of the book. I really worried about my mom as a child. There is that line of loving somebody, but also feeling worried about them. That’s really hard for a kid.

I found a few times the narrative struck me in a way that, I felt empathetic, I felt sad. But when I looked at the photo, I laughed. I felt there was humor in the photos. Was that deliberate?

Totally. I love that you say that because I think there’s a lot of humor in it. My joke, of the repetitive nature of saying we had dinner every night at 5:30 p.m. I have friends that will always joke with me about that. It was this detail that was utterly, utterly completely true. I felt like I wanted to do that with the images. On the picture with the pies, there’s that red step stool. So many people would say, I had that same step stool. Or the banana seat bike, the CorningWare coffeepot. These things that places it in a certain time period.

Did you get a lot of reaction from Cherry Hill?

I received several emails with people asking me: Cherry Hill East or West? [It’s West.] Just that question. I would look at that and say, is that your only question? It was astonishing to me.

Did anyone in Cherry Hill say, oh you made Cherry Hill the villain in your story?

Do you think I am trying to make Cherry Hill look bad? I feel like the bigger story is there’s something about the notion that this way of life is something that you’re handed.

You know what’s funny, I went back summer of 2019. I wanted to take some of those pictures of the sunrise, and me leaving. I just parked and walked through my neighborhood for a couple of hours. I went to the Rec. I went to these paths along the creek at the Rec. Nobody was out. The smells of that neighborhood, just being in the neighborhood there, the cracked sidewalks, and the way that was as a kid, and riding my bike over those sidewalks, all of that felt so present. The nostalgia of that was very strong. It was a good place to grow up.