Lauren Graham was the last person to step on the red carpet at the New York premiere of "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life." But when she did, it was worth the wait.
Her mere presence set an electric current rippling through the awaiting crowd, not unlike a pre-football game rendition of The Wave.
If Graham was aware of the effect she had on the room, she didn't show it. Willing to share her natural smile and ready laugh with anyone who'd offer theirs in return, Graham discussed the integral roles family and creativity play in her new film with A Plus.
In Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, based on James Patterson's book of the same name, Graham plays Jules Khatchadorian — a single mother to a creative yet mischievous teenage son, Rafe (Griffin Gluck), and a daughter, Georgia (Alexa Nisenson), who's 9 going on 29.
She has not only played similar single parent roles on television as Lorelai Gilmore in Gilmore Girls and Sarah Braverman in Parenthood, but was raised by one herself. Graham's father, Larry, raised her alone until he married her stepmother, Karen, and had more children. "Well, it was just me and my dad for a while," she told A Plus. "And then I sort of had it all."
"The experience taught me there is no one way to parent or to be a family."
"I never come to these parts with a preconception of what the mom is 'supposed' to be like," Graham continued. "I just tried to think about what it would be like to parent a kid so creative and so smart, but keeps getting in trouble."
Her character, Jules, certainly has her hands full. After being expelled from two middle schools, Rafe is forced to attend a new one ruled by rules — and a standardized test-happy principal. Armed with raw artistic talent, a wild imagination, and the perfect partner in crime, Leo (Thomas Barbusca), he embarks on a mission to break all the school's rules. Jules encourages her son to express himself through his drawings, but she, like any mother of a teenager, has little to no idea what's actually going on in her son's head.
As for her own family, Graham couldn't ask for a better one. "I'm just so grateful that I have such a wonderful partner, and I get to be part of his kid's life," she said. "All I wish for is a little more time to spend with them."
And while her fictional family may have more than their fair share of problems, Graham was drawn to the film's overall "upbeat message” promoting familial love and creative expression.
"Rafe, the [main] character, is ultimately rewarded for having such a good imagination," she said. "He just has to find a different way to navigate the rules and structure of school."
During the film's production, Graham couldn't help but reflect on her own struggle with creative expression during middle school. "One particularly awkward year for me was eighth grade, when I moved to a new school, and they didn't have any kind of theater, which is what I had been doing up until then," she said.
"I didn't know what to do. Like, I didn't play a sport," she added with a laugh. "It really changed my social life, and it was hard to fit in. I didn't have my activity so there's nothing more important than having some sort of creative outlet, especially when you're younger."
Drawing on her own experience, Graham not only understood the struggle Rafe experiences in the film, but the way only a parent can help their child overcome such obstacles. No matter what difficulties Rafe encounters, he knows he can always depend on his mom and sister. They're far from perfect, but they're exactly what each other needs to survive the worst — and best — years of their lives.