By Sandra Gonzalez
June 27, 2013 at 09:24 PM EDT
Justin Lubin/NBC
  • TV Show

Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.

Monica Potter brought TV viewers to tears every week this season on Parenthood as super-mom Kristina Braverman battled breast cancer that nearly took her life.

We’ve said it once, twice and 10 times over: Potter gave a performance that’s worth its weight in Emmy gold. So it’s only fitting that we hopped on the phone with her as part of our continued coverage leading up to nominations to dissect all those gut-wrenching scenes.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were really the center of the storm this season. And I know you had your own personal breast cancer scare and Jason Katims’ wife is a survivor. What surprised you about how the whole story line was approached?

POTTER: You know, I feel like we didn’t talk about it too much. I don’t think I talked to Kathy — maybe just once about it. We just came in every day and tackled the scenes and let it happen naturally. That, to me, was such a learning experience because I don’t normally do that with the show — or anything I do. I’m always on it too much. I’m trying to figure out what’s going to happen next and analyzing things, and this year, I didn’t do that at all. We just sort of let things happen as we went along. And for me, it was the best way to approach it.

What was one of the most difficult steps along this journey?

I would say … I had a lot of guilt that I was able to come home and leave it at the door. Then I would go to Trader Joe’s or to Ralph’s or whatever and I would have women approach me and say they were battling it and, you know, I would cry with them and hug them. That was difficult at first, and then it became really uplifting. It felt very much like we were doing something as a show to help people, and they were looking at the episodes wanting to see more. [The hardest thing] was facing what was happening out there to women and to families that are battling this disease and just how hard it is for them. It was more about them than it was about me, but meeting these women and sometimes men and sometimes kids who have lost their moms, really trying to understand the disease and how it affects people. So I’m glad we’re done with that part of the show.

“I’m exhausted!”

Well, it’s a good exhaustion, though, because how can I say I’m really exhausted when I’m acting? I was a little tired at the end, but it was more mental for me. I felt more mentally unstable than I did physically.

Breast cancer stories aren’t a new thing to TV, but do you think you got this very public reaction to the story line because she’s sort of an every-mom character?

I felt like so many people identified with her because she is the quintessential mom on TV right now in this day and age. And I felt like everybody identified with her because of all the different emotions she was going through. She was still wanting to take care of her family and make sure they were OK, and you saw that struggle unfold. She still wanted to be sexy for her husband and still wanted to feel like a woman and still wanted to go out with the girls. She still wanted all these things to be normal, but clearly they weren’t because of the disease. It was that sort of internal struggle with herself that I thought was interesting. She was battling with herself and then putting on a front for everyone else — even her mom. That’s one of the episodes I remember thinking, “Gosh, you don’t know too much about her parents, but her mom’s not there.” She didn’t come to visit, and that affected her. So I wrote a little backstory about who her mom was and what her mom went through and her childhood. So you do a lot of that background work and it brings more things to light within Kristina’s own struggle. But I feel like there were so many things going on with her this season, it was just fun to explore.

I’m glad you brought up that episode with her mom. I was dehydrated throughout the entire season from crying, but that one hit hard.

I know. Exactly. I was like, “Are you kidding me right now? She’s not going to come because somebody has a kidney infection or a bladder infection?” I don’t know if that was in the episode, but it was something like that. I haven’t seen all of them yet; I’m still catching up. I just thought, “This is so interesting. Her mom’s not even coming to visit her.”

We always knew she was very close to Adam’s family, but I think that story line added a lot of context to the relationship between Kristina and his family. It became clear why they have this incredibly close relationship.

Yeah, I remember thinking that too. And this is sort of part of what I wrote for her in my head. This is part of the reason she is so attached to them. I’m glad that came across because she doesn’t really have a family. There are mentions of her dad in previous episodes and how her dad was nothing like Adam. So you know you just sort of build on that sort of stuff as an actress so you can give them a rich backstory and understand why they are the way they are.

I find it interesting how you say you haven’t watched all the episodes. I understand how that might be hard to do, but have you watched that episode where Kristina makes a video for her kids?

Yes, I did see that episode. I saw the episode a few weeks ago.

I had to ask you about that hospital scene. How do you even prepare for filming that video?

I made sure we added in some more specifics because I wanted each kid to feel like there was a moment that Kristina remembered in their lives. So we worked on that a little bit, and I added a couple of things from the previous seasons that I thought would bring up memories for everybody that watched the show. But as far as preparing, I didn’t. It was Halloween the night before, and we were out trick-or-treating and it was in the back of my mind, “Oh, God. I have to do this at the crack of dawn tomorrow.” It was first up, and I was like, “Oh, crap.” And normally I’d be in a tizzy, but it is what it is. I just had to let it go. And the first two takes, I was like, “I can’t breathe. I can’t do this.” Because I love those kids so much in real life and my own kids. So I think a lot of moms could relate to it and a lot of dads and a lot of kids. That was one of my favorite, favorite, favorite scenes.

Did that video actually play when Peter Krause was sitting by the hospital bed?

[Laughs] Yes it was. And I remember I was lying in bed next to him and I was like, ‘This is the longest tape ever.’ Because I was listening to it, and as I was listening to it, hopefully you can’t see this, but tears were rolling down my face. I was trying not to cry. So thankfully the camera was nowhere near me. We were all kind of crying in that scene.

No, I didn’t see it at all.

The grips and everyone — we were all crying. It was interesting and cathartic.

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