In a new The Hollywood Reporter essay, Dern reveals he caught the film four years into his career and it set off a fire inside him to seek out the best work available to a character actor.
He writes, "All my life, I've been fascinated by people that get s**t done. T.E. Lawrence got stuff done. And the movie is just about perfect in every single category: lighting, camera, clothing, script, story, performances. There was an intermission, and it was worth the wait. I couldn't wait until the second half.
"What shocked me was, the first thing they shot for the movie was the beginning of the second half, the arrival of Lawrence with his bodyguards. Those guys, who look like the baddest a**es that ever lived, came in on horses and camels. Peter O'Toole's got the white garb on, and you realize he's a guy who's got some homies that can play.
"I was overwhelmed by the opera of Lawrence Of Arabia. I couldn't sit through an opera, but I sure as hell could sit through that film.
"What's great is the time it takes to develop the character in front of your eyes, so you see the beginning, middle and end of relationships. It's fabulous for a film of that size... Lawrence of Arabia was the first time I'd seen character analysis with the camera in front of your eyes."
And he can only hope O'Toole is watching his acclaimed new film Nebraska with a smile: "If there's anything I'm proud about in Nebraska, it's that it's hard to see the work going on. In Lawrence, there's something going on - it's there. It's about life. Watching that old generation like Lean and O'Toole, that knowledge, that excitement, that passion infects you and infects you in a good way. You want to make 'em proud, even though they're not here anymore."
O'Toole died on 14 December (13), aged 81.