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Defying Category, 12.26.03 ...

With Gilmore Girls now in its fourth year, Lauren Graham still can't believe her good fortune. The clever, snappy dialogue, sincere emotional resonance, and wealth of obscure pop culture references easily make Gilmore Girls one of the smartest shows on television. Funny, smart, and touching, the show resists convention. It was once considered a drama for the awards categories, but the show's producers recently moved it to comedy--a move that Graham said will, hopefully, garner them better recognition. "As the show evolved and they looked at what else it was being compared to in drama, they made the change to call it a comedy. They just felt that we couldn't really be compared to The Sopranos or Law & Order--so, when taken as a whole, we belonged more in comedy," she said.

While Graham said the change hasn't much affected the series, it has challenged her to bring the same emotional timbre to the show. "Being in the comedy category has caused the tone of the show to shift slightly," she said. "Some of the darker opportunities that balanced the light, flippant dialogue are fewer and far between. The good part is, having done a show for four years, people take for granted certain aspects of the characters, and you don't have to continue to explain the premise of the story."

Gilmore Girls endured another major change this season when the character of daughter Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) went away to school. But Graham said the move hasn't substantially altered the frame of the show. "People are afraid of change, but you have to let your beloved TV characters grow or risk suffocating them," she said. "The show's structure, though, always involved a plot line with the two of us together, and a story involving mainly me, and one involving mainly her. This is still the same--except she is at college instead of high school. I'm so happy that they decided to write it that she goes to school close by, rather than to write me in as the dorm R.A. or give me a job at the coffee stand at the student union."

Much of the tone of Gilmore Girls comes from the marathon banter sessions between Lorelai and Rory. Each episode contains long scenes filled with witty dialogue and snappy comebacks. Graham said the biggest challenge for her is to allow Lorelai's vulnerability and sensitivity to show through the deflective voice. "It is challenging because I'm always looking to simplify things, but this is a wordy, very verbal character," the actor said. "So I always make an effort to really be connected with where this multitude of words is coming from, so that it's not just about what is going on at the surface, it's not just talking. Even in the banter and rant of the language, I always try to find the source. Sometimes it's out of joy and fun, sometimes it's out of an inability to express what she's really feeling."

Because of the stylized dialogue, Graham said, all the actors on the show must be particularly committed to finding the subtext in the script. "To me our show plays like a play," she said. "We have long scenes that are seven, eight, 10 pages long--you never see that in television--and it takes a certain kind of actor who has an almost theatrical stamina. We have to rehearse and put it up very quickly, and it just makes sense that so many of our actors are trained in that way. You have to do every word as written; it takes a very disciplined person."

Although it has been frustrating for Graham and the cast of Gilmore Girls not to have their hard work recognized, Graham said awards are always an afterthought for her. "I see the difficulty in comparing the show either with comedies or with dramas. But, to me, the goal is to stop telling the story only when the stories have dried up. It's always encouraging to be supported by awards, but all I can do is focus on my own work. No doubt it has great value to the show and to me personally, but I can't really worry about it. It's sort of like, if you have a car that drives perfectly well and people say, 'Aren't you frustrated you don't own a jaguar?' you say, 'No, I guess it would be nice, but I have this car that takes me where I need to go.'

"What's flattering is when other people feel that the show deserves a different level of status," she continued. "I was recognized with some nominations [a Golden Globe and two SAG nominations], and it really does feel good. It is part of being in a visible profession. But I'm proud of the work we do and proud of the quality maintained with the show after four years."

Still, the actor isn't completely unaware of the effect that an award could have. She said, "The first year I got the SAG nom, I didn't know that they were being announced that day--since then, people have made sure to tell me--but the first one came out of nowhere, so now I go to sleep jumpy and nervous and excited after having such a wonderful surprise. The SAG nomination, in my opinion, is the best kind of award, because it is the people who know best, who are paying attention to the particular challenges of a role like this. So it was just such a compliment. Those are the awards where you are truly just so glad to be there--and it doesn't matter what the result is."

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