The actor best known for her role as single mother Lorelai Gilmore on Gilmore Girls is tackling another role as a single mother on NBC’s Parenthood. But with a resume that spans from Seinfeld to major motion films to Broadway, this quick-witted, grounded and engaging woman is not to be underestimated.
Curled up on a leather couch wearing dark jeans and a blue and white striped boat-neck shirt, Lauren Graham chatted with the ease and humor of an old friend. She revealed that you don’t have to be a mother, or be raised by a mother, to play a convincing one on screen.
Then she yelled at the city of Philadelphia.
Her Mother Was a Rock Star, Her Father Raised Her
In Parenthood you play the single mother Sarah Braverman and in Gilmore Girls you played the famous role of the single mother Lorelai Gilmore. But you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you don’t have much experience in how a mother acts because your father raised you.
Lauren Graham: Yes, but I don’t want to leave out--because I feel bad – my mom was in my life and my stepmom was in my life, so it’s not like I didn’t have any role models. In high school my dad was remarried, but yeah, I didn’t grow up in a traditional family and so I’m not doing my mom for sure. I’m not bringing that – my mom who was in a band and who was ultimately a fashion buyer.
People always want you to link your real life to acting. I actually think that you can come from any life experience and be a good actor if you just have a great imagination and an ability to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.
So do you think that you get most of your inspiration from imagination or is there any part of your parents that you take from?
LG: Well it’s everything. It’s your imagination and it doesn’t have to be the exact circumstances. I don’t have to be a mom or to be playing my mom to imagine what it would feel like to love somebody so much and feel so responsible for them that even when they’re driving you crazy you still would do anything for them. I still have those relationships in my life, it may not be with a kid, you just imagine as best you can. It’s like if I was playing (I don’t know why it springs to mind) Brian Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad—do I have to be a meth addict to do it? No.
I didn’t know your mom was in a band. In each maternal role you’ve played you’re a little bit of a rock star. You’re not the traditional mom, you’re the cool mom.
LG: Thank you! I always go against whatever that traditional portrayal is which I don’t think is bad…I can only be truthful, and therefore believable if I think, “What would I like to wear? How would I be?” And in the case of this character, literally the father of her kids was in a band…but yeah, I went with my mom to music meetings. Her band didn’t really go anywhere, but she was trying to be in a band so I don’t know, maybe that’s where I’m drawing from.
She’s Smarter Than Lorelai and Sarah
Another interesting difference between you and your roles as Sarah and Lorelai is that these are two single moms who never got the chance to go to college. And yet you have a bachelor’s in English from Barnard College and a Masters in Fine Arts from Southern Methodist University. What, if anything, do you draw from your education in your acting career?
LG: I think if you worked backwards from how I got that nice education, it’s because from a really young age my dad, who was such a big reader, read to me and gave me an appreciation for reading that wasn’t something I was supposed to do, it was just something I loved. That really broadened my life experience at a young age…It was helpful to me as an actor because I hadn’t lived as much as I read about. I had all difference periods of time and all different voices of authors and so I think I’ve drawn less from my formal education and more from what got me there.
Lauren Graham Yells at Philadelphia
Many of our readers may not realize this, but you spent some time filming a movie in Philadelphia.
LG: Well, more of your people should realize this! Because they should see this wonderful movie that was shot in Philadelphia, which is a really sweet movie called “The Answer Man,” which Jeff Daniels and I did, that not enough of you went to see, Philadelphia! Come on, let’s really rally!
But yes, I was here and I lived here, which is one of the reasons I was so happy to come back because I had such a good time here.
Jeff Daniels Yells at Lauren Graham
What's your impression of Philly?
LG: I love the architecture, I love how close everything is, I walked to work nine times out of 10. I’m an east coast person and so it just feels familiar to me. I’m Irish Catholic-- that feels familiar to me. People seemed to be having a good time. When I was filming the movie, I’d walk home at six or seven o’clock and there were people sitting outside, having drinks and hanging out. It just seems like a very smart and laid back place.
But do you know I never had a cheesesteak when I was here the whole time!
And I have seen the Liberty Bell, but Jeff Daniels was really upset that I didn’t go back. He said, “You’re an adult now, you should go see it again.”
I said, “I saw it. It’s cracked.”
On Saving NBC Primetime:
So how does it feel to be starring in the show that may save NBC Primetime?
LG: I wish! I really feel a responsibility. I love NBC. I’ve always loved NBC shows, they’ve always been my favorites, it just so happens, over time. And I just want to do really well for them so it’s nice that it continues to build.
And you’ve been in a lot of NBC shows – Seinfeld, Law and Order…
LG: Caroline in the City, 3rd Rock from the Sun, News Radio, almost all of my shows were NBC, and yeah, here I am back at home where it all started.
Does it feel like home?
LG: You know, it honestly does. It’s like when you work for any company, you develop a kind of brand loyalty and I really like the shows that NBC does and I always have…Honestly, from all the half hours they’ve done to ER, West Wing, those have just been my favorite shows.
What are some of your favorite shows?
LG: Of all time?
Yes, of all time.
LG: You know, it’s convenient but it’s not a lie to say that one of my favorite shows of all time was Six Feet Under. I don’t think I’ve connected to a show like that since.
Working with the Cast of Parenthood:
You mentioned Six Feet Under. Now that you are a part of this fantastic ensemble cast on Parenthood, which includes Peter Krause – were you at all star struck when first working with him?
LG: Oh yeah, but I’ve also known him for a very long time. We did an episode of Caroline in the City together as one of my first jobs in LA, so we’ve been friends for a very long time. But it’s the Craig T. Nelson of it all, and I really am a fan more than star struck, I’m a fan of our whole cast. I think there are a lot of really talented people.
This is a show that’s challenging because we’re trying to create the sound of a family and make that believable and you take a lifetime to do that. But we all feel like it’s a special experience and you don’t always have that feeling.
Her Ideal Man
All of my male friends who are in love with you will be very sad if I don’t ask you this: Are you dating anybody?
LG: I do not talk about my personal life. And where have all of your friends been all my life?!
Describe your ideal man. Give them a little hope.
LG: Smart, funny, nice and a serious person. One of the things that has been tricky in the past is that I’m in my career…And you don’t have to be a gazillionaire but just someone who’s happy in what you’re doing. I just think that makes such a difference.
She’s a Modern Day Kate Hepburn
You’re so good at the quick, witty dialogue ala Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday” are there any actors that have amused or inspired you in that way?
LG: Yes, in terms of historically speaking I did watch all those movies and really liked them and I was always drawn to Katharine Hepburn. The Philadelphia Story I’ve seen a thousand times and I love that era of writing because even when it was over the top it was so poetic. I think those early career girl movies - they had such presence and wit and confidence and I just really always loved those comedies.
And I have now worked with, though not enough to my liking, both Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton who were actors I grew up being really drawn to…They’re two I really look up to.
Parenthood airs 10 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC