Over the years Graham has had enough practice talking about her mother’s life choice to get her arms around a difficult subject. “[She was] a person who needed to find herself. She was in a band, she was a painter, she designed clothes—she was so talented in so many ways,” Graham says. “She gave me exposure to a world I would never have seen otherwise. I only view that as a positive in having an example of the possibilities.’’ And it isn’t hard to draw a line between what she calls the “nontraditional choices” of her mother and the special resonance Graham has brought to her roles on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, playing single mothers who are smart and beautiful yet can’t seem to get their lives in working order.
For the next 10 minutes, Graham sketches out the contours of her jury-rigged relationship with her mother, which included rollicking adventures in London and a half sister, Shade Grant, 15 years her junior, who was dispatched to the actress’s L.A.
home for vacations. But when Graham addresses memories of her mother’s breast cancer and death at age 61, her voice gets tight with emotion. “I felt like I wasn’t there during the months when my mother was deteriorating,” says Graham, whose intense Gilmore schedule prevented frequent travel. “So my young, young sister was handling this all on her own.”
Graham moved Shade to L.A. There, daughters who shared the same parent but knew her in radically different ways merged into true siblings. “To help her get on her feet? It made me feel good,” says Graham. A very long moment passes. “I promised my mother I would do that,” she finally says, her blue eyes filled with tears.
Graham’s father eventually remarried and had two more children, but, she says, “they were just babies” when she shared their household. Until Shade, then in her twenties, moved in, she’d never really known how it felt to have a sibling. Their hours together were uninterrupted: After breaking up with a longtime beau, Graham found herself dateless. “I just went from always having a boyfriend to being like there was nobody I wanted to go out with,” she says. “And nobody wanted to go out with me.” She was so unattached that in 2009, when she was starring as the lovelorn Miss Adelaide in a Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, Graham joked to costar Oliver Platt that even her skimpy attire wasn’t enough to land an invitation to go out. “I’m up on a stage in lingerie,” she said in mock chagrin. “Really? No one?”
Yet just a year later, the right gig revealed the right suitor. Graham walked onto the set of Parenthood and looked at love in the form of an old friend. She first met Krause, who plays her sensible older brother, Adam, in 1995, when the two were guest stars on an episode of Caroline in the City. “It was just a funny timing thing,” says Graham, who recalls asking Krause to carry a dresser she’d bought up a flight of stairs and, on another occasion, going to his house to play board games. “We were friendly. But our lives went in separate directions. I would see him now and again. It wasn’t like I thought, Oh, someday.”
When they finally connected, it was as if Cupid had shot his arrow. “We were just together,” says Graham, who believes her forties were the perfect time to make a relationship work. “For whatever reason—it could have been my upbringing or whatever—but the idea of getting married when I was in my thirties panicked me. I was very ambitious. I just wasn’t ready.” Does that mean she and Krause plan to walk down the aisle? “I don’t know,” she confesses, then clarifies her state of marriage readiness: “I just mean the feeling.”
As for starting a family, Graham says, “I’m just focused on enjoying what I have right now. I know it’s not the same thing, but I love Mae [Whitman] and Miles [Heizer], my TV children, so much. It’s an extremely satisfying relationship, and they let me mommy them a little bit. I feel really lucky to have those kids in my life.”