Gilmore Girls’ Scott Patterson on Why It Was Hard to Be Luke Again, and the Scene That Made Him Unexpectedly Emotional

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Spoilers ahead for all four episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

If there’s one thing that’s changed less than Stars Hollow on Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, it’s Luke Danes. The town’s purveyor of good coffee is as ornery as ever, though as Scott Patterson, who plays Luke, points out, you may notice he’s a little more mellow this time around. Patterson joined the Vulture TV Podcast to talk about why it was harder to get back into Luke mode than he thought, his emotional kitchen scenes this season, and why he’s only ever watched the pilot of the series. Listen to our full conversation, and read an edited transcript below.

Gazelle Emami: To start us off: Is the coffee you pour on set real?
Scott Patterson: Oh, you bet your sweet dippy it is. As real as it gets. It's cold often. But it's real.

GE: What brand of coffee is it?
Umm ... I couldn't tell you that. I think it's my own brand — I have my own line of coffee. No, I'm kidding.

Jen Chaney: You actually should make one. People would buy that. 
Yeah, there were talks. And then it fell through, what can I tell you.

GE: So in filming this new season of Gilmore Girls, did you film all the season in order? What was the process like?
We were block shooting, which meant we were shooting parts of all four seasons in one day. Like on one soundstage we'd be shooting summer and then in afternoon we'd be outside shooting winter and then we changed into fall, go down the street and shoot fall scenes. It was all very confusing.

It's kind of amazing how the production team kept track of everything. Because that is a logistical nightmare right there. To try to shoot 600 pages of material in four seasons in three-and-a-half months. I've never done anything quite like it. It was an awesome task. If there's an award category just for that then we should definitely win every one of those.

JC: It must have been surreal in some ways to go back to the town and go back with all of these actors and assume that role again. Was that an easy adjustment to make?
You know, I thought it was going to be easy but it wasn't. And then first day on set for me, the first diner scene, you know, I didn't really feel like Luke. I didn't feel it. I asked [creator] Amy [Sherman-Palladino] if I could take like a little five, ten minute walk around Stars Hollow and get the old scent back and she said, "Okay, go ahead," and I came back feeling pretty good. I've changed a lot in nine years and I just ... I kind of lost the character in nine years because I haven't been thinking about him, and it was a really small window for the time the show got okayed, we got the script, and then we started shooting. There wasn't a lot of time to prep. But, yeah, it all came flooding back.

GE: You did an interview with TVLine recently and you said that Luke is a little bit different in the new season, but he's still the same as well. I'm curious, you know, in what ways you think he's changed and if that was at all influenced by how you've changed, as well. 
Well, I mean, look, he's older, as am I. He's a little more mellow, but not really. But the good news with Luke is he doesn't change, he's resistant to change. And that gives comfort to the fans of the show. They can rely on him not to change, they know what they're going to get with him. He's a throwback character, he's a guy that you don't see much anymore on television.

GE: You've talked about the banter on the show and how, because Lorelai and Rory speak so quickly, you had to calibrate how you spoke to work with their flow — I think you said you had to be smoother.
Okay, so there's a difference between hearing the pace of the show as an audience and actually doing the dialogue at that clip. Because what they're hearing, yes, it seems fast, but when you're doing it, it's twice as fast. It's daunting. And you've got to be word perfect. And the thing with those two is, they speak with a certain rhythm, cadence, and at a certain clip. You tend to get caught up in that pace and you can't because that's not Luke's pace, that's not Luke's rhythm, but you also can't trip them up, timing-wise or cue-wise. So I had to find that sweet spot where I wasn't tripping them up but I wasn't getting caught up in their rhythm and their pace. So, yeah, I had to smooth everything out a little bit. I was more successful at it at certain times than at others, but that was the challenge, at least technically speaking, of the role. 

JC: You mentioned that there wasn't a whole lot of time between the green light and actually going into production. And obviously within the narrative there's time that passed and we don't really see what happened during that period before we pick it up in the present again. Were you able to spend any time thinking about what Luke would have gone through in the intervening years and processing that? Or did you not even have time to go down that road?
Oh, no, you have to go down that road. We are together when it begins and we're figuring out our next steps. So I did think about how we got together. I didn't have to be terribly thoughtful figuring that one out. He gets up early in the morning, he works, he comes home, he's got his girl. That's his life. It's supporting those people he loves. Nothing dramatic has happened to him. It will, in these episodes — but hasn't to date, you know, in the interim. I mean it's not like he ran off and became a racetrack driver or lost his mind and decided to start a rock band or something, do you know what I mean? Like I did in real life, so.

GE: One of your big scenes this season comes in the final episode where you tell Lorelai you don't want her to leave, after she comes back from her Wild trip and you’re convinced she’s going to break up with you. And it felt like in that scene you were moving at Lorelai-level speed.
Those scenes in the kitchen there — there were a couple in the kitchen, right? — that were pretty explosive. Those scenes to me, those were the best scenes that we've done together. In the entire series. I quite enjoyed doing those scenes.

GE: What made them feel ...
Speaking of pace and clip and all that, in a one-on-one situation like that, you know, that's different. You got to hit the ball back over maybe faster, to try and win the point. That's a heated back and forth. So that means you don't have to worry about getting caught up in someone else's rhythm or pace — you actually do want to get caught up and she wanted to get caught up in mine because that's when the magic happens. I'm very eager to see those scenes. I haven't seen them yet, but I remember doing it and thinking, Wow, that was ... We did some pretty good work there. 

GE: You had mentioned in an interview that there was one scene where you got really emotional. Is that one of these scenes?Yeah, it was the kitchen ... It was the scene where she comes in and says, you know, "I'm going to go do Wild."

GE: Oh, right. Before she leaves.
The first time we did it, she came in on the first take with very, very powerful emotion. And I knew what the scene was about, and so I let all of that stuff rise up in me and I got very emotional in that scene. And it was just such a ... I don't know if it was very Luke-like but, you know, it appeared. I don't think they even printed the take, they didn't use it. But I remember, yeah, the kitchen scene, it was very powerful. And then it changed. But it started out as being a very emotional experience.

GE: Was it just the way that she came in there and delivered it that made you ...
Yeah, it was that and it was also … it's what I felt. It's what the character felt. The thing they teach you in acting school, is — and if you're really lucky you get a teacher that really harps on this one point — is if you know your character really well and you believe and you've bought into the given circumstances of the situation that you're in, whatever feeling comes up, whatever emotion comes up, is the correct one. Don't edit yourself and don't try to cut it off and get in your head and "Oh I have to steer this over here because that's more correct." No. You let it come up. And that's what I did. Whether it was appropriate or the correct balance for the scene, that's not for me to decide, that's for the director. You can't question yourself in the moment. And the beauty of all this is they can do 20, 30, 40 takes if they want to until somebody gets it right. It's like, "Stop crying, goddammit. That's not what the scene's about." 

JC: Have you seen any of the new installments yet?
I have not seen anything. I haven't seen an inch of footage. They won't give me the code, they've locked me out, I've tried to break into the building and I've threatened people and they're just not letting me see any of it. But I will not watch it.

JC: You don't like to watch yourself? 
No, I do not. Thank you, no. I don't want to see it. I'm not interested. I watched the pilot and that's it. I haven't seen anything else. I've seen clips, you know. I think it's really fine stuff. It's really funny great stuff, but I won't watch myself. I'll watch everybody else's. I'm big fans of everybody else on the show, I just don't want to watch me. So therefore, I don't watch the show.

GE: Just last week, Amy Sherman-Palladino said that Luke was actually meant to be a woman character named Daisy. Did you know that going into it?
No, I did not know that, no. Uh-uh.

GE: She said the relationship between you and Lorelai only came to be once it became clear the you and Lauren Graham had chemistry. Can you talk about those early days and what that conversation was like with Amy in terms of taking the story in that direction? Did you have any inkling that it would go in that direction?
Well, when I was cast, it was for a guest star. It wasn't for a series regular, but the pilot begins and ends with Luke's diner so we all knew something was up. So we just figured, Okay, this is a chemistry check. If the chemistry's there, they'll expand the character. If it's not, maybe they'll just write the character out or they'll get somebody else. For my money, the chemistry was apparent immediately and I knew it was going to work. And that's really the most important element of an onscreen relationship, and it's why so many people that actually get together in real life and then try to act together, there's really no chemistry anymore because the tension's gone.

I used to see that in acting class in New York back in the day, every single day. You could always tell if these two people were hooking up. The scene would be really boring. I mean, they'd be really relaxed up there, but my God, there was no tension. The teacher would stop them and say, "Uh, so when did you guys get together?" But yeah, so the chemistry has always been really rich and thick and creamy. And you know, when you have that, you can stretch that out for many seasons, which Amy did. No, she didn't sit down with us and talk to us about the direction of the show. We're not consulted on that at all. It's just the network saw the potential in that relationship and she saw the potential in that relationship and what it could do for the show overall. I mean, I don't know if it ever intended to become the main story line or one of the main story lines, but that's how it kind of ended up, and I'm very thankful for it. When there's that kind of onscreen magic, you want to exploit that. And Amy did very tastefully. She didn't overdo it, she didn't underdo it. When you've got that nuclear fuel, you don't want to overuse it.

JC: There has been such excitement about the show coming back, and obviously the show was really beloved when it was on, but I feel like the fervor is even more present now. And maybe that's just because social media makes it easier to see it. What has been your response to just the excitement about all this?
It's definitely the biggest thing I've ever been a part of. Netflix is really hitting it out of the park, promotion and marketing-wise. They've got some very capable people over there who know what they're doing, and they're doing a great job promoting this. We're all very busy promoting it. It seems like every day we're doing TV interviews and the talk shows are going to start. We're doing the Today show, Rachael Ray, Jimmy Fallon — all kinds of stuff. There's a big appetite out there. People were starving for nine years, and now it's coming back in a different a form that is maybe a little bit more interesting to the fans. It's the same DNA and pedigree, but these are longer scenes, longer episodes, more in depth, maybe a little more R-rated — who knows? So yeah, it's huge. Everywhere I go, people are coming up and saying good luck and can't wait to see it and social media's going crazy. It's just fantastic. It's a nice ride to be on.

GE: You had said a while back that the ending was going to be open-ended and it wouldn't give watchers a sense of finality, which I definitely get now that I've seen it.
I mean, it could. It's like yes and no. They could continue it, but they don't need to. It's finality for people who want it to be over, and there's hope that there can be more for people that can see more episodes.

GE: Right. Do you feel like it's more leaning one way or the other?
Do I want it to continue or do I feel that it could continue?

GE: Both, yeah.
You know, I don't know. Now that we've done this and it was so pleasant, it was so easy to do it … it was a tremendous amount of heavy lifting on the studio and network side to get the deal done. These deals are very, very complicated  and it was a tremendous amount of work to get the backlot in shape at Warner Brothers to make it look like Stars Hollow again. That took months and months and hundreds of people working every day all day to get that town looking as great as they got it looking. It makes our job so much easier. So yeah, to make that investment again and time and resources and all that, sure. It really depends on what Netflix wants to do going forward. I don't know if they'd want to do it again. I'd assume they would if the numbers were good, and the numbers look like they're going to be really high for this. And then it really comes down to Amy and Dan [Palladino]. It's really their call. If they feel like it's done and there's nothing left in the tank and they don't want to tarnish the legacy of this, then they won't do it, no matter how many great ideas they might have. But you just never know.

GE: I feel like particularly Jess's longing look to Rory, more than even the last line, made me think that there's going to be more.
Sure. I mean, imagine that. And you know, Milo [Ventimiglia]'s blowing up now. He's becoming this big TV star with this great show [This Is Us], which is probably going to get nominated all over the place and deservedly so. So there's probably a lot of life left in this whole thing. Hopefully, I'll be serving coffee.