It was once a feature film and then a television series that was quickly canceled but a decade and a half later inducted into the "Brilliant but Canceled" series. Now NBC is giving it a go once again. Brought to millions of televisions across the country (or so the network hopes), Parenthood features an all-star cast of television veterans who are playing one big, happy, colorful and somewhat dysfunctional family.
Lauren Graham once again finds herself playing the too-young-mother of precocious teenagers at the center of the family and the show. Her character this time around, though, is a financially strapped single mother who is packing up her Fresno apartment and uprooting her two inconvenienced kids to make a big move back home. It is a role that she stepped into when Maura Tierney had to bow out of the project due to health reasons. Considering Graham seemed to semi-retire from television, spending the last few years working on independent films and developing ideas for a show of her own, My Life Made Possible By Pop Culture couldn't help but ask what drew her out of the hiatus to sign onto this project-- and this character-- instead.
"The decision was kind of just a very instinctual one," Graham starts on a conference call about her new show. "I have been reading scripts for two and half years or three years or whatever it is since Gilmore Girls ended, and there just wasn't anything I connected to, and that's including things that I was developing...
"I always think about the 'dating model' of you have the list of things that you want but then you meet somebody and fall in love and half the things were not on your list. This is kind of that in that I didn't plan to play a mom; I didn't plan to do an ensemble; I was thinking maybe a comedy and maybe cable, but then I read this script, and I met with Jason [Katims, writer] and just the idea of being able to collaborate with a writer who has such a beautiful grip of work but is also encouraging in 'take your idea and kind of run with it and improvise once in awhile' was just such a different model...it seemed like a good idea!"
What also attracted Graham to the show was the fact that it allowed her some freedom with her schedule, as well as her take on the character. After all, being part of an ensemble cast means she doesn't have to carry the full weight of the script on her shoulders each week, and she "doesn't see dawn as much" as she had to when she was the lead on Gilmore Girls, so that's pretty enjoyable.
"It's a more sane life, for sure, to be part of an ensemble! And I find that the work can be more specific, therefore; I have to really make sure I know where I am in the story because I'm not in every scene...I find this work really gratifying because it is more specific; when you work with a smaller amount of material everything [about it] is really important [for where my character is]."
The irony of getting cast as iconic mothers is not lost on Graham, who was raised by her father. When asked what she draws on to form these characters, Graham admits that she doesn't really "have an idea of what a mom is supposed to be; I just kind of look at who the person is." But she is quick to credit the young actors who play her kids at being "really easy to love" and therefore making her job a bit more effortless.
Graham's new role of Sarah Braverman is what she describes with a little laugh as "it might be strong to say but a failure." This is definitely a step away from her usual 'type' as the always upbeat and fast-talking mother who is really more of a friend to her child than anything else. "She's shouldering a lot of baggage in terms of where she is in life...Looking at life through the eyes of disappointment is something I think about a lot with Sarah."
And Sarah is not buddy-buddy with her kids the way Lorelai Gilmore was besties with her only daughter Rory, either. In fact, Graham admits that the on-screen relationship between Sarah and her rebellious daughter Amber (played by Arrested Development's Mae Whitman) is more contentious than anything else. "What I like about [Sarah is] she's kind of doing things in a more haphazard way an doesn't always make the right choice. That felt different enough to me that it wasn't going to be like It's just like Lorelai!"
But regardless of what kind of relationship it is, there has to be chemistry to work, so what about the chemistry between Graham and co-star Mike O'Malley with whom we see her son almost catch her in the act in the pilot? It must be decent enough because O'Malley is back in the third episode and producers (including Ron Howard) are trying to bring him in for the back nine as well!
Tune in to the premiere of Parenthood this coming Tuesday, March 2nd, at 10!