Through the entirety of my teen years, Gilmore Girls was there for me. It was there when I was 13, and had a crush on a boy whose first name was Jess, just like Rory Gilmore’s bad-boy-crush-turned-boyfriend/life-changer Jess Mariano. It was there when I was 17, and quoted Rory’s high school graduation speech at my own high school’s ceremony. It was there when I moved away from home at 18 and had so many days like the ones Rory had when she went off to college at Yale (despite her forward-thinking and the lists she made, things never quite went to plan).
And through it all, Lauren Graham’s character, Lorelai Gilmore, who was Rory’s single mom and best friend, was like a surrogate mother to me.
Lauren’s work on TV has meant a lot to me—including her role as Sarah Braverman in the NBC drama Parenthood—but nothing compares to the legacy of Lorelai Gilmore. She was flawed and human, a character whose life roles (mother, business woman, and girlfriend) didn’t define her. Lorelai was a totally independent and strong-willed person, an integral member of her community, and the metaphorical cat who, no matter what happened, always managed to land on her feet.
This month, October 2015, marks 15 years since Gilmore Girls first premiered on TV, and one year since it got a second life when it hit Netflix. It made my entire damn life to be able to call Lauren on the phone and talk about the lasting legacy of Gilmore Girls, and why we all need a Lorelai proxy in our lives.
BRODIE LANCASTER: What sold you on the role of Lorelai Gilmore?
LAUREN GRAHAM: It was many things. I was coming up in my career, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had started in comedy and theater, and I loved Saturday Night Live. I loved things with a sense of humor, but I was looking for something that had more depth. The only things that were out there [at that time] were medical shows and firemen shows. The only other kind of hybrid that had comedy and drama was Ally McBeal.
In life, nothing’s all funny or all dramatic—it’s both. I thought [Gilmore Girls] didn’t sound like anything else. I had never read anything like it. That dialogue and intelligence really jumped out at me. I felt like, “Ooh!” [It was] like when you see a great outfit in a store, and you’re like, “I’ve got to have it!”
At the time, I was 30, 31. All the advice [I was being given] was, “Don’t play a mom. That’s not a smart thing.” The network that the show was on, [the WB,] was just starting out, and TV was so different then. But, I didn’t care. It felt like what I had been looking for.
What do you think it is about Gilmore Girls that makes it appealing to teens, adults, and parents to this day?
In Rory [played by Alexis Bledel], you have an exceptionally intelligent girl who cares about academics. Perhaps, as an idea, that feels risky on network television, like, “Oh, maybe we’ll alienate the young women who aren’t interested in reading the way Rory is. Maybe we need to give them a sexier character.” Anything you read about it then was, like, “What an unusual role model Rory is!” And I thought, “Isn’t that the best one?” If you’re a parent and your kid responds to this girl, that’s only a positive thing.
The show also had this wicked sense of humor, so you weren’t going to get every reference. One of the reasons I think people watch and re-watch is [because] it goes by so quickly, and you may not understand the references when you’re 13, but you might get them when you’re 25.
It has all these points of entry in terms of how old [the characters are], and it never talked down to the audience. There was an aspect to [Stars Hollow] that was unique and unusual, and not everyone in the town was 15, 17, or 20. As you would have in any town, there were people of all ages and sizes. I mean, obviously it’s fun to look at attractive people, and the boys were cute, but it wasn’t just that. I think Amy [Sherman-Palladino, the show’s creator and executive producer] had a real talent for casting people that were interesting, who you believed were real people.
Now that I’m a little older, and have been doing this a little longer, I’ve [noticed] that there’s not a lot to watch that is comforting. I think that’s why Downton Abbey caught a lot of love: It’s a world that is a relief. That’s a big part of what entertainment is: It offers you a magical place to go and a place to imagine yourself in.
Lorelai’s parents, Emily and Richard, pressured Lorelai to follow in their footsteps. Lorelai struggled to toe the line between being a friend and a disciplinarian to Rory, something your character in Parenthood also dealt with. What do you remember about how Lorelai’s storyline intertwined her role as a parent and a child?
I think it feels true and relatable. Lorelai is a person who grew up with a lot of restrictions and rebelled, and is now trying to offer her kid a freer way of life. And the kid, in response, creates a bunch of rules in response and puts pressure on herself.
One of the things I always thought the show did well with the three women [Rory, Lorelai, and Emily], was play with the idea that my character was as much a child as she was a parent. Every time she walked into [her parents’,] Richard and Emily’s house, she became like the rebellious teenager she had been. Sometimes that didn’t make her the best parent, but I think it was fun to watch, especially if you’re young and you think, “Ugh, I can’t wait to get out of my parents’ house and be on my own. Then I’ll really be an adult!” To some degree, you’re always making your way, and there’s never a moment [where you] arrive at a place where you have nothing left to learn. Emily made mistakes and still tried to boss Lorelai around, and Lorelai lacked compassion sometimes and didn’t see the good her parents were trying to do. It’s a continuum where you try your best, but you make mistakes.
Did you have anyone in your life, or any pop culture reference points, to model Lorelai on?
Ironically, that person was my father. He has been married to my stepmother for over 25 years, but there were about 10 years before that when it was just me and my dad. It was a win. I remember thinking, “I am so lucky.” We had a special kind of friendship: I came along to dinner and dates. He took me to concerts. We’d go on road trips. I didn’t have a strong idea of how to play a mom—my mom was in my life, but not on a daily basis. I came into it without an idea of how moms “should act” or how it “should be.” I came in thinking of my friendship with my dad–that was my model.
Gilmore Girls allowed Lorelai a sexuality that a lot of TV parents don’t have. Her relationships didn’t always work out, and she showed a lot of vulnerability and humanity in those moments…
I think of these characters as being somewhat real. Lorelai was a young girl when she had a child, and didn’t really get to be a teenager, because she had to grow up real fast. I used to think that if you didn’t get to experience your teenage years, you might circle back to them a couple of times. There was a part of her that—not in the greatest way, but not in the worst way—got stuck there and was still like, “Hey guys! Let’s go to the game! It’s Friday night!” or whatever. She still had that energy, and was like, “What? I had to check out for 15 years to raise this kid, but I’m ready to have a good time now!”
It can feel frustrating when your parent seems to have lost the memory of what it’s like to be your age. Frankly, you [as a parent] can relate, as well as you possibly can, to what it was like to be a teenager, but you forget. You get older and you see things through a different lens and you forget how new everything is in adolescence: having your first connection to somebody, falling in love, and what an incredibly big deal it is when it first happens. I think a character like Lorelai never got too far away from that. And, that could be frustrating. The show opens with a guy flirting with us [Lorelai and Rory] both, and that was always sort of the thing: “They’re so close, isn’t that going to step on Rory’s toes once in a while?”