Lauren Graham talks about being Steve Carell's on-screen wife and building an Ark
After seven seasons on Gilmore Girls, what does Lauren Graham do for an encore? Easy. She helps Steve Carell build in Ark in the comedy follow-up Evan Almighty.
In the film, Lauren plays Evan Baxter's wife. When she finds out that her husband is building a life-size version of Noah's Ark in their back yard, she has no other recourse than to think he's gone crazy. Graham is faced with the task of playing the straight man here, taking over a role once occupied by Jennifer Aniston.
We met up with Lauren over at Universal Studios to get her take on the project. Here is what the actress had to say about working with Steve Carell and a giant boat full of live animals:
Lauren Graham: Is this the lighting?
Oh, great. Lauren Graham is complaining about the lighting.
Lauren Graham: I'm not complaining. Its like I'm the man from Oz. Who is that great and powerful man behind the curtain? It's sleepy lighting. Don't you all feel like going to sleep?
Lauren Graham: They're giving you free coffee? I don't know if that will work.
Maybe talking with you will wake us up.
Lauren Graham: I don't know if that will work, either. I'll try my best.
What is the biggest challenge of being cast as a wife in a movie like this? Do you try to bring something different to the film?
Lauren Graham: I don't try to think about it like that. That's my job in this. I love movies like this. And I think someone has to be the straight man. One of the things that I like about it is the heart. This is the story of a man who seems to be going crazy. No one believes him. I think the wife is an important part of that story. I have had years and years of talking fast, and being sassy, and I was happy to do something simpler. It wasn't about trying to do something else. It was about doing a good job with what this already was. So, that's what I tried to do.
You have the Gilmore Girls, which has made you sort of a cult...
Lauren Graham: I'm a cult? Wait...You mean Cult status? I'm a cult figure.
How was it to leave Gilmore Girls, and did you get the reference to your name in this film? Tom mentioned that your name is Joan, because of Joan of Arc.
Lauren Graham: I forgot. Someone did say that to me. And it didn't occur to me until someone said it. My grandmother, who knows every book of the bible, said, "Her name was Sarah. So I don't know why they called her Joan." Wait. What was the first thing? I'm a cult. The only downside of having a steady job on television is, actors love the adrenalin of not knowing what is coming next. And the variety. I remember having this a couple of years into the show. There was this feeling that I missed. What was it? And it was kind of the unexpected, and not knowing what the next thing would be. Would I get it? Would I not get it? So, to get back to that unknown feels really nice. I'm sure it won't feel that way in a little while. But I am doing another movie, and I am already signed for something else after that. So, I know what my next couple of things are. I am really excited to have those different experiences. I feel I have kind of earned that. I feel like I have put a lot of time in at medical school. Gilmore Girls was kind of like medical school. You know what I mean? So, now I am going to go and do my residencies. Can anyone help me with this analogy? I will try to be a doctor in one area. I am just going to try and enjoy the variety.
How was Gilmore Girls like medical school?
Lauren Graham: Did you not get my joke? I just meant that I put a lot of time in at one thing, and now I get to reap the benefits. But if you think about it, I could have become a doctor had I spent that time in school instead of on the Gilmore Girls. Seven years. That would be about right. "Graham thinks she's a doctor. Confused?" I am writing your article for you.
If you were faced with the same situation you face in this movie, would you bail?
Lauren Graham: I think I go through different colors in this. You want to believe him. You look for a rational explanation. You finally decide you can't take it anymore. Then Morgan Freeman is your waiter, and he tells you what to do. That's how I would hope it would go. The movie raises the question, "How far will your faith take you? What do you do in the face of doubt. Is the power of love enough to get over what you perceive as the reality of something? I don't know the answer to all of those questions. But we ask them all here, in this little PG rated movie. It makes you think.
What was it like working with Steve Carell, and what did you think of his metro-sexual make-over in the middle of the film?
Lauren Graham: I thought that was really funny. I got so used to seeing him in that stuff everyday, he just looked weird without it. The metro-sexual stuff, I thought, worked really well. It was great. We sort of had the more romantic scenes in the movie. I wasn't holding my sides laughing when we were shooting the scenes. But he is a very funny guy. And I appreciate how he approaches things. He's a real actor. I liked his work in The 40 Year Old Virgin, because it is so small, and subtle. And interesting. He is coming to it from the character. He's not doing something wacky. I like that. It was fun.
You are a very, very sexy mom. And you are not skinny...
Lauren Graham: Wow. There. There is that. Not at all? You wouldn't say at all?
No, you have a great body. What do you do to...
Lauren Graham: Be so "not skinny"? Um, Well, thank you for part of that question. I don't have any awareness of that. What I thought was that, we discuss that she didn't work. I wanted her to feel kind of casual and natural. Especially in opposition to this guy who is very buttoned-up, and into a more professional part of his life. I felt this was a woman that has known him for a long time. And knew him before all of this stuff happened. I wanted her to be a counterpoint to him. The other thing is, I did anything I wanted to do. I work out a lot. I watch what I eat. It's very hard just to be this "not skinny". Yes. Next.
What type of relationship did you have with the animals in this movie?
Lauren Graham: It's amazing to me. One thing that was really striking to me was that, every single person in every single department was the best at what they do. That's from transportation, to props, to all the A.D.s. They work at a level that is so high, my interaction with the animals was less about my interaction with them, but more about watching these trainers. They would get the animals to do what they wanted them to do very simply, and very kindly. I just thought, "These giraffes have not been training their whole lives to be in Evan Almighty. How do they know to bring the hammer?" So much of this stuff is real, that you see in the movie. That to me is amazing. We weren't sitting around petting the lions, or anything. But it was cool to watch them walk by. You are sitting, drinking coffee, and you got strangely used to it. But I didn't sit and talk to anybody about it. The animal we hung out with the most was Toothy, the alpaca. You didn't hear about him? He was my favorite. He had this huge under bite, and he was really unattractive. I think we made the trainers mad, because we called him Toothy, and that wasn't his name. The boys really got into Toothy as a mythical figure. Even though he was right there. They would ask, "What do you think Toothy is doing right now? What do you think Toothy is having for dinner?" He was the one that somehow, because of his unusual appearance, struck gold in our hearts.
Was doing the actions sequences a new experience for you?
Lauren Graham: Yes, of course. I was on a show where I walked and talked until the cows came home. Then suddenly I'm in the middle of a flood. A lot of it was real enough that you weren't reacting to nothing. When you see the movie, there are thousands of animals. When I did the movie, there were five. When I see the movie, there is a huge amount of water. When I did the movie, there was a hose. But, there was enough that you weren't just creating something out of nothing.
What else are you working on?
Lauren Graham: This movie I am doing right now is called Laws of Motion. It is an independent film that the playwright Craig Lucas is directing. Hilary Swank is a producer, and she has a bit part just to lend her name to it. That's really cool and inspiring to see an actress that has a film company and is making films that she believes in. It's the story of a dysfunctional family, and Mathew Perry is my husband. We have a quiet marriage that is in trouble. His brother and sister come to stay with us to disastrous results. It's a dark comedy. It's a very conservative, preppy type character that is trying to be nice to these people that she thinks are freaks. That's kind of a cool, nice place to be. And I'm sort of doing a "Wife World Tour", if you couldn't tell. I am playing Greg Kinear's wife in a movie about the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper. This is based on a true story. It is a really great story. He felt that his patent was stolen by the car companies, and he spent his whole life fighting that. He wasn't necessarily fighting fort money, which he ended up getting quite a bit of. But he was fighting for the rights of inventors. He was someone who really stood up for his rights. It's an amazing thing for Greg. In this one I have five kids. It's being directed by Mark Abraham. The working title is Flash of Genius. Its cool.
Do you think your work on Gilmore Girls got you these roles?
Lauren Graham: I don't know. Gosh, I really don't know. What a lot of directors still like is Bad Santa. It was a small part in a great movie. And I had a great line, too, which my father is still like, "Ugh!" But, I'm not really sure. I think this movie, even though it's not out yet, helped. And I think the reputation of the show has been a huge help. And I'm just glad that the projects don't resemble each other much in tone. They are joined by being someone's wife. But at this age, those are the stories that are available. Those are the kinds of stories I like anyways. I feel really lucky. I thought I would be planting a herb garden, and then sitting at this junket. "You guys, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Judge Judy comes on. And she is so great." So, I am happy to be floating around and just kind of doing stuff. Although, Judge Judy is great.
I loved the scene with you and Morgan Freeman.
Lauren Graham: I did too. I loved that scene. That was the scene that really struck me as a new way to say something really simple. I just love the message of that scene. Which is, you know, just because you believe in something and ask for help, that doesn't mean that it will get handed to you. It is still your job to figure things out for yourself. He is an impressive person to be around. It was a difficult scene. I'm like, "Can I get some more fries, or whatever?" And he's like, "Are you all right?" I just thought, "Who would you open up to in this certain circumstance. With him, it's very easy. I have found that it's the simplest work that is the best. It all feels as truthful as it possibly can, and you just want to keep doing it. He's just really cool.
He likes to mess with us. Did he ever mess with you at all?
Lauren Graham: Yeah. I forgot what he said to me. I had been warned. He sassed me, and I sassed him back. He was like, "This one can stay." I was like, "Cool. I got him." But I was shaking. I didn't want to be sassy to someone I respect unless I knew that was the only way they would respect you. He's funny. He's really comfortable in his skin, so he likes to play around.
Is there a pet project you want to do, or a character that you want to play?
Lauren Graham: No, what I really want to do now is a musical. But, no. I'm still just riding this wave. I haven't had time to think about what I would like to do next. That will take a little time, I think. I would love to go back to TV, for sure. But it's not something that I would put all my focus on. You come back and do something, and you only do three episodes, and it gets canceled. That's just the odds. That happens. Then there is the reunion of Gilmore Girls. Um, yeah...
What is your favorite musical?
Lauren Graham: Probably Anything Goes. But I can't sing that. So, I have to find something that I can actually do. Maybe Funny Girl. I can't sing that either. Maybe something easier.
How do you feel about the show ending?
Lauren Graham: I have mixed feelings about it. I felt that the show was telling us it was over. I felt that it was the right time. We were all feeling restless. Yet, you have become so attached to this person. You don't want to lose that. So, it was a struggle. It never got easier.
Evan Almighty opens on June 22nd, 2007.