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One-Time Arlingtonian Graham Finds Hollywood Success, 11.24.03 ...

For one-time Langley High School student Lauren Graham, who has found Hollywood success as a teenage mother-turned-hip matriarch Lorelai on The WB’s popular drama “Gilmore Girls,” her role as a bartender in the holiday black comedy “Bad Santa” is a far cry from her TV character.

And she’s pretty excited about that, actually.

“I thought this was risky, which I liked, and it could turn out funny or it could be kind of offensive, but it’s going to be a great experience. And it was,” Graham says by phone from Los Angeles.

“But I don’t know, once you get into it, you just think, ‘I just play a character who’s kind of simple who just likes this guy because she likes him,’ and there’s something really liberating about that.”

In the movie, Graham’s Sue meets up with Willie Stokes (played by Billy Bob Thornton), a criminal Santa who’s intent on robbing a Phoenix department store until an eight-year-old misfit appeals to his good side.

“I like that [‘Bad Santa’] is heartwarming, but it definitely speaks to people who have a certain amount of anxiety or who are tired of the sentimentality of the holidays,” Graham said.

For Graham, the shooting schedule was an opportunity to get to know the Oscar-winning Thornton, acclaimed not only for his acting skills but also for his idiosyncrasies.

“I had heard some things, but mainly I just have a lot of respect for him as an actor,” she said. “He’s such a nice guy. He’s a really, really cool, normal, funny guy.”

Graham, now 36, was born in Honolulu and spent her formative years in McLean, Arlington, Georgetown and Great Falls, where her father, Larry Graham, still lives. A lobbyist and lawyer, Larry Graham is president of the National Confectioners Association and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

Graham’s professional acting career began during her days at Langley High school, when she portrayed a pregnant teenager in a Planned Parenthood video. Ironically, her role on “Gilmore Girls” is Lorelai, an unwed mother who nurtures her daughter Rory (played by Alexis Beidel).

Graham said she recalls her formative years as a happy time.

“It’s just a beautiful area,” she says of Northern Virginia. “A lot of my girlfriends from high school are there and raising kids, and I thought it was a great combination of suburban life and city life.”

She often returns home to visit her father, who often took her to the Kennedy Center as a child. She also attended summer theater programs at Catholic University and Arena Stage as a teen.

“I used so many of the resources in Washington,” she said. “My father took me to all the museums so frequently that, by the time I moved to New York, I had just been exposed to so much culture. I think it really helped me as an actor, helped me as a person.”

Graham attended Barnard College, majoring in drama, and earned a master of fine arts degree at Southern Methodist University. She found some commercial work in New York, then found more steady television work in Los Angeles. In 1995, she had a breakout role as a clingy girlfriend on NBC’s “Caroline in the City.”

Graham, who was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for her “Gilmore Girls” work, says the television show’s success is due in equal parts to acting and to the sharp writing.

“It’s the result of a lot of people working really hard,” she said. “We shoot 15 [to] 20 more pages than an average hour show, and not all actors would like to do that kind of [intellectual] language.”

In addition to “Bad Santa,” Graham has another feature film, “Seeing Other People,” that is beginning to gain a buzz on the comedy-festival circuit. The film also stars Jay Mohr and Andy Richter.

No matter if it’s television or films, Graham said she strives to keep playing different characters. The riskier, the better.

“I’m drawn to something that sparks my imagination,” she said. “But I’m careful. I want it to be a new experience for me.”
Credit: Sun Gazette

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