Light spoilers for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life ahead.
On Tuesday evening, Vulture sat down with Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel, Kelly Bishop, and Scott Patterson for a panel discussion on Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, presented by SAG-AFTRA. The stars talked about how surreal it was to return to Stars Hollow after all these years, the backlash to Rory and Lorelai's characters this season, and their memories of working with the late Edward Herrmann. (Nota bene: We unfortunately weren’t able to talk about spoilers, especially that ending, when it became clear that much of the audience in the room had not seen all the episodes.) Watch a video of the discussion, and read an edited transcript below.
So it's been nine years since the original run of the series and, you all fall back into your roles so naturally. But it must have been kind of surreal going back to this world, and I'm curious if it felt a little weird.
Lauren Graham: When I was in high school, I was Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. Thank you, thank you [audience laughs]. And then in grad school I was of the Goodys. And so I knew the play so well, but I was coming at it from a different age, different part, completely different perspective, different production. This had a little bit of that. It was the same, but totally different. It was largely different because of being back due to somewhat of a request or a response. And that made it completely a different experience because everywhere we went, people were excited, which put a different pressure on it, too. But sometimes we'd be in a scene and it would feel like we never left this room. It was a strange mix. But mainly it felt like an opportunity to go back to something and appreciate and know what a special thing it was.
In terms of the years in which we haven't seen these characters, what did you all do to fill in the background of what has happened to them? For example, Alexis, do you imagine how Rory's time on the Obama campaign went?
Alexis Bledel: I did. When we started this job, I tried to imagine how she'd spent her time and what had been fulfilling in her life. I really wanted her to have had some great rewards, or to have enjoyed quite an interesting life from all her hard work. I wanted her to just be on top of the world so to learn that we were picking up with her scrambling to find her footing, I don't know. I think I wanted to imagine that she got there after having some success and a lot of personal triumphs. I just had to imagine that for her [laughs].
Lauren and Alexis, your characters, they're so beloved, but I do feel like there's been a little bit of a reaction where people feel like they can be kind of awful sometimes and a little bit selfish, in terms of you know, how they react to Paul, for example [audience laughs].
LG: Who? [Audience laughs.]
There's been a little bit of more of a backlash against their characters this time around. Have you noticed that?
LG: No. We don't pay attention to anything, none of us are on the internet almost at all. So I know what you mean, but the show has a sense of humor, and that's its sense of humor. And I think maybe it feels a little different — Rory's not in high school anymore, so yes, as grown women constantly forgetting the guy … I just thought it was a funny runner. The whole show has a heightened theatrical quality. I mean, just like Donald Trump, don't take it literally [audience laughs, cheers, claps]. But unlike like that, to me it was just more of a metaphor for, this isn't the right guy, and this is how they communicate about it, and does it go ten steps too far? I don't know, but it was 90 minutes, we had a lot of time to fill.
I am curious though, just in general in making this series, if there are ever things that your character does where it forces you to recalibrate your idea of who this person is?
AB: Yes, I — I think I'm always trying to understand where Rory's coming from in the choices she makes in her romantic life [audience laughs] because she's so together and so successful in everything she does really, until these episodes start. I think it's an interesting part of her character, but one that I've always struggled to understand. She always picks people who are very different from one another, and who challenge her fortunately, but who don't necessarily bring out the best in her. So she's still finding her way, I suppose. I think Amy just didn't want her life to be wrapped up with a bow by the end of this story, at least because she's still young, and I don't know.
Kelly Bishop: It's my turn. Hi [audience cheers]. What was the question?
Does Emily ever do something that surprises you and forces you to rethink who she is as a person?
KB: In the first seven years, never, and this is the most amazing thing about Amy Sherman-Palladino. I never had a moment where I thought, She wouldn't say that. And there were times I even, as we all know — we're all actors, yes? And there were times I thought things about Emily's past that would, like six, seven, eight episodes later, be in the script. And I never discussed it with Amy, at all. And I go, "We are so tuned in." Now, in this evolution of the show, strange things start happening to Emily as you might have noticed, which is really fun because she was so severe and so structured, which, weirdly you're gonna find this odd, but I still believe it: She's rather insecure. She comes out very strong and very secure, but part of that structure is, don't mess with it. And she undid all the rules and, and that really throws Emily because she wants everything to be perfect. Now, as we go into this life, it's really different. I don't know where Berta came from. How did she find her? How could she even hire her because she doesn't understand what she's saying? So now this character is going off in a very wild way. It really takes all sorts of curves and it's great fun.
Kelly, your character has been a real fan favorite. Have you noticed a difference in the reaction this time versus before? Because I feel like there's just so much love for Emily out there right now.
KB: I've always been baffled by that [audience laughs]. I enjoy playing what I consider nasty rich women because personally, I can't stand women like that, and we see a lot of them in New York. And Florida and Hollywood. And so I always, weirdly, try to make them as awful as possible because that's just my personal comment on what I think of them. But yeah, I love it. I mean, she is funny — if you don't have to live with her it's wonderful.
The reaction to the show this time has been so huge, and I'm curious, when it first came out, it was during this era of "difficult men," The Sopranos, and these themes that the show deals with, like motherhood and female friendship, weren't necessarily taken as seriously. Do you think it fits better into today's TV landscape in terms of being looked at as a serious work?
LG: For a long time, just the fact that the word girls was in the title undercut, or made some people think it wasn't for them. In creating this comfortable and happy world, it still has a lot of intelligence and depth, and I almost think it took this long to see that as … I think because it was happy and because it was women, it took a while to get, wait, the language is really packed and smart. And what makes it relevant today maybe just, it's a comfortable and happy place to go, but still has depth and sadness. But it was always to me more like theater than TV. You could put these scripts on a stage and there's something about that theatricality that just stands apart. In terms of what makes it relevant right now, we've seen a turn in more violence and high concept, and that's just what's popular, so this still stands out in the weird way it did then. It's an oddball that stuck around.
Lauren, you'd mentioned, Trump, and when Luke and Lorelai get married, there's this sign that says it's November 5, 2016, three days before the election. [Sounds of discontent coming from the audience about the spoiler that Luke and Lorelai got married. Someone loudly says, "We know now."] Well, you knew it was gonna happen, right? Anyway, I'm curious what you think about how Stars Hollow would've reacted to Trump —
LG: I don't think it's helpful to go there, honestly. We're actors in a fictional town, and [audience claps] I think probably many people in here are like-minded, but the show had that date reference something from the older episodes, it didn't have to do with anything overt. That was still a time when we were shooting this show, a different outcome seemed a foregone conclusion, so that's what I think of more in terms of where we were at that time. There was no commentary on anything to come and um, psh, the end.
This show is so emotional for so many viewers, and I'm curious in filming this new season, what was the most emotional scene for each one of you to film?
SP: Okay, that's very easy to answer. Lauren and I did a scene in the kitchen in “Fall” where [Lauren] came in on the very first take and it was so fraught with tension, I just started to bawl my eyes out. That particular scene, for me, was the most impactful scene that Luke has ever been involved in. I'm proud to say I did it with this lady because that's a scary place to go. It was everything he felt for all of those years, and he just let it all out.
LG: What I remember about that was, here we all are after all this time and we finally get to do it. And there was such a combo of pressure-joy. Plus we didn't have Ed [Edward Herrmann], which was devastating. And so what I remember about that day is you just adjusted. You were like, "Aw, no? Aw. All right," and kind of turned it around. And that's really powerful, but that's also the benefit of having played these characters for so long — you just know it so well, it's such a rare place to be, and you can kind of Okay, yeah, I'll do it.
How about you, Lauren? Was there a scene ...?
LG: I don't know, the whole thing was emotional. I don't want to give anything away. I had one particular thing that was something Amy and I had talked about on the old show, and it's the answer to the journey Lorelai starts. It was technically something difficult and I didn't want to have to do too many takes. I did something I'd never done before, which is I taped — just flat with no acting — it was a very long speech, and I just taped. Just monotone, and I would play it over sometimes in the car just to memorize it, just so I had it cold so that I didn't have to call for line. It's a moment in the last episode, and in a strange way, we felt, I don't know, there's no ... to lose a friend is a very big deal, and it doesn't have any equivalent. You can't put losing a friend in with a TV show, you know? But there was a sense that we just wanted to feel like we did Ed proud. We just wanted to feel, I don't know, almost like he was there. And so, that was a very emotional part of the show.
AB: I remember that when we filmed the first scene in winter and the last scene in fall, I felt this incredible amount of pressure to get the moments just right, because I knew there was so much anticipation to see these women again. And then, those last four words. So it was mostly about finding the right connection between the characters, and just being in the moment.
KB: One of the things that was hardest for me was shooting four shows at the same time. When you’re actors, you're gonna shoot out of sequence. All of a sudden, you're shooting winter in the morning and then it's seven months later in the afternoon but then you're gonna go back to ten months later and then you're gonna jump back to the second month. But then you have with this particular project, because it takes place over a year, and because we have lost a very dear friend and fellow actor, and you know initially where you want to go emotionally with the character but you just — I was blown away by how they even structured the schedule. When I looked at the schedule it was like [shows on fingers] that thick. It was like a phone book. I thought, How did they put together all of these actors, and get them in the right order? From an acting point of view, it was keeping straight where Emily is at this point in her life. Doing four shows at once was just schizophrenic.
You mentioned Edward, and I'm curious if there are any stories from the original run of the show that you remember working with him.
LG: We don't have enough time ...
KB: It was seven years of a lot of exhaustion. I must say the first two years, I think they learned their lesson, but they overworked, uh, what's her name and the other one? [Laughs, referring to Lauren and Alexis.] They're very famous now, it'll come to me. Average day was 18 hours, and then they get the weekend, then they'd be doing publicity shots. They were grinding them into the ground and it just wore them out. I think they finally started to begin to understand what they were doing, they didn't mean to, they were just wildly enthusiastic. But I just remember that. It wasn't so much for me, because I was traveling back and forth — I would stay out there and do my gig and I'd come back home. But they were exhausted. It's almost hard to keep the memories together on that level.
AB: Ed was so knowledgeable about theater, TV, and film, and what I remember most is how he would share so much of this knowledge. He loved talking about it so we had those long Friday-night dinner scenes where we'd be sitting at a table all day, and he would share so much. He was a very generous actor and he loved acting, and he was a very interesting person because he had a lot of other interests, too. Classic cars, and just a myriad of things. He was fascinating because he was fascinated with so many cool things and always telling great stories. He had such a long and interesting career and gave us all these great tidbits all the time.
KB: He really took you under his wing.
AB: He did.
KB: Alexis was new to this, and he was a very sensitive man, too, besides being a wonderful actor. I do remember particularly the episode where his mother died and his grief was raw. It was really wonderful. That was one of my favorite shows because that's the one where I did Tennessee Williams where I drank all the time and smoked [audience laughs]. That was one of those odd Emily moments, but I remember specifically that Ed really took to Alexis and tried to guide her and give her confidence and help her. He was a good guy. He was not only a good actor to act with, but a good actor with a heart and with humor and kindness. I was heartbroken on his behalf because he was gone, and he would love to have done this. He would've relished doing this, so that made it even harder.