How Lauren Graham Made It Through Middle School

by Rachel Simon

Considering she's the actor behind one of the coolest moms ever on TV, it's hard to imagine that Lauren Graham ever went through an awkward stage. Yet as it turns out, even the future Lorelai Gilmore wasn't immune from having a few cringeworthy years. "Right as I got glasses, braces, and a cast from falling off a horse, we moved," Graham, the star of the new film Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life , tells me with a laugh. "I wasn’t at my best to make a first impression."

Like it is for the pre-teen characters in her new film, middle school was "a struggle" for her, she says; with no theater program at her new school as a way to help her make friends and not "as many hair products then" as they have now, she remembers, laughing, those years proved rough for Graham. One of the ways she coped was by emulating her literary heroines when it came to making friendships and embracing her dramatic side — although even that didn't end up working out so well for her, as she hilariously recounts.

"I don’t mean to sound like Pollyanna, but I’m really not a revenge person," Graham says. "But when I was younger — and this was more the signs of an actor showing through — I was really into the Harriet the Spy books, and in the books, she keeps a slam book, which is her secret thoughts of her friends. And I so didn’t have critical feelings about people, so I just literally copied into my slam book what she said. I basically replicated her book and her character, and then somebody found it and thought I was writing it about them."

Hers is not exactly the smoothest pre-teen survival technique, but at least Graham can laugh while recalling the embarrassing moment today. Her ability to tune into her younger self proved a helpful tool when it came to starring in Middle School, the film adaptation of James Patterson's bestselling YA novel. In the movie, out Oct. 7, Graham plays Jules, the mom of Rafe (Griffin Gluck), a pre-teen struggling to adjust to his new school due to his penchant for art and hatred of his principal. A single mother raising a kid who doesn't quite fit in? Not exactly new territory for Graham, who's known for playing similar characters on Gilmore Girls and Parenthood . Yet Jules' identity is all her own, Graham says.

"There's a similarity in wanting the best for the kids and having a little bit of struggle in figuring out what that is," she says of how Jules relates to Lorelai and Sarah Braverman. But what makes Jules stand out, Graham adds, is the character's frustration in connecting with her son. "She knows her son is creative and she doesn’t want to limit that, but on the other hand, she wants him to fit in and even conform if he has to,"the star explains. "They’re at odds."

For her part, Graham gets what it's like to be an artsy kid wanting to make it in the industry, but not feeling like it's an option. "I had that dream even then of doing something artistic and being an actor, and it just seemed completely crazy and impossible," she recalls of her pre-teen self. "[There was] nobody in the theater I knew, no way to get to there — I didn’t know what the process would possibly be, and you would not have picked me out as striking in appearance... I just really relate to that person and how far away what I wanted to do seemed."

These days, though, due to her on-screen success, that struggle is all behind her — well, for the most part. "I still feel like that person in some ways," Graham says. Yet in fans' eyes, at least, the star's iconic roles and ever-growing career are all the proof they need to see that she's come a long, long way from her middle school self.

Image: CBS Films