Actress Lauren Graham has long had her share of fans thanks to her role playing cool and sassy mom Lorelai to Alexis Bledel on the popular long-running show “Gilmore Girls.” Since the show ended a few years ago, Graham has been appearing here and there in various movies, and her latest one is The Answer Man, the directorial debut by John Hindman, which stars Jeff Daniels as Arlen Faber, the reclusive writer of a spiritual self-help book who has been hiding from society in the 20 years since writing it. Graham plays a chiropractor who helps Arlen come out of hiding, turning to him for advice on dealing with the son she’s been raising alone since her husband left them. It’s first and foremost a comedy with a bit of romance between Daniels and Graham, but it’s also an introspective look at dealing with one’s problems and trying to heal.
Last week, ComingSoon.net had a chance to be in the same room with the lovely actress, and we impressed ourselves by not fainting or swooning, knowing she was one of the few actresses we’ve spoken to, who we knew could keep up with the pace of our questions. (We spoke to filmmaker John Hindman back in January before the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival as “Arlen Faber,” an interview you can read here.)
ComingSoon.net: I talked to John before Sundance, we did a little preview piece for the movie, and I guess you were just about to start “Guys and Dolls” at the time. I’ll start with the most obvious question, which is why you decided to get involved with a small, independent movie like this and how you found out about it.
Lauren Graham: He sent the script to me. This was a script that had a very nice feeling around it and a lot of people had read it and were fans of it, which is not what they all are. Sometimes you get these little tiny ones. I was extremely lucky because it was one of the smaller movies that people were interested in and liked and wanted to do.
CS: Wasn’t the script on “The Black List” a couple years back?
Graham: Yeah, and we had lunch and he gave it to me which I’m sure his producer would have slowed him down (laughs) but he had been a fan of the TV show and told me that he wanted me to do it. So it was really cool.
CS: Was there anything in particular that you wanted to bring to this role? Did you work with him developing the character a little bit?
Graham: No, most of it was there. I always have questions and I had a lot of questions here just in terms of what she believes at what point and which part of Arlen she’s sort of taken with and which part she has questions about and honestly the logistics of how much of his book and what he says to her does she believe. But, no, I thought it was in really good shape.
CS: How about the fact that she wasn’t one of the devotees but maybe someone who just read his book in passing years ago?
Graham: That was sort of my question. I really think she’s taken with Arlen; I don’t think she’s another fan. I don’t think she sort of comes to him with the celebrity thing that people are bringing to him. I think there’s just something in the way that when you fall for somebody, there’s just something about him that she responds to… that I respond to.
CS: Obviously you’ve played a lot of mothers over the years, and she’s very neurotic, something we learn right away. Was there anything like that that might have appealed to you?
Graham: I just wanted it to be real. Mainly on the TV show, I played a cool mom who was not overly-protective, so I just wanted it to make sense. I didn’t want it to seem crazy. I wanted it to make sense.
CS: There’s obviously a lot of ideas in this, but to me, it basically comes down to being a movie about healing.
Graham: I think it’s about fame too actually. I think about how corrupt an idea or a truth can become when it’s exposed on a large level to a degree that the artist begins to believe in their own hype. That to me is part of it too. I’m sorry, what was your question?
CS: I was curious about which of the many ideas in this really stood out. Your character obviously has a very specific arc, so what do you think Lou Taylor Pucci’s character brings to the mix? He definitely seemed to contribute to her questioning Arlen a little more.
Graham: Does Lou’s character make me question Jack? Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the plot device that he serves, but I also think he’s someone that’s living completely truthfully and without any pretense. He’s sort of like the youth in the story and just comes with his whole heart and I think they both need him in that way to be sort of moved to make it really flowery to get out of this sort of construct they’ve built to keep them safe. I mean, Lou sort of corrupts that for both of them. I think it’s actually another opportunity for them to sort of be nurturing to a third person and then that helps them kinda come together.
CS: When I talked to John, I seem to remember him telling me that you had very little to no time for rehearsal and it was one of those movies where you just had to show up and shoot. Is that right?
Graham: We had like two days in his hotel room or something discussing and kind of going through the scenes. For some reason I just remember, I had all these questions, but I think I just did so that not normally I don’t like to talk really about stuff, but then I just wanted to get on set and not have questions about things. The only thing with a first-time director and a small movie is you just don’t have a lot of takes, so there isn’t a lot of time to play with things and give different options necessarily ’cause you’ve gotta just make your day. I have worked with first time directors now a couple times, so I just wanted to ask all the questions upfront.
CS: There’s a lot of shifting tones throughout the movie so did you find yourself having to change tone a lot during the course of a normal shooting day?
Graham: No, to me that’s more of what happens after we’re done. I think the movie has a heightened quality and has some kinda magic stuff in it. I think John by nature is both sarcastic and really sweet and to me, that’s in the script already. It’s like incredibly sincere at its core, but his dialogue is pretty funny so hopefully that is its own tone.
CS: Why do you think Jeff was so perfect for the role of Arlen?
Graham: Because it has to have somebody who comes with a history and a sense of darkness but warmth. I think Jeff as an actor… I don’t know if you’ve seen lately, but they’re running “Terms of Endearment” on a loop on whatever cable station it is. It’s on every time I turn the TV on and it’s one of my favorite movies, but I’ve gone back and watched it a million zillion times and he is that in there, too. He’s sympathetic while being despicable. I think this is a quality he has.
CS: Recently, you shot a pilot for a new sitcom that wasn’t picked up, so is returning to TV something you’re focusing a lot of your efforts on?
Graham: In my mind, even though I’ve done series before that didn’t go, to go back to television is a big commitment, and I would stay out of that as long as I can because then that’s your year. I’ve had such a good time in the last couple of years doing movies and now the show. I think most actors by nature are short attention span (Laughs) and you like a little bit of the variety and there’s something you like about not knowing what’s next. But yeah, I think the thing about the TV thing is I’ll just know it when I see it like I did with “Gilmore Girls.” That was a time when people were like, “Oh, but you’re playing a mom. You’re too young to play a mom.” Like, oh, the WB, what’s on the WB?” I just didn’t care because it just was something that spoke to me and I knew I could do it right in a weird way. I think that’s when an actor and writer have a symbiotic kinda connection and that’s what I would like to find again, but it’s just not easy, it’s like finding a new husband.
CS: What kind of roles are you looking for in that regard?
Graham: I just really enjoy comedy. What I always started out and what I think I’m good at is comedy. I should not be on a procedural show. It’s not my voice, it’s not how I speak.
CS: You never know.
Graham: It’s not interesting to me. I can’t. I used to pick up the “Cold Case” scripts ’cause we would do our table reads in the same thing and I honestly can’t. It’s a skill I don’t believe I have. I’m like (puts on an exaggerated comic voice) “Hey you guys, where’s the DNA?”
CS: That could be an interesting character to have on one of the CSI shows.
Graham: Yeah, well then you watch Vincent D’Onofrio on that “Law & Order” and he’s doing a real interesting thing. So, I would never say never to anything, but I would just like to do a half-hour comedy that’s probably single camera. The stuff I like is all on cable, so I don’t know.
CS: How has it been doing the big studio movies and then doing smaller movies like this one? Do you generally find smaller movies more satisfying? Most actors I’ve talked to seem to feel that way.
Graham: It’s all the stuff that people say. I mean, most movies have a man as the central character and so the woman is going to be the wife or the secondary character and I don’t know, I get the parts I get and I’m happy to have all of them. I think this is some of the best writing I have had, I think this movie, that I got to do this was I think a step forward as opposed to stuff where I mean, you’re telling a story so you’re there to serve the story and that doesn’t always take the greatest dialogue in the world to do whatever.
The Answer Man opens in select cities on Friday, July 24.