'Parenthood' Series Finale: Inside the Flash-Forward Surprise

The epic guest star talks with THR about how the sweet ending happened.
NBC
Mae Whitman

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of NBC's Parenthood.]

Parenthood closed the book on the Bravermans with an incredibly satisfying series finale that featured a three-year time jump to get a window into what happened to one of TV's most beloved families.

During the hour, fittingly titled "May God Bless and Keep You Always" in a nod to its theme song, Sarah (Lauren Graham) married Hank (Ray Romano), Amber (Mae Whitman) and baby Zeek moved in with Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) and Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) for their "third act" and Joel (Sam Jaeger) and Julia (Erika Christensen) expanded their family by adopting Victor's biological baby sister.

Guest column 'Parenthood' Showrunner Jason Katims Pens Emotional Farewell to Show

But the biggest surprise came when Amber, in the show's closing montage, was revealed to have married and had a child with a new mystery man, played by Friday Night Lights favorite Scott Porter (aka Jason Street).

Porter's surprise casting marked the latest in a long line of Friday Night Lights actors to reunite with showrunner Jason Katims for a role on the series — and a surefire geek-out for self-professed Riggins diehard Whitman. On top of that, Porter — a longtime Parenthood fan himself — was able to finally share a scene with fellow Friday Night Lights grad (and friend) Matt Lauria. For his part, Lauria was able to also illustrate that future Ryan was healthy and able to be a father to baby Zeek — and part of the larger Braverman family — even though his romantic relationship with Amber wasn't meant to be.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Porter to get the inside scoop on how the role came to be, Whitman's involvement and how Katims made good on an offer the actor made during the Austin Television Festival more than two years ago.

Read more 'Parenthood' Cast Share What They Learned From Being a Braverman

You and Jason go back to Friday Night Lights. How long ago did you both discuss a role for you on Parenthood?

Scott Porter: The idea of me trying to get on Parenthood — as far as in my mind — happened during the first season. It's just one of the most perfect television shows we've had during the past couple of decades. It doesn't have to be about vampires, or cops; it's just about a family and real people and it's amazing. Jason has such a way of figuring out how to tell real life stories and make it captivating and I wanted to be a part of it. But work overlapped with it years [with The CW's Hart of Dixie, among other roles] and I never auditioned for any of the roles for Parenthood. For me, my desire to be on the show was longstanding. I got to hang out with some of the Parenthood cast down in Austin at the Austin Television Festival a couple of years ago where they honored Jason for Parenthood and Friday Night Lights and I got to meet a lot of these guys. The crossover is incredible. Dax Shepard (Crosby), Sam(Joel) and Mae are all huge Friday Night Lights fans and told me that after they finished filming the Parenthood pilot, they all binge watched Friday Night Lights. Matt Lauriahadn't been on the show yet and we told them the same thing about us and Parenthood. It was mutual admiration all around.

How I wound up in the Parenthood finale was a real surprise for me. We wrapped this season of Hart of Dixie in mid-October and Parenthood was still shooting into December. I got an email from Jason and he said, "Hey, I know it's super last minute but we found out you're available. There's no words, there's no lines, but would you want to be a part of Parenthood?" My immediate reaction was just three letters: Yes. He didn't even have to tell me anything else. To be a part of that world for me was a dream come true. I have such respect for Jason. I told him this at the Austin Television Festival, "If you ever need anything, if you ever need me just to walk through the background of a scene, I'll do it for you." And I think he called me on that quote! (Laughing.)

Mae is a huge Friday Night Lights fan — she went as Riggins for Halloween once and posted East Dillon vs. West Dillon photos with Matt. What was her reaction when you were cast?

We met virtually first on Twitter. I was proclaiming my love of Parenthood and she was talking about another episode of Friday Night Lights and somebody who followed both of us was like, "Hey you guys should meet!" And took a screenshot of our tweets and put them into one picture. We did a virtual handshake. When we met later that year in Austin, it was like we'd already had a longstanding friendship. We were going to be in a movie together — she was supposed to have a part in The To Do List, but I think schedules got in the way. She came in for the table read and I was really stoked to work with her then. But you know in this business, a lot of it is kismet and I think this is the way that we should have worked together. For two people who had a "meet cute" on Twitter to have wound up with a montage on Parenthood was something special. She told me she actually was pitching it. She was like, "We're going to have Amber end up with someone that's not Ryan?! Go get Street or Riggins or somebody!" And they went out and they did it for her. I believe that it was Mae's call! (Laughs). She wanted to make sure that fans of the show were taken care of and that Amber wouldn't wind up with somebody they weren't familiar with at all.

Read more 'Parenthood' Cast Shares Their Favorite Memories From Six Seasons of Love, Heartbreak

There's a strong crossover between fans of Friday Night Lights and fans of Parenthood: They're fans of Jason Katims and they follow him and watch and love every minute of everything he does. Everybody at Parenthood who decided to let me be on the show was on board with the idea of having a little familiarity by casting someone who plays her future husband and thought that it would earn the show some good will with the fans. They spent so much time with Matt Lauria's Ryan, so the character had to be someone who could really step into those shoes and not get backlash for the finale.

As a huge fan of the show, how did you respond when you found out that you would be playing Amber's husband in a time jump?

As a fan of the show, I was a little scared. Doing a time jump of three years and completely turning people's lives upside down for a couple of the characters — or maybe it's not the storybook ending that some of the fans have expected — you get scared to step into those shoes. As somebody who's going to come in as a character that they've never met, who doesn't ever say a word, yet has to show in 20 or 30 seconds of screen time that, "Hey, this is the future and it's going to be a great future for Amber." It's daunting. I always say that one-word scenes are the hardest and think I was wrong. I think probably a no-line scene — at least at this point for me — is the hardest thing to do. But all of my fears were quickly put away when I walked in and, as you would expect the Bravermans to be, the cast was so incredibly welcoming and supportive.

Read more 'Parenthood's' Craig T. Nelson on Zeek's Fate: "The Journey He Took Was Extraordinary"

It was difficult for me. I knew who the character was and knew that he'd end up with Mae but I didn't want to know anything else about the finale. I wanted to stay spoiler-free so I could watch it as a fan. Even though I'm acting in the finale, I'm also thinking of myself as a fan selfishly outside of the finale going, "Don't tell me anything! I don't want to see anybody's scenes and who ends up where or with who. I just want to stay spoiler free!" It was strange for me; I walked in to go to work and they were shooting the final scene at the Marine Park Baseball stadium, and I got to witness it. As a fan, it was a dream come true. After I witnessed the shooting of the final scene, Jason got up and delivered a speech. After being a part of Friday Night Lights and knowing how intimate those words can be after watching Peter Berg [deliver them], I could only imagine what everyone was feeling with Parenthood and I felt a little strange being there. I felt like I should walk away and leave because I wasn't really as engrained as everyone else. I felt like a spy! But the cast asked me to be part of it and said I was part of the family now. It was just an amazing day. That feeling of elation was second to very few things in my life.

Read more 'Parenthood' Series Finale Postmortem: Jason Katims Talks Bringing the Family Drama Full Circle

Plus you got to work with Matt, whom you never got to share scenes with on Friday Night Lights when Ryan returns healthy.

I think it's important that the audience gets to see that Ryan is in a great place and cleaned up and both of them are copacetic with each other and have a great relationship. They were just not meant to be husband and wife. But they were so important in each other's lives that it was really necessary for the audience to see that both of them came around and that both of them succeeded: Ryan with his battle with drug addiction and Amber and her struggle to be a young, single mom and not repeat what her mother had gone through.

Did you get an opportunity to geek out around the set?

I was like, "Where can I go take selfies of myself on these sets?!" (Laughing). I got a little tour of everything and felt like I was on a back-lot door at Universal Studios. In reality, I'm supposed to be there, I'm getting paid to be there and work while I'm acting like a tourist at a theme park. For every fan out there, I felt like I was doing it for them. I felt so connected to that fan base for so long because I sat and watched with them. So when I finally got the chance to be a part of it, I could not leave that part of me behind. It was a one of a kind show on air and behind the scenes, and I was just so blessed to be a part of it.

What did you think of the Parenthood series finale? Are you content to see how Amber's journey ended? Sound off in the comments section below. Click here to read our postmortem interview with Jason Katims and here for more on Zeek's journey with our chat with Craig T. Nelson.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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