Lauren Graham is as lovable in real life as she is on TV. Her latest gig is on NBC’s Parenthood (Tuesdays at 10 p.m.), the recently renewed primetime spin-off of the 1989 movie hit of the same name. The celebrated actress of Gilmore Girls fame plays Sarah Braverman, the 38-year-old divorcée who’s forced to move back to Mom and Dad’s house, her two wayward teens in tow. Before Graham and her fellow castmates wrap up shooting this week, we met with the star at the NBC 10 studios in Bala Cynwyd.
MLT: What’s been the viewer feedback for Parenthood?
LAUREN GRAHAM: It’s interesting because, on Gilmore Girls, I would get feedback from mainly mothers and daughters, and this has been a little more far-reaching. People are kind of catching on to it and hopefully enjoying it. People call and they’re like, “You will never believe what happened. This should be on the show!” I’ve gotten a lot of stories from people’s kids’ schools, where they’re like, “You will not believe this mother who called me, and she was upset because her kid said to my kid …” So that’s been cool.
MLT: Does your family watch Parenthood?
LG: Yeah, I think so. After seven years of Gilmore Girls, they’re watching, but I don’t get, “Oh my God! You’re on TV!” They’re kind of over it.
MLT: Do you watch?
LG: In general, I don’t—and I didn’t watch past the first few years of Gilmore Girls. I just don’t find it helpful; I get really uncomfortable. But I have been watching the show just to see how they’re cutting it, how they’re shooting it, how the stories come out. And I’ve been enjoying it.
MLT: The mom you play on Parenthood is very different from the Gilmore Girls mom. Did the latter role prepare you in any way?
LG: It prepared me in terms of learning how to work really hard, and understanding, technically, what happens on a set, and thinking about the whole rather than just thinking about one piece of something. And so, yeah, every life experience prepares you for the next thing. But when I read it, it didn’t remind me of the old show. So that was something I liked about it.
MLT: You’re very believable as a mom. Where do you think you get that instinct?
LG: It’s just a combination of imagination and having really good luck to have actors playing my kids who are really good, who I have chemistry with. I just imagine what a big deal that relationship is, and how I want [my little sister] to do well; I feel responsible for her. With both my little sisters, I feel like, you know, I want to guide them.
MLT: How do you like working with young actors?
LG: Well, in this case, I really like it because they’re so good. And it doesn’t feel like working with young actors, necessarily; it feels like working with actors. Mae Whitman, who plays my daughter, has 10 more years’ experience than I do. She’s been working since she was so little. So I think I’m lucky.
MLT: You’ve been quoted as saying you’re always learning something new about acting. What have you learned so far on Parenthood?
LG: We get in these big scenes where there are a lot of people, a lot of improvisation, and I think it’s just reminded me how important it is to listen. In [Gilmore Girls], I would usually be driving the scene with a lot of dialogue. This [show] is less about that and more about, “What am I thinking? Who am I listening to? Who am I connecting to?” It’s a more inner life than an outer, verbal thing. It’s just: How do you find your place in a scene? And also, playing someone who’s kind of having a tough time—you don’t have enough money, you’re living with your parents, your kids aren’t getting along—how would that inform you? How would that make you feel all the time?
MLT: What sort of impact do you expect Parenthood to have?
LG: I would be nervous to say that a work of fiction should be telling people what to do. I think it’s better seen as a reflection of something people can relate to, in terms of reflecting their own experience. And that was one of the things I liked about it, in the way I liked Gilmore Girls, where I thought, “Oh, this is something kind of progressive for its time.” It’s an array of people, both successful and having a tough time. And there really aren’t a lot of shows out there that are just about people and their lives outside the realm of procedural or medical or crime-of-the-week kind of things. I think it was a great time to bring the movie back.
MLT: A lot of shows use green screens. Does Parenthood, and do they make acting awkward?
LG: I think we have occasionally. To the degree we do it on Parenthood, it’s just [that] you’re driving in Southern California, and really it’s going to look like you’re in Northern California. No, it doesn’t make it awkward. We were shooting, Friday night, a really important scene that ends the season. It was 3 in the morning, and we had a rain machine, and it was freezing cold—that’s a time when you want some green screen, because you couldn’t even hear each other because the rain machine was so loud. Sometimes the technical aspects of what we do really help you get to that moment in your imagination—and sometimes they don’t.
MLT: Have you been to Philadelphia much in your life?
LG: I shot a movie here almost two years ago called The Answer Man with Jeff Daniels that was a really great experience. I lived right across the Square, and I really had a great time. I got to have dinner at Barclay Prime last night with one of my friends from college and her sister who lives out here.
MLT: What’s your impression of Philly?
LG: I really like it. I’m from a suburb of D.C., so I feel very at home in an East Coast city. And I was really glad to spend more time here than coming to visit the Liberty Bell, which I did in junior high. It’s just a very real-feeling city. People have been very nice and smart, and it was nice to go to the steakhouse last night and see a bunch of guys wearing suits, because we don’t get that a lot in L.A., you know.
MLT: I read that you enjoy riding horses.
LG: I did, growing up. It was sort of my main thing I wanted to do with my life—until I did my first school play. But I don’t ride so much anymore. Now, I worry more about breaking bones than I used to.
MLT: In your Wikipedia entry, there is no “personal life” section.
LG: [Laughs] That’s so awesome! That’s exactly my goal.
MLT: How have you managed to do that?
LG: You know what, it’s been so uncomfortable, but a long time ago, I was like, “Look, when—or if—I’m married and have kids, it’ll be obvious, and you can say, ‘How’s your kid’s …’ But until then, I don’t want to talk.” I just think the world is so weird now, where they just know so much about you. So I just sort of started a thing of, “Oh, I don’t really want to talk about that.” And you can’t believe people get upset. They’re like, “Why? We want to know. Fans want to know.” And I’m like, “Fans will have to just go to the movies for their entertainment.”
In the spirit of Main Line Today’s monthly Dossier column, we asked Graham the following offbeat questions:
MLT: What’s one thing you know for sure?
LG: I’ve just gotten more peace out of worrying mainly about myself, and not getting too competitive or worried about other people’s lives. I have a thing I say often, which I did not invent: “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” And that’s been very helpful to me, as an actor, I think.
MLT: What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
LG: It’s being a working actor, really. Launching this Parenthood show is 10 years from launching Gilmore Girls, you know, and I’d been working for a while before that. And I still can’t believe that I get to do what I want to do in life. I feel amazed that I always knew what I wanted to do, and I actually am doing it.
MLT: What’s your Zen destination?
LG: The beaches of Long Island, which can be really crowded and terrible in the summer, but I grew up out there with my cousins, going there in the wintertime and off-season. I just think it’s one of the most beautiful places.
MLT: If you had an extra hour each day, you would …
LG: Read more. I just used to be such a giant reader. I always used to have a couple books going. There are so many things that I have stacked next to my bed, which my dad always did. I was always like, “Why does my dad have like 10 books next to his bed? Can’t he just read one at a time?” But now I understand. The book I’m reading now is about the oral history of the public theater in New York, and just the politics of it and putting together this nonprofit theater.
MLT: What’s one of your pet peeves?
LG: When people talk in either the movies or the theater in the audience. When they speak loudly, that’s upsetting to me. Especially having been on Broadway, where people are like [speaks loudly], “I don’t know, I can’t hear her.” I’m just like, “I can hear you. I can hear you.”
MLT: What’s your life view: chance or fate?
LG: I wish there was another choice. I think we have a lot of say in our own fate. I do believe that there are some things that are easier for some people and harder for other people, but I think there’s a lot you can accomplish out of just sheer will.
MLT: What’s a quality you admire most in others?
MLT: How about your No. 1 mantra?
LG: Be thankful. Sometimes I get worried about something or stressed about something, and I’m like, “Just be thankful.” No stress you have is that big of a deal if you can just look at all the blessings you have.