For actress Lauren Graham, the role of Lorelai Gilmore in the critically acclaimed TV show The Gilmore Girls is just the kind of character she had been looking for. Graham portrays a 32-year-old single mother of an independent and cerebral 16-year-old. Lorelai walks the thin divide between friend and parent, confidante and disciplinarian, as their relationship stumbles through financial problems, dating, and nosy grandparents. In a recent interview, Graham said of her role, "The character speaks often in a very deflective way, but that's mostly a product of her being someone who has really struggled and survived, someone who grew up in a family in which she was never understood, and someone who is still trying to really understand herself."
Graham herself has survived a string of failed pilots, including Townies, with Jenna Elfman and Molly Ringwald, and MYOB. Her most notable TV exposure came from her role as Shelly, Richard's girlfriend, in Caroline in the City and as the "speed-dial girl" on an episode of Seinfeld. Gilmore Girls, though, has given Graham the opportunity to settle down in a role—an opportunity she's appreciating. Said Graham, "With television, you just have to get going. In some ways, I think the reason that shows get better as the season goes on is just that the work gets deeper, you can layer in more information, you have a more comfortable relationship with the people you are working with—it all helps."
Graham also attributes the depth and warmth of the writing as a major contribution to her well-received performance. "There's a kind of rhythm to the writing that I have a real affinity for, that's the main thing I responded to. I also really appreciate that the writing and the development of my character is so specific. There's a whole environment and history and socio-economic story—all the stuff that you hope you'll get from a pilot."
Graham confessed that the character of Lorelai is much more similar to her personality than other roles she's taken on, and that may partly contribute to the cozy, comfortable feeling you get when watching her on the screen. Graham seems to empathize with Lorelai and portrays her tenderly, even amid the sometimes outrageous actions of the character. "I have always historically been attracted to characters who are not like me. Unfortunately, people think that that's how you really are because TV lets you in on such an intimate level. When Gilmore Girls came along, I just felt that this character was more fun—this is a person I'd like to hang out with for a while. She's a person who is constantly deflecting, constantly defensive, and very funny and very tough. But the audience has to be able to see where it's all coming from."
Though the show, which airs Thursdays nights on the WB, is an hour-long drama, many of the episodes feel more like plays, with long scenes and with quirky characters often meditating on very trivial, mundane moments. Of course, the show's strength comes from these moments and from the genuine qualities of the characters. Said Graham, "The sheer volume of material in a day is very daunting. We do pretty long scenes that would be excellent if they were in a play and we had time to rehearse. But to look at a five- or six-page scene in television, I try to consider what the scene is about, how it fits into the story, what's the climax, what are we trying to solve with this scene? To chart it or to fill it out like you would in a play is tough. In TV, you're rarely doing the kind of character work that you would do on the stage. I think it is most useful to use myself as much as I can. It always starts with imagining myself in this circumstance, imaging myself in this relationship."
For Graham, beyond the daily grind of long, emotionally driven scenes is the additional chore of having a verbose character who is prone to long tangents, often to the muted response of her sullen daughter.
"It is challenging because I'm always looking to simplify things, but this is a wordy, very verbal character. So I always make an effort to really be connected with where this multitude of words is coming from, so that it's not just about what is going on at the surface, it's not just talking. Even in the banter and rant of the language, I always try to find the source. Sometimes it's out of joy and fun, sometimes it's out of an inability to express what she's really feeling. There's definitely a lot of subtext in this show."
For many viewers, though, it's the accessibility and vulnerability of the show and its characters that makes it such an appealing story. Said Graham, "I think the characters are very well drawn and each person has a specific voice, so you can get to know them. The show has very realistic elements. It deals with conflict and family and all small, relatively mundane problems, and I think that people relate to that. And then there's the element of it that's ideal and romantic, and that's good TV, too."