When Lauren Graham was growing up in suburban Arlington, Virginia, her single dad had a standard response to his only child’s endless questions: “Look it up. Everything you want to know, you can learn in a book.” But on this rainy New York afternoon, the Parenthood star dashes into the library at the Greenwich Hotel and realizes at once that a lounge filled with reading material just won’t do. “It’s too quiet in here,” says the actress as she sheds a pile of cold-weather gear—white knit cap, Catherine Malandrino quilted jacket, rickety black umbrella—to reveal a formfitting black Helmut Lang dress. Simultaneously, she offers an apology for showing up 15 minutes late, which she will later repurpose as a self-deprecating tweet: “Actressy things I said during today’s More magazine interview: ‘Sorry I’m late—I couldn’t get a cab in this rain.’ #actressy.”
As it happens, Graham, 46, is fairly new to Twitter, which Ballantine Books asked her to join to help promote her first novel, Someday, Someday, Maybe, published this month. The surprise for her fans: Though on TV Graham is the Queen of Single Moms, bringing humor and heartbreak to her roles in Gilmore Girls and now Parenthood, her book is closer to her own past—a breezy, semiautobiographical account of a young actress’s professional and romantic struggles (see excerpt, page 90 in the May issue, on newsstands now!).
In Parenthood, Graham’s character, Sarah, is divorced and broke when she arrives at her parents’ house in Berkeley with her two mopey kids in tow. They desperately need a home and so must deal with all the parents’ issues, as well as with Sarah’s three siblings and their mates, who constitute the extended Braverman clan. Playing a forty-something woman who has been rubbed raw by life, Graham gives a delicately nuanced and movingly authentic performance that critics stop midreview to praise. Take the shout-out from the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum: Considering the episode in which Sarah’s younger boyfriend suggests they have a baby together, Nussbaum lauded the actress’s reaction as “a twenty-sided facial expression that should earn Lauren Graham a special Emmy.”
The next Graham reviews you’ll hear, however, will be from book critics. Now resituated at a corner table at Locanda Verde, a restaurant adjacent to the library and noisy enough to suit Graham’s conversation requirements, she explains why she chose fiction instead of the standard celebrity memoir or a collection of humorous essays like Tina Fey’s Bossypants. “It’s sort of like, ‘Who would be interested?’ ” says Graham, a lifelong bookaholic and Barnard College graduate who majored in English. Instead, she decided to peel back the curtain on what young actors experience by combining small, autobiographical moments with imagined details.
“I started from a kind of nostalgia and a relief at not living in that time anymore, that time of just starting out,” says Graham, whose protagonist, aspiring actress Franny Banks, rents an apartment in a Brooklyn brownstone in the mid-’90s (as did Graham), was raised solely by her father (as was Graham) and constantly monitors the number on her bathroom scale. Regarding the autobiographical accuracy of that last detail, Graham, who has just vetoed the grated Grana Padano on the menu’s salad, says simply, “I’ve been on a diet for 35 years.” (Later, she tweets, “ ‘Can I get that without the cheese?’ Actressy things I said today at lunch interview. #actressy.”)
“I wanted to write about the tiny, tiny progress and the complete unknown of wanting to follow any impossible dream,” she says. In her case, that dream entailed “time running out and being in a pursuit where no one is going to tell you to leave. Acting is the most bizarre profession. You can stay in it for years and not really be in it and be waiting for someone to give you an opportunity. It’s like when I watch American Idol and see people who have been told to believe in themselves at all costs: It’s not always a good idea.”