There are two very different Lauren Grahams. The one you’re probably most familiar with is the former star of Gilmore Girls, a TV show that ran for seven years on the WB network, about a quirky, fast-talking, pop culture savvy single mother (played by Graham) and her quirky, fast-talking, pop culture savvy teenage daughter. The show was beloved among audiences and critics who like their drama cute and extra-WASPy. This year, Graham joined the ensemble cast of yet another family-friendly TV show, the NBC drama Parenthood, where she once again plays a quirky (though not quite as fast talking or pop culture savvy) single mom.
And then there’s the other Lauren Graham, the one we haven’t seen in awhile, who co-starred with Billy Bob Thornton in the 2003 dark comedy Bad Santa. That Lauren Graham wasn’t nearly as innocently adorable as her TV star counterpart, unless your idea of adorable involves having filthy public sex with a guy dressed like Santa Claus. The Bad Santa Lauren Graham was crass and white trashy and not shy about engaging in adult situations in front of minors and in general just a horrible, irresponsible, possibly criminal mother. In other words, the complete antithesis of everything the Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood has come to represent.
Before I called Graham for our interview, I tried to put Bad Santa out of my mind. Because really, what possible good could come from that? She was likely expecting questions about the new season of Parenthood, which premieres this Tuesday, September 14th, at 10pm ET on NBC, and not hopelessly out-of-date questions about the time she grinded on Billy Bob’s lap and growled, “Fuck me, Santa! Fuck me, Santa! Fuck me, Santa!” Who needs to be reminded of that? Certainly not anybody who stills TiVos Gilmore Girls repeats or has even a modicum of interest in watching Parenthood. And yet, the Bad Santa version of Lauren Graham is the one I love and miss and wish would return now and again. It’s what we call in the journalism trade an ethical dilemma.
Eric Spitznagel: You play a character on Parenthood named Sarah Braverman. How does it feel to have the most pretentious last name in the history of television?
Lauren Graham: I know, right? It sounds like bragging. The Bravermans. Braver men. It’s a name that says, “We’re braver than your family.”
Does she fight crime with her best pal, Johnny B. Courageous?
The last time I did a character like that, with a name that made it feel impossible to fill her shoes, was Molly Davenport (from the 1998 sitcom Conrad Bloom). She just sounded like an old-timey reporter on the beat, with a hat that says PRESS.
I never saw the show. Was she a reporter?
I don’t remember. Probably not. None of my characters have really had jobs.
Seriously? I know you’ve done a lot of moms, but you’ve never played a character with an income?
Well, Lorelai Gilmore ran an inn, which basically meant that for seven years I handed keys to day players who were carrying luggage. That is what people who run hotels do. I also answered the phone. And occasionally I tended to people like Norman Mailer in the dining room. But other than that, I’ve done mostly stay-at-home moms.
On this season of Parenthood, you character is involved in a love triangle with Billy Baldwin and the gay guy named Jesus from True Blood. Who are you rooting for?
I’m not taking sides. I don’t know that either of them are the answer. It’s more an expression of hope in Sarah’s life. Last year she couldn’t get a break. She had a nice thing going with that cute English teacher, Jason Ritter, but now he’s gone. Apparently he left her to become a terrorist.
You mean on The Event? Isn’t that an entirely different show?
Oh no, it’s all connected. All TV shows are basically part of the same storyline.
Ah, I get you. There was a character named Sookie on Gilmore Girls and now there’s a Sookie on True Blood. Are they the same person?
No, no, no. That’s a different Sookie. Our Sookie is for some reason being called Molly now. She’s on a CBS show (called Mike & Molly), and I don’t know what she’s doing with that guy Mike. He is not from Stars Hollow and I’m just really confused by the whole thing. Maybe it’s the witness protection program? But she’s on billboards everywhere, so that obviously didn’t work.
When you heard that Billy Baldwin was going to be your love interest, did you have to think for a moment, “Hold on, is he one of the crazy Baldwin brothers?”
No, I was excited. (Parenthood co-star) Peter Krause worked with him on Dirty Sexy Money and he really enjoyed working with him. Also, there aren’t many actors out there who are taller than me. So we had to pick from a small list.
You’re only, what, 5′ 9″, 5′ 10”? And you still have a hard time finding actors who can do a scene with you at eye level?
I’m 5’ 9”, and yes, it’s been difficult. I’m pretty sure we went through all the tall guys on Gilmore Girls. I dated all of them. I saw Jon Hamm at the Emmies the other day, and I was like, “You know you owe it all to me.” He played the most thankless boyfriend on Gilmore Girls, a date that never really happens. And I remember thinking at the time, “What is this gorgeous tall guy doing without his own TV show?”
After things didn’t work out with Lorelai, he went back in time to the 60s and become an alcoholic who works in advertising.
That’s right. And he really cheat on his wife. Lorelai must’ve wrecked him. He’s still heartbroken.
I’m starting to love this crazy theory of yours.
It really does make sense, doesn’t it?
Not at all, but you’ve charmed me into believing it. I’ve got a friend named Nancy who has a similar theory. She never saw Seinfeld because she refuses to watch anything with Jason Alexander after he tried to rape Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
Are you serious?
That’s a hundred percent true.
But he didn’t really try to rape her, did he? He tugged on her skirt a little, right? It wasn’t that bad. Or am I remembering it wrong?
I don’t think that’s the best argument against boycotting Jason Alexander. A better argument would be “He was an actor playing a role, and none of it was real.”
That too, sure. The good news is that Julia has been traveling to India and Italy lately, so I think she’s okay.
You played Jerry’s boyfriend on an episode of Seinfeld. Did Jason Alexander try to rape you?
[Laughs.] Um, no.
So my friend’s theory is probably incorrect.
It would seem so, yeah.
So here’s my dilemma, Lauren. I’m contractually obligated to ask you about Parenthood. But honestly, all I want to do is talk about Bad Santa.
I’m fine with that.
It’s not pathetic to talk about a movie that came out seven years ago?
Not at all. I loved being in that movie. I don’t think I’ve worn a leather corset since. I can still remember how terrified I was at the Bad Santa audition. I had to hump a chair.
You… I’m sorry, say that again?
I humped a chair. [Laughs.] Among other things. I had to do basically everything that my character does. And a lot of it is very… visual. The script reads pretty dark. And if it hand’t been done so well, it could’ve been much creepier. I know some people find it creepy anyway, but I find it very funny and sweet. And I thought Billy was delightful. It still serves to embarrass my father to this day.
Does Bad Santa come up a lot in conversation with your dad?
Not really, no. The person I’m most concerned about hiding it from is my 90-year-old grandmother, who is extremely conservative. Gilmore Girls was a nice show for her for the most part, although she found Lorelai a little too loose.
Between Sarah Braverman and Lorelai Gilmore, which of them is more likely to have sex in a car with a half-drunk Santa?
Lorelai! Well, wait… god, it’s a real toss-up, isn’t it? Cause neither of those girls were too lucky in love. I think with Lorelai it would be too risky. She’s in a small town, and there are too many people who could find out about it, or even walk by when she’s in the middle of it. Miss Patty and Babette Dell would gossip to everybody. So yeah, probably Sarah Braverman.
Gilmore Girls was a non-stop barrage of pop culture non-sequiturs. I think we should try a similar approach with this interview.
Okay. Haven’t I done that already?
I’ll ask some rapid-fire, non-sequitur questions, and you answer as quickly as you can. Ready?
Avator. Should we watch it a second time?
I haven’t watched it a first time. The blue people scared me.
Can blind people see in their dreams?
Um…. wow, I don’t… [Laughs.] These are really philosophical questions more than rapid-fire pop culture questions.
Sarah Palin: Crazy or super crazy?
Oh god. I’m a Democrat.
Have you ever paid for anything entirely in change?
Yes. The New York City subway. Believe me, they’re not happy about it.
The Gulf Spill: Where’d all the oil go?
Justin Bieber’s hair?
Are people with outie bellybuttons intrinsically less trustworthy than innies?
No, but their parents are. How did they let that happen? They should be ashamed.
Aside from Jon Stewart, which Daily Show correspondent would you let get to third base on the first date?
I’m friends with Aasif Mandvi. Does that count?
What’s your favorite curse word? And please use it in a sentence that could have appeared in a Gilmore Girls script.
[Laughs.] You’re going to get me in trouble. I can’t do that. I will traumatize the children.
How about Parenthood?
It’s be something like… oh Jesus, I think I’m too Catholic to do this.
Here’s a question you’re probably sick of being asked: Will there be a Gilmore Girls movie?
It might. What’s funny to me is that in all these years, no one ever talked about it except the fans. But now people with power, people who could actually make it happen, are talking about it. I think it could be good, but I wonder if we’ve waited too long. I don’t want to be walking around the town square with a cane.
I have four reasons why it might be a terrible idea: Sex. And. The. City.
Hey, c’mon, I liked those movies! I just don’t know that a TV show demands a movie ending.
How would a Gilmore Girls movie be less sucky than Sex and the City 2? The gals wouldn’t take a trip to Abu Dhabi, I assume. But otherwise, what kooky misadventures await them on the big screen?
It’s hard to say because the show was never very plot driven. That is what might be uncovered in a two hour movie. You’d be like, “Wait a minute, they just talk and make fun of things. This is a terrible movie.”
It might still be a hit, if it’s done right. The Gilmore Girls movie will be a hard R, yes?
If it’s a horror movie, then absolutely. Because Lorelai is obviously a killer, and Rory is her accomplice.
And we’ve all suspected that her boyfriend, Luke or whatever, is into the dirty stuff.
[Laughs.] Oh god.
What’s Luke’s secret fetish? Autoerotic asphyxiation?
[Laughs.] Stop it! You’re trying so hard to get me to alienate every teenage DVD-buying girl out there. I’m not going there.
One of your first paying gigs was dressing like Stryker the dog, the mascot for the 1994 America’s World Cup soccer team. How was your mascot better than other mascots?
I never phoned it in. I actually smiled underneath my giant foam head for every picture, until three-quarters of the way through the day when I realized that no one could see me smiling. But isn’t that the beauty of it? No one can see us smile on the inside, can they?
Recently, Donald Duck was accused of fondling a guest at Disney World. There’s no easy way to ask this, but it needs to be addressed. Lauren, did you ever fondle anyone as Stryker?
[Laughs.] Oh my god, oh my god…!
It’s time to come clean, Lauren. This is Vanity Fair. It’s what we do. You didn’t think this interview was just about promoting your show, was it?
Okay, okay, fair enough. I think I tried to fondle someone, but my giant hands would only allow me to hug them warmly as a good friend.
That’s the glory of the big foam hands. It’s easy to “accidentally” frisk a boob without seeming too pervy.
You do realize this was just a two-day job, right? It’s not something I did every summer after college.
Just tell me this. Did you have to hump a chair for your audition?
[Laughs.] No, not at all. I just had to be tall enough to fit the costume. If you weren’t the right height, your head would be too heavy for your body and you’d fall over. The job gave me sympathy for people who play Disney characters. I really know what it’s like in those costumes. They’re suffering for their art.
It could be worse. A lot of actors have much worse jobs.
Are you kidding me? Name one!
The porn industry.
Alright, fine, you win. But as far as rotten acting jobs go, being a mascot comes a close second.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)