Gilmore Girls: Amy Sherman-Palladino and Lauren Graham look back 15 years later
Fifteen years ago today, Lorelai Gilmore was rushing into her favorite haunt, Luke’s Diner, for her morning coffee fix.
“Please Luke. Please, please, please,” Lorelai says, holding her personal coffee cup close to her chest.
Owner Luke Danes is wise to her “problem,” and she’s had five cups already – but who could resist that Lorelai Gilmore charm?
It was Oct. 5, 2000 when Gilmore Girls introduced us to Lorelai and her shy, brilliant daughter, Rory – arguably two of the most caffeinated people in the world – along with the eccentric residents of their hometown of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Looking back, actress Lauren Graham recalls how she was just about as addicted to coffee as her character.
“I drink a lot of coffee. I would get to this place on-set [of Gilmore Girls] in real life where if I had anymore, I was going to keel over dead,” Lauren Graham tells EW. “So sometimes there was water in there.”
To celebrate the show’s 15th anniversary, EW caught up with Graham and creator Amy Sherman-Palladino to reflect on the pilot that started it all and look ahead to what Rory and Lorelai’s relationship would be like now.
FINDING THE PERFECT LORELAI
When it came to her audition, Graham couldn’t quite put her finger on which scenes she read — it was most likely the opening scene, and possibly the scene in which she confronts Rory about wanting to ditch Chilton for Dean (Jared Padalecki), the new boy in town — but right from the start, Graham felt a “connection” to the role. However she was still attached to another project.
AMY SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Our casting director kept saying, “It’s Lauren Graham, it’s Lauren Graham, it’s Lauren Graham.” He kept putting her picture in front of me and I kept saying, “She’s signed to another show, so I don’t want to fall in love with somebody I can’t have because that’s cruel and I will be going through that for the rest of my life so why do I have to do that now when I’m in charge?” So, it was a little bit like don’t keep bringing up Lauren Graham when we can’t have her. And finally when it was clear that we weren’t finding that magical Lorelai to walk in and be everything that we needed, it was like, “Fine, bring Lauren in. Let me fall in love with somebody I can’t have.” And I got lucky because the other show got canceled, and then I got her.
LAUREN GRAHAM: [Reading through the script] felt like two things: One, the idea of someone else doing it made me really mad [Laughs]. It’s just a spark, you read something and you’re like, “Whoa.” I started playing the character from like page one and sometimes it’s not that seamless. I felt like I knew what the writer meant, you know? It was a connection. I just really connected to the material. Also it didn’t sound like anything else. I was kind of at a weird in-between time when I was reading comedies and dramas and this was a tone that I thought was just really unusual and that attracted me to [Gilmore Girls].
PICKING THE THEME SONG
Each week, Gilmore Girls kicked off with “Where You Lead,” and it’s the “greatest theme song in the entire world,” according to Sherman-Palladino.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: We were just looking for something that felt classic and you just don’t get more classic than Carole King – there’s just nobody better. It was a song about connection and it was a song about where you lead, I’ll follow – that we’ll always be together. And what’s interesting is I just wanted to use the song off of Tapestry, and we thought there’s no way that was ever going to happen, because how would that happen? We’re a tiny show, we don’t really exist and Carole King is a legend. And we got to her and what was weird is she said, “I don’t do that song anymore in concert because it’s about a woman following a man and I feel that the times are different and I don’t want to be singing about a woman following a man. But I love the idea of a mother and a daughter and if I could re-record it with my daughter and turn this song that I wrote into something more relevant, I would love to do that.”
It was her idea to do it with her daughter [Louise Goffin] which was, you know, our immense good fortune. And if we were on for a hundred years we would never change that theme song. How could you change that theme song? Good Lord. It’s the greatest theme song in the entire world.
CREATING THE FAMILY
Alexis Bledel, who played Rory, and Graham shared an on-set bond, but beyond that, Gilmore Girls explored the extended Gilmore family to create what Sherman-Palladino calls an “intergenerational freak-show.”
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: I think [with] that the combination of that real pro with the girl who kind of just is herself, there was something kind of magical about that and I think that that was partially what made it so special… So, Lauren and Alexis spent a lot of long hours yapping to each other, walking in circles around Stars Hollow. They developed this interesting camaraderie that was, you know, you can’t cast that, it just shows up and then it happens.
GRAHAM: It was great. I’m more loud and vulnerable, [Alexis] is a little – especially in the beginning – shier. So, that was a very natural fit. I’ve told this story before but the only place where she was so new was technically, and that show – as fun and breezy and light as it is – is technically really challenging because Amy liked to get a master, flawless single take….The camera’s following us and we’d have to curve around at a certain point or pause at a certain point. We have a very delineated path and if, you know, she’d sort of stray, we’d pull her back. We have a lot of scenes in those early episodes where I’m literally gluing her to my side. I don’t know if she noticed or cared, it kind of worked and it served to help make us look like this connected duo because I literally wouldn’t let go of her.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: And we got lucky with Ed [Herrmann] and Kelly [Bishop] because, I don’t think anybody anticipated – I know the studio and the network never really anticipated – how important the parents were going to be. Kelly Bishop was the other Gilmore girl. Gilmore Girls is an intergenerational freak-show. Without all the generations represented, it would not have been complete. I think having those amazing parents/grandparents there, which allowed us to really go places that we wouldn’t have been able to go to with lesser folks, it made our show different because there kind of was no place we could not go.
MEMORIES FROM THE PILOT
Filming for the pilot took place in Canada, and those early days provided some chilly memories (those poor little ballerinas!) as the cast was just getting to know each other.
GRAHAM: Shooting a pilot is always so strange. You’re trying to establish a history with people you’ve only just met and we were staying at a bleak hotel in a suburb. I remember standing outside the gates of the house that we then replicated to be Richard and Emily’s house. There’s a scene before we go in, where I’m dreading having to ask them for money, and I just really remember the feeling of that house and the idea that she hadn’t been home, and what a big deal that was to get back into this world – and literally the house had gates around it. I just remember thinking it helped me imagine what that part of her life had been.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: I have a lot of [favorite] moments [from the pilot]. Lauren had a couple of moments that some of them weren’t even in dialogue, they were just physical things that she did with Kelly. The way she dropped the coffee cup into the trash can by the door, which was like a throwaway and a nothing thing, would amaze me. I love when Ed Herrmann handed Rory the newspaper while they were waiting while the two women are arguing. There were small things that just stick in my brain at that time as the moments we’ve gotta keep capturing in Gilmore Girls. Those sort of weird, almost off-story moments.
GRAHAM: I remember there’s a scene in Miss Patty’s where there’s a bunch of little ballerinas. There were all of these little ballerinas, freezing, freezing cold. I have photos from it, actually. I remember from the minute I met Melissa [McCarthy], she made me laugh and we just had a great time. So, pretending she was my best friend was very easy. I remember our producer, no matter how early I’d get up to run on the treadmill, he was always there on treadmill before me. [Laughs] You know, just odd things like that; it was very cold.
BUILDING STARS HOLLOW
The name for the town of Stars Hollow, according to Sherman-Palladino, was inspired by Mia Farrow’s home in Connecticut called Frog Hollow. Sherman-Palladino’s husband, producer and writer Dan Palladino, had once taken a meeting with the actress at an inn nearby. The inn, which Sherman-Palladino and her husband later stayed at during a weekend vacation, became the prototype for the Independence Inn, where Lorelai worked prior to establishing her own inn, the Dragonfly. Additionally, it was during this visit that some of the backstory of Gilmore Girls was formed. And when it came to filling the fictional town with its quirky inhabitants, Sherman-Palladino had a certain level of “freedom.”
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: We had a lot of freedom on Gilmore when it came to casting. When we knew that we had to populate a town, when knew that we needed really strong, go-to people in town to do stories, we had to find them. Anytime somebody came on in a guest part and scored as Sean Gunn did, it felt like, “Oh we gotta bring that guy back.” And then we quickly realized, we need Sean Gunn all of the time because he’s a go-to townsperson, like we have to own him, he can’t go anywhere else, ever, we’ll die. So, it became us luckily being able to call the studio and go “We’ve gotta make Sean Gunn a regular, you can’t let him go!” And they’re like, “Oh, okay.” The same thing with Liza [Weil]; Liza was in my brain from auditioning for Rory. And I’m like that girl is not right for Rory but she’s unbelievably brilliant – she’s like a master comedienne so I just wrote her in. We had a lot of flexibility like that. Any time somebody was great, we were lucky enough to be able to just sort of snap them up and nobody questioned us. You know, I got to cast Milo [Ventimiglia] and Matt Czuchry without really having a part for them yet. I just knew there was something about them that I really loved, so I went to the network and we said, “We love these boys and we want to own them for the rest of their lives, if we can” and they went, “Oh, okay.” It was a different, very freeing time for us. And Michael Winters, who plays Taylor, he became very important to us. Then we had sort of our mad-cap band of traveling players and once you have those go-to people, you’re always in good shape – there’s always somebody to bail your ass out.
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The Gilmores had a habit of talking very fast – but the lines weren’t as hard to memorize and deliver as fans might think.
GRAHAM: The thing about good writing is it has a music to it. This kind of writing just seldom exists in television where if you don’t say one of the words, it’s just off, it’s going to sound wrong. It wasn’t difficult, mostly, to memorize. It’s like learning a song and then you know what the lyrics are because that’s the place in the music where they happen. I was like a dorky child who recited poetry for company, so this was like the perfect job for me. I went straight from “Casey at the Bat” to long, Lorelai Gilmore monologues. It’s part of that lucky connection; I love a sort of — very written scene. But sometimes you just get tired or you just forget. It’s a lot. But I would say, it was everybody working together. We did a lot of takes, but it could [be because] a background artist didn’t cross at the right time or the steadicam guy tripped. We used to take bets on how many takes something was going to require, and never before or since have I done as many takes of anything. But it’s just part of the job.
LORELAI’S OFFBEAT STYLE
The early 2000s were the height of rhinestone fashion.
GRAHAM: First of all, I thought this is person with a great sense of humor and she’s very colorful. She would be somebody who gets a kick out of an outfit that’s a little bit funny and expressive, and funny T-shirts and stuff. What I do remember, which I thought was so tough and cool was: There was a fashion in the early 2000s of the rhinestone-studded bandana worn as like, whatever you call that style across the forehead and I could not get enough of it. And I was wearing it in real life too so I can’t even blame it on the character. I would go to the gym with my rhinestone-studded bandana – I wish I could take that back. [Laughs]
LOOKING BACK ON THE LEGACY
After seven seasons on the air, Gilmore Girls took its final bow back in 2007. But with re-runs and the entire series available to stream on Netflix, the nostalgic appreciation for this beloved series is as strong as ever.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: Anytime a show works, it’s the stars and the moon have aligned. It’s alchemy; it’s that magic that you can’t ever put your finger on. It was just a lucky, twist of fate. I knew when I saw the dining room scene, the dinner sequence at the end. I knew the show would work but just because the show works doesn’t mean it gets picked up or anyone gives a s— what you’re saying. But I knew when I saw that sequence: There’s a show. That dynamic – that is a show.
GRAHAM: I feel extremely proud. We were opposite Friends for years. Kelly Bishop one time said, “I think this is going to be one of those shows that people bring back and watch over and over.” I had no perspective on it at the time. It was when I did a musical on Broadway [years later], that suddenly these young girls were coming to see the show because of Gilmore Girls and I thought, “Oh, right. Re-runs.” Because all we were doing then was re-runs. It wasn’t when it was really on, it was years later. When we started this show, my phone didn’t have a camera. [Laughs] But at the time we’re living in now, you never know.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO: I don’t think you can go into any creative endeavor saying, “This is going to be iconic!” I think I just had a clear idea of the way I wanted [Lorelai and Rory] to be with each other and luckily, there wasn’t any blowback [from the network]. It was actually difficult to find writers who understood that we weren’t breaking mother-daughter stories – we were breaking best friend stories and adjusting them to be mother-daughter.
GRAHAM: What’s nice about it is when I look at the TV landscape today, there’s incredible talent and just incredible stuff out there. But there aren’t a whole lot of shows I would call “comforting.” You’ve got your serial killers and your zombies and the homeland is being threatened all the time. I’ve been on the TV selling side and their question is, “What’s noisy about this idea?” And there’s nothing noisy about anything in this show. I watched the pilot [recently] for research for something I was writing and I said to Amy, “Nothing happens in the first 20 minutes.” Like I give someone their keys at the Inn, and I’m tasting Sookie’s soufflé. I get some coffee, and then I get some more coffee. It’s really, really charming but it’s until like 20 minutes in that she [Rory] gets into school and things kick in. People would laugh at you today. But I think there’s something so fresh in a weird way about that because it’s still kind of rare. It’s not just nostalgic but it can speak to a new audience because it’s so different than what’s on.
WHAT WOULD THE GILMORE GIRLS BE UP TO RIGHT NOW
GRAHAM: What’s fun to imagine is the way in which now, at this age, these two are even more of best friends. There’s less need for, of course, Rory in her late-20s or whatever she would be, to be parented. So, I could imagine the vacations, the adventures, the fun they have talking about their relationships in a more adult way. You could imagine some really funny scenes between the three of us with Kelly. Because on the other hand where Rory needs less parenting, I don’t think Emily has changed one bit in terms of her bossiness in regards to Lorelai. I’m sure she’s full of opinions about whatever the life choices have been. Another thing I always loved is Lorelai’s like an entrepreneur; she’s a small business owner. I would imagine her ability and success in that arena has only increased.
Want more Gilmore Girls? Watch the reunion panel from the ATX Television Festival!