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Rare is the television actress, Edie Falco being one of the few, who can leap from one indelible lead role to another and somehow make us forget the first one. Lauren Graham has done just that in the past two seasons of the NBC family drama Parenthood. Leaving her chatty Gilmore Girls persona behind, Graham infuses the same likability she did as young mom Lorelai Gilmore on the WB/CW dramedy into Parenthood’s Sarah Braverman, whose heavy troubles — dealing with a deadbeat ex-husband, raising two hormone-heavy teens, living with Mom and Dad, to name a few — are at once heart-wrenching and totally relatable. Here, the Emmy hopeful, 44, reflects on her second round at TV motherhood, what it means to trust her showrunner and how Parenthood has turned her into someone “who can barely get through a scene without crying.”
The Hollywood Reporter: You don’t have kids and yet you’ve now played two iconic “Mom” roles. How do they compare?
Lauren Graham: Technically, they are completely different jobs. Gilmore Girls was so language-based, so technical. It was about committing something perfectly to memory, because there was no deviation from the script. In terms of stamina and having to memorize, Parenthood feels much more like my experiences of doing film, where the moments are smaller. It’s those small moments of listening, that’s where the show lives.
THR: How much prep time do you spend with your fellow actors and showrunner?
Graham: A lot. These are very special people to me. We start talking about the scripts the minute they come out, actually. And often we’re shooting two shows at a time, so they story-board it for us that way. This is even more important on this show because you’re shooting what’s going to happen in the next episode while you still haven’t finished what happens in this episode. We also have an unusually confident showrunner, Jason Katims, who knows when he can trust us to have some input and then knows when he wants things his way. He came to me at one point in the season and — he’d never said this to me before — “I really like this one speech as it is, and I would love it if it was just that way.” It was really nice.
THR: What was the toughest scene you filmed in Season 2?
Graham: Well, I haven’t even watched it yet, so I don’t know how it came out! But there were those scenes in the hospital after Mae [Whitman], who plays my daughter, had been in a car accident, which we shot on my birthday, actually. Just the idea of what had happened to her was so powerful. But it was interesting because Mae wasn’t even there that day. But just the idea of it was so vivid; my feelings for her are very real. I just had never really had that experience before as actor.
THR: Is it possible to do emotional scenes with actors to whom you don’t have a personal connection?
Graham: Oh yes, I’ve done it. (Laughs.) The worst thing is when you really connect to somebody personally and then onscreen it’s just like, nothing is there.
THR: What would you say you’ve learned most about yourself working on Parenthood?
Graham: I feel much more vulnerable as an actor than I used to, and I think that’s a function of using my brain and my words less and having to access a greater emotional life. I’ve had to just access things emotionally that I never had to before. I always thought of myself as more of a comedian and a verbal person, but Mae and I can barely get through a scene without crying. I know it sounds really sentimental and stupid, but there’s a depth to that relationship of struggle and love that is so moving to me. In the past, I had struggled to get to that place, so I credit this show, and the reality of these relationships, with really opening me up.
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