From Ann Sather's to Gilmore Girl, 08.16.01 ...
Many a star started in Chicago's booming theater scene, but that's not how Lauren Graham, co-star of the WB's critically acclaimed comedy-drama "Gilmore Girls," spent her time here.
She spent two Chicago summers in the mid-1990s, not at Steppenwolf or the Goodman, but at Ann Sather's restaurant on West Belmont Avenue.
"I just was slaving away, putting icing on rolls," she says. At night, Graham would waitress at the old Improv comedy club on North Wells Street.
Graham, who was born in Honolulu but lived there for only three weeks, says the summers she spent here while on break from Southern Methodist University in 1993 and '94 weren't for growth or a perspective on what theater is like in one of the most vibrant theater communities in the country.
"I was just following some boyfriend," Graham admits.
It wasn't all about a guy, however: "It was a place I really considered moving to because all I ever thought I would do was hopefully be a member of a resident company of a theater. It has such wonderful theater, . . . and it's a place to start."
Instead, Graham moved to New York City to begin her acting career, where she also found that "it's so hard to get started" in the profession.
"In my first years in New York, I worked at the [N.Y.] Improv, I worked at Barney's during the day."
Graham navigated the theater community in New York, and it led her to commercials and NBC's "Another World." Roles in nighttime television followed, including a variety of NBC series, including "Law & Order," "Seinfeld," "Caroline in the City" and "NewsRadio."
Graham also has co-starred in a string of short- lived comedies -- ABC's "Townies" in 1996 (which also starred Molly Ringwald and "Dharma & Greg's" Jenna Eflman), NBC's "Conrad Bloom," also in '96, and NBC's "M.Y.O.B." last year.
Graham's days of failing shows have ended with "Gilmore Girls" (7 p.m. Tuesdays, WGN-Ch. 9), where she plays the single mother of a daughter (Alexis Bledel) half her age, but the relationship is more that of two friends than mother and daughter.
Graham, 34, can relate to her character, Lorelai. She was reared by her father, who was 22 years old when Lauren was brought into the world.
"It was quite unusual at the time. I was the only kid with a single father who I knew. So...that was normal to me."
Graham's father worked with a Peace Corps-like organization that rebuilt structures in developing countries that had been destroyed for one reason or another. Graham also spent time with her mother, whose parents were missionaries in Japan. Father and daughter eventually relocated to northern Virginia.
"I think people relate certainly to an unusual, not nuclear, not conventional family," she adds. "I think TV does tend to reflect a current trend maybe a little late. I think `Will & Grace' was happening in life many years before `Will & Grace' was an acceptable story for viewers."
"Gilmore Girls" has become more than acceptable viewing. It won raves by critics and a loyal fan base, as well as the Television Critics Association's best new program award.
That's because of its rich stories centered around Lorelai and Rory's complex relationship.
Lorelai "really let go of a lot to do what she wanted to do, which was raise a child as a teenager," Graham says, "and I admire that person."
At the end of its first season, Lorelai was in a serious relationship with Rory's teacher Max (Scott Cohen), much to the annoyance of coffeehouse owner Luke Danes (Scott Patterson), who has a hard time hiding his feelings for her.
This season will continue to explore Lorelai's forming relationships with others.
"I do think that dating and relationships and that kind of thing is probably going to be the big issue for my character this year," she says.
"I love when the show really deals with how boundaryless this [Lorelai-Rory] relationship is. And it obviously deals with how that's fun, and where it's really a problem."
Another aspect of "Gilmore Girls" that has won acclaim is its use of the small town that Lorelai and Rory inhabit, which gives the series a sort of lyrical quality. Graham credits creator Amy Sherman-Palladino for making the town "as a character . . . it really does have its own voice."
Credit: Chicago Tribune
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