One of the most anticipated events for television fans happened this past weekend as 19 members of the cast and crew of Gilmore Girls reunited on stage at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, TX. Actress Kelly Bishop, who played Lorelei’s mother Emily Gilmore on the WB series from Amy Sherman-Palladino, sat down with The TV Junkies while in Austin to discuss her experience on the show.
Bishop also co-starred on Sherman-Palladino’s cancelled-too-soon ballet dramedy Bunheads which saw its own reunion panel at ATX. Bishop, a stage veteran, spoke with us about reliving Gilmore Girls all these years later and her favourite moments from the show’s seven seasons on air, and how Bunheads was different than Gilmore Girls.
The TV Junkies: Emily Gilmore at first glance was really harsh, brutally honest and disapproving. How did you make it come through that underneath she was actually very loving?
Kelly Bishop: I think when you play a character you have to decide who they are and do a lot of thinking about their background, their personality and inner voice. I have played a lot of harsh women, difficult women, tough women and I don’t shrink from that–a lot of actresses do. They try to apologize in their performances for what their character is doing. To me you can’t do that. If you’re too shy or gentle to play it, don’t play it. Let somebody else do it.
To justify her behaviour I finally put it into words in my own head, and I said ‘Emily is a strangely insecure woman.’ She lives in a world that’s very structured, it’s very much status quo, it certainly is about how you dress and who you know and what country club you belong to. That’s part of the reason she holds on so desperately to the rules and the way things should be and why Lorelei is so difficult for her because that’s what gives Emily safety. She’s safe in that structured environment.
I actually recall doing a scene, I’m not sure if it was at home or the spa, and I sat and talked to her about her relationship with Rory and my relationship to her, and how I didn’t understand being friends with my daughter. I lamented, ‘that’s not the way I was raised.’ You can always find vulnerability in people. Everybody’s got their vulnerable spot. It all depends on the layers we put in front of ourselves to face the world.
TTVJ: That had to be such an exhausting way for Emily to live and that exasperation came through on screen.
KB: When things went right for her she was so on top of things–she had her flowers and her different maids every week. So yeah, when it went right and she got the benefit of something it was great, but I think the rest of the time she was just a nervous wreck.
TTVJ: You and Lauren [Graham who played Lorelei] always had such great chemistry together. Was that something that was there right from the start?
KB: From THE beginning–the first day of the pilot of the first scene, first day, ‘Hello nice to meet you. Hello nice to meet you.’ We read the scene back and forth and then did the blocking, and I thought we just hit each other’s wavelength like spot on. It was so easy. It was wonderful.
TTVJ: Because you can’t teach that if it’s not there.
KB: You can’t and very often it doesn’t happen with another actor, but you’re actors and you work through it. It’s not that you hate each other, it’s just that you don’t get each other, but you figure out how to work. Somehow our rhythm and our repartee, it all just mixes and then we went on to become set buddies. I saw her socially out in California as well, but I didn’t live out there so I didn’t spend a lot of off time. We had dinner together and I’d go over to her house, but our most profound conversations took place while we were waiting around set for a scene change. That’s when we’d get down to the nitty gritty. I love her. I’m just mad for her.
TTVJ: Did you have a favourite Emily moment?
KB: My favourite Emily moment … I keep coming back to this, was the episode where I found out that Richard’s mother, I found the letter and she wanted him to marry someone else in Florida. I got drunk and am smoking and drinking. I call it my Tennessee Williams moment, and I loved it because it was so un-Emily.
TTVJ: So if there’s a reunion movie or limited series would you be in?
KB: Wherever Amy wants me I will be. Years ago when Sex and the City did its first movie, I was emailing Amy saying, ‘We’ve got to do a movie. We’ve got to do a movie of Gilmore Girls.’ Now I hear mumbling, I don’t know if it’s because it’s got a second life with Netflix.
TTVJ: You would think the fact that 19 of you are here would say something.
KB: I always loved working on the Warner’s lot and I loved the job, but I always felt that Warner Bros. didn’t quite understand what they had in Gilmore Girls. They didn’t promote us. If you happened to turn on that station they would promote us, but who was watching a teenage network? I kept thinking if they would just give us a little push we could be a lot bigger, and then they wouldn’t have to worry so much about their numbers. Now they seem to be getting it, 15 years later. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, everybody still seems to like that show.’
TTVJ: It has to be hard for you to be here without Edward [Herrmann who passed away in December]. How great was it for you to play Emily to his Richard?
KB: It was just wonderful and we got each other very well on another front because he lived in Connecticut and I lived in New Jersey and we are both really stage actors. We came from the theatre, so we brought that discipline with us. In Hollywood most of them aren’t trained that way, they aren’t stage actors. So getting to the set when they are called is some sort of hardship that I don’t understand. I remember sitting across from Ed, we had been called to set, we are at opposite ends of the table as we so often were. We go back over our lines and are just sitting there. No one is coming. No one’s coming and I look down the table and Ed says, ‘Are we assholes or what? They call us to set and we come. Are we supposed to make phone calls to our agents now or something when they call us to set?’ We got along quite well and maintained our friendship after the show.
TTVJ: Switching gears to Bunheads, you played such an iconic mother/daughter relationship with Lauren so what made the relationship with Sutton [Foster] different?
KB: In the beginning it was a bit of the same dynamic in that I didn’t get her. I didn’t understand why she was in my life and then of course I was really unhappy when I realized that she suddenly owned everything. So it started out as a mother/daughter thing but then it was just evolving into a friendship I think. It was really, really growing into a friendship.
TTVJ: Which like you said Emily never had that friendship with Lorelei?
KB: No, because first of all Lorelei was still a daughter. No matter how you looked at it and Michelle in Bunheads was not. She was her own true woman and we could have a different kind of fight.
TTVJ: If Bunheads would’ve went on past one season was there any talk about where it would’ve went or what would’ve happened?
KB: I never heard anything. I was never privy, same thing on Gilmore Girls, I was never privy to future plans. It’s part of how I live my life sometimes, I just like things to come at me and deal with them as they come. I don’t have to know what’s happening. I don’t know where she would’ve gone. I think there would’ve been romances. I don’t really know though.
TTVJ: Amy is one of the wittiest and best showrunners out there. What sets her apart?
KB: It’s her straight out genius and a voice like no other. What amazes me, besides her being very quick with a quip and very funny, is her wealth of knowledge and things she’s picked up on. Like current things, like current musicians or current events but then a character will come out with a line that refers to a movie in the 30s. She’s all over the place. I don’t think much escapes her. She sees everything and she absorbs so much. She’s got an incredible brain.
Check out more of our coverage from ATX Festival here.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.