Flashback – Interview: Lauren Graham on “Bad Santa”

From the archives, the "Gilmore Girls" star talks about playing Santa's little helper opposite Billy Bob Thornton, changing up her career path and why she wants to make movies...

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Originally published in The Daily Texan on November 26, 2003.

Lauren Graham can't seem to keep her clothes on, at least on film.

"It's so ridiculous, because I'm the last person who wants to do that stuff," said Graham, despite a breathy, come-hither hello. Although the actress is used to wearing turtlenecks, she has stripped down to a bra and panties in her two biggest film roles to date, one being "Sweet November" opposite Keanu Reeves, and the other, "Bad Santa," a surefire cult classic that opens nationwide today.

"You can have Yasmine Bleeth do it."

LaurenGrahamGilmoreGirlsThen again, Bleeth doesn't have Graham's shrewd comic timing (depending on your evaluation of “Baywatch”). Or Graham’s sweetness, perhaps a byproduct of being the daughter of the chief counsel for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association. (Graham chuckles, “If you call my dad’s office, ‘The Candy Man’ [from ‘Willy Wonka’] is the hold music, but it’s not as much fun as it sounds.”)

In fact, when it comes to comediennes, the actress is in a class by herself, though this wasn’t always the case. During the mid-‘90s, Graham was one of a group of actresses including Debra Messing (“Ned and Stacey”), Jenna Elfman (“Dharma and Greg”) and Tea Leoni (“The Naked Truth”) who competed to be the heiress to the throne left by Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore on television. While those other ladies found different levels of success in different mediums, Graham bounced around from one sitcom to another, making guest appearances on “Newsradio” and “Seinfeld” in between starring vehicles that never quite worked.

“I think it’s as scary trying to be an actor and getting no work [as it] is getting a little bit of work and then having a dry spell,” Graham said. “Because then you think ‘Oh no, I had my shot, and I didn’t realize that was my shot. And now it’s passed and it’ll never happen again.”

But it did – twice. Shortly after accepting a role on “M.Y.O.B.,” a nontraditional sitcom from “The Opposite of Sex” director Don Roos, Graham was offered the role of Lorelai Gilmore on the WB’s “Gilmore Girls.” Incidentally, both shows revolved around Graham playing a single mother dealing with raising a teenage daughter. However, only “Gilmore Girls” would survive, a show that plays to Graham’s wisecracking sensibilities as well as her underlying sultry side.

“I’ve gotten to watch her become a star, which was really fun because this was a girl who was extraordinarily talented when she walked into my life,” said Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator and executive producer of “Gilmore Girls.” “If anything, it’s been watching her try to deal with people turning around and going, ‘Wait a minute, you’re the everything girl.’”

Although it’s been four years since “Gilmore Girls” began, Graham has been searching for the everything filmmaker.

LaurenGrahamBadSanta“I just try and look at who has an interesting point of view, even if it isn’t necessarily my point of view,” said Graham. “It’s just who’s going to make a movie that’s entertaining and original and isn’t necessarily the way that I think.”

One of those people was Terry Zwigoff, the auteur behind “Ghost World” who cast Graham in “Bad Santa” as a bartender with a Santa fetish. It’s notable that “Santa” is the first film Graham has taken since establishing herself on “Gilmore Girls.” And in spite of playing a pivotal character in the film, she isn’t a lead.

“It’s taken a little more time, but I’ll take a certain part, just not to repeat myself,” said Graham, who isn’t concerned about being typecast. “You don’t see Will Ferrell walking around being like, ‘Why won’t anybody let me do ‘Hamlet’? And he could if he wanted, I’m sure…being funny is always going to be a part of who that actor is, but it’s just about finding a good part. So I think you have to continue working with what your strengths are and I’m happy to be in that world.”

Graham may be happy, but she isn’t content to rest on her laurels. In addition to pursuing more film roles, she has also started her own production company at the WB Network.

“It’s been really interesting to me to think about what kind of stories are not on TV that I would like to see, and I have some say in it. That would feel like something I worked for.”

But like everything else, it doesn’t look like work when Lauren Graham does it.

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