You might know Lauren Graham best as the quick-witted, coffee-gulping mom on TV series "Gilmore Girls" or as the once-struggling single mother Sarah Braverman on the recently ended series "Parenthood."
Now the actress is taking on another mom role, this time in the PG-rated film "Max," opening in theaters today, about a military-trained dog that comes to live with the family of his fallen Marine trainer and partner.
Graham chatted with mom.me about family—including her boyfriend, actor Peter Krause, and his 13-year-old son Roman—as well as her new movie and what she would like parents to know about kids. After all, she's worked with a lot of them.
You're known for playing sometimes quirky or struggling single moms like Lorelai Gilmore in "Gilmore Girls" and Sarah Braverman in "Parenthood." What drew you to the heartland mom character in "Max"?
I just thought the movie was really moving and it was a good story. I like the filmmaker Boaz [Yakin], and I love Thomas Haden Church. I heard that [Thomas] was really excited about me, and I was really happy about that until I had the horrible realization that I wondered if he was thinking of Heather Graham. And I was like, I can't imagine that he's a fan of mine. It's probably Heather Graham. And then when I met him, he was like, "No, man, it was you!"
Family has often played a large role in a lot of your films and on TV. What would you say is most important to you about family?
I have two thoughts about that. One is, I have an amazing family, and they never don't benefit from more communication. And then I also have a family that I've created, which is my boyfriend and his son, and our friends—our extended family, in that sense. Both are important to me. I just think the more you show up, the better things tend to be. And I also don't hold grudges. That, to me, has been a really important thing to learn that I see in other families—people really hang on to some injury or some conflict that happened, and I just have never been that way, and it's always served me. It's never not served me to just forgive and forget and move on.
You've worked with a lot of kids in your roles, and you mentioned your boyfriend's son. Do you have anything that you'd like moms to know about kids?
I have several kids in my life—most importantly, my boyfriend's son. In some other families, I get to be "friend-adult." I have a friend, and I'm friends with his kids, and he calls me "Cool Aunt Lauren"—not that I'm cool, but because he has found that his kids will tell me things that they won't tell them. And all I do is ask a bunch of questions. One of them was going on a date, and I was like, "A date? What is that for you? Do you go sit and look at each other across a table?" And [my friend] was like, "We never really asked them that before. We didn't know."
And so, I've gotten the most out of asking questions and then not answering for them. My tendency can be to be like, "So how did that feel? Weird, huh?'" or fill it in for them, but I've really gotten a lot out of my relationships with younger people by just letting there be silence. Letting them come up with an answer and find their way to what they want to say. And to just ask more questions.
You have to practice exercising your confidence and speaking for yourself. Then it tends to get easier.
There's a scene in the movie where your character stands up to authority. Do you have any advice for women and girls about standing up for themselves and saying what's on their minds?
I feel like for women and girls, there's a lack of experience there. I'm much more assertive now definitely than when I started out, but hopefully not obnoxious-assertive. Just like, "I know myself, and I'm OK to say how I feel," but it's a learned skill. In the case of this character, she's pushed to the point where there's no other choice, and she's going to stand up for her kids. But in general, I think it's an area that needs attention. You have to practice exercising your confidence and speaking for yourself. Then it tends to get easier.
You've also written a novel, "Someday, Someday, Maybe," about a struggling young actress in New York. Was that a difficult transition, going from acting and producing to writing a novel?
No. That came out of actually hitting a point as an actor where I had more time on my hands than I had during "Gilmore Girls," and I wanted to do something creative that wasn't dependent upon any infrastructure or anybody else. It came from a time in my life when I suddenly had a moment to look around and feel like, "How did this happen?" I went from, "All I wanted to do was be an actor" to "Here I am in this environment I always dreamed of, and how have I changed? Who was I then, and how dare I? How did I ever think I could do this?" So it just came very organically, at least initially.
Then when I sold it, it became a terrible chore that I had to finish, and a deadline I had to meet, and everything from school flooded back, and I was like, "No, no, I can't do it."
The funny thing about something like a novel is it's frozen in time. There are mistakes I made and things I would do differently, and there it is—just, out there. The most empowering part of that was I did something I'd never done before, and I practiced, and I got help, and I asked for advice, and then I finished. And it made me feel like, "I'm going to build a house next! There's nothing I can't do."