There has been offscreen drama with the show as well. ER alum Maura Tierney was originally slated to play Graham’s part, but last summer it was revealed that she was being treated for breast cancer. The series’ premiere was pushed from fall to winter to give Tierney time, but eventually she decided she had to leave the show. After that, “Lauren’s was one of the first names to come up,” says Jason Katims, who is coproducing Parenthood with Grazer and Howard. “To come into a show as a crucial character with everyone’s emotions very high—it isn’t easy. You feel horrible about what happened, but you have to come in with energy and enthusiasm. She’s been wonderful—she met with all the writers, and by the end of the meeting, they were so excited. One thing I’m excited about is how much humor she brings to her work.”
For her part, Graham says, “As an actor, I couldn’t pass this up. They said, ‘We want you to improvise, bring what you do to it.’ It just felt creative.” About Tierney, she says, “The details are none of our business. I can only take the show forward; I can’t look back.” Later, when the conversation circles around again to the series, she adds, “Can’t it just be ‘Let’s talk about what a good new show this is and please watch it,’ you know what I mean?” (At press time, it was announced that Tierney will appear in a play, North Atlantic, opening in L.A. in February and New York in March.)
GROWING UP, Graham had no idea that being an actor could get so complicated. When she watched a production of Annie, “I just wanted to be Annie. Not the actor playing Annie, but actually Annie herself. I had this red Radio Shack tape recorder, and I would tape the musicals off the TV and then memorize all the songs,” she says, citing Elvis movies, Funny Girl and Meet Me in St. Louis as particular favorites. “I mean, how dorky is that?”
Graham was born in Honolulu but moved to Washington, D.C., at age five after her parents divorced and her father, Lawrence Graham, landed a job as a congressional staffer. He raised her as a single dad, not re-marrying until she was in the ninth grade. Meanwhile her mother, Donna Grant, moved to London to pursue painting, pop singing and working in fashion. Graham would see her about once a year.
“I had sort of an unconventional upbringing,” she says. “My dad had really boring cars. We didn’t have an answering machine. We didn’t even own a microwave until I was in college. It was two people reading most of the time. But then I’d go see my mother in London, where there’d be members of a band and these kooky dinners, and just a way more bohemian energy. It gave me a taste for adventure and an appreciation that not everybody lives the same way.”
Graham’s mother died not long ago, at age 61. “I have a lot of sadness about her passing,” the actress says tenderly. “My mom was very idealistic but not really able to fulfill her dreams. I always hoped for her that something would give. I also knew from a young age that I would have to do things differently and figure out, almost in a technical way, how I get to the place I want to go.”
It was from her father that she first learned about the power of comedy. “My dad took me, at probably an inappropriately young age, to the Woody Allen movie Sleeper,” she says. “He laughed out loud at one of the first lines, and that was a defining moment. I thought, something happened there that just made my dad laugh. The concept was so interesting to me.”