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MRS. POTTER’S LULLABY Every Day Is Mother’s Day for “Parenthood”’s Monica Potter


Contrary to popular opinion, the happiest place on earth is not Disneyland, rather it’s a couple of soundstages deep in the back lot of Universal Studios where the NBC series “Parenthood” is shooting its second season of shows. Despite the sweltering heat outside, inside on the set it’s very cool, literally and figuratively, as I’m magically transported to the Berkeley, California kitchen of the house where “The Bravermans” live. This is where I find Monica Potter, who portrays Kristina Braverman, wife of Adam (Peter Krause) and mother to Haddie (Sarah Ramos) and Max (Max Burkholder). Cleveland-born Potter is best known to TV viewers for her stint as Lori Colson on ABC’s “Boston Legal.” More recently she portrayed Chicago advertising executive Sarah Krajicek-Hunter on TNT’s 2009 series, “Trust Me.” Potter’s feature credits include Con Air (playing the wife of Nicolas Cage’s character) and Patch Adams, starring opposite Robin Williams. Potter is also the muse for the Counting Crows song used as the title of this article. According to urban legend, Crows frontman Adam Duritz saw Potter in Patch Adams, promptly developed a huge crush, went home, and wrote the song about her. In 1998, she also played the love interest in the Steve Prefontaine biopic, Without Limits. In 2001, Potter co-starred with Freddie Prinze Jr. in Head Over Heels, and with Morgan Freeman in the thriller Along Came a Spider based on the James Patterson best-seller. In 2004, she played the role of Alison Gordon in the first Saw film, and added to her horror film credits in 2009 with a role in the remake of Wes Craven’s classic shocker, Last House on the Left. “Parenthood,” an updated version of director Ron Howard's 1989 film, is a 2010 reworking of the themes explored in the pre-cell phone, pre-Internet, pre-iPod world of the late eighties. Potter, just one of a talented ensemble cast, shines in her role (played by Mary Steenburgen in the film) and brings wit, warmth, and heart to the character. There’s a lot of improvisation going on here as the cast is encouraged to “make it their own,” and Potter is not just lovely to look at, she’s also funny, very funny as it turns out. In fact, several of the people on set mention this to me when they find out that I’m there to interview her for Venice Magazine. “She’s so funny, she’s really funny!” is exclaimed over and over again, along with glowing tributes to her kindness and charm, from crew members who clearly adore her. On any set it’s easy to find out who the favorites are, just ask hair and makeup, they see all, know all, and always have the inside track. However, before I can ask anything about anyone, the hair and makeup people approach me and say, “We love her, she’s the greatest. She’s the nicest, most down-to-earth person you could ever hope to know and a dream to work with.” Monica Potter is one popular woman, and after spending a few hours with her, it’s clear to see why. She’s genuine and sincerely nice, and yeah, she’s funny too. On the outside she has the icy blonde beauty of Grace Kelly, but inside she’s Lucille Ball, a very gifted and clever comedienne.


Have you seen the film that the show is based on?

Monica Potter.

I have not seen the film. I still haven’t and I’m kind of glad that I didn’t, because I didn’t want to base my performance on what I saw in the movie. But I love Ron Howard and think anything he does is great. It’s funny because when I first read the script I was a little trepidatious, because I didn’t know if I wanted to play such a stereotypical mom character, and I thought I may have to say “no” to this, but then I talked to Jason (producer Jason Katims) and he said, “No, we can do whatever we want with her and really work on it to make it your own.” So then I thought I could explore different traits of her personality and that would be fun and I went and met with the director, Tommy Schlamme, and I read and tested and then I was hired.

You and Peter Krause have great chemistry onscreen. Did you know him before you signed to do the show?

No, not at all. I knew who he was, of course, but I didn’t know anything about him. I love him, he’s a great actor and a great person. He’s sweet, he’s funny, he’s charming, he’s serious, he’s helpful and focused, he’s just great. We actually finish each other’s sentences, something that husbands and wives do and it is because we have such a deep bond as friends. If I had a brother I’d want him to be just like Peter.

What is your favorite kind of TV show?

Sit-coms, all of them, especially the ones from the ’70s. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up watching them or maybe it’s the way I watched them. When I was a kid my dad would turn down the volume and we’d just watch the actions of some of the comedic actors, and I’m not sure if it’s just nostalgia for me or if I just love those shows, but I know all the “Happy Days” and all the “Laverne and Shirley” episodes by heart. My favorite show by far though is “Three’s Company” and I think John Ritter was a comedic genius. Those shows are just amazing to me, because of how hard the actors worked. When I watch Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams do their thing, I mean that is tough.

The crew says you are very funny. Would you like to do a sit-com?

I don’t know, honestly I don’t. I think that I do love comedy and making people laugh, and I try not to take myself too seriously at work. We like to have fun here, but I like the balance of creating a character where she’s not just funny, or just smart or together, or maybe she’s not together, maybe there are some hidden things about her we don’t know. That’s what I like about my character, Kristina, because we don’t know anything really about her back story or what her last name was before she married into the Braverman family, or where she was from. Although I always try to throw in the Cleveland aspect, since that’s where I’m from.

Since you are a wife and mother, playing a wife and mother, do you borrow aspects of your own life for your character?

Yes, of course, sometimes it’s hard not to. I’ll say to Jason that this or that happened and he’ll say, “That’s great, use that.” There are certain things I do use, but in a way, Kristina is more, well, not flighty, but there’s something off about her. It’s just how I see her and feel about her. I just feel that there’s something off and I’m not sure where it comes from. [laughs] Maybe there’s something really off about me, I don’t know, but I’m super organized as a mom, I have to be or I can’t focus, I get distracted too easily. I have charts and color codes for each of my kids, and a little of that is in Kristina too, the props department has given her some of my habits.

It’s been pointed out to me that you are eating in all your scenes. Is that some kind of conscious choice or is your character just always hungry?

Well, I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to have parties at my house and eat and drink. I love food and wine so much. I have to watch it though because I eat a lot. Last season on hiatus I gained some weight and it shouldn’t matter, but it does. There’s this thing in Hollywood that you have to be a size two and I’m not. I’m an eight and that’s a good, normal, healthy size. I do eat everything and I enjoy it. And on our set we’re all foodies here; we’re always talking about restaurants and where to get yogurt and ice cream. There is not a competition to be thin on this set like there are on other shows. When I get stressed out I tend to lose a few pounds but there is no pressure from the show to do so. It’s funny because after I had my daughter, Molly (in 2005), you know there’s this thing in Hollywood where actresses and models have a kid and they’re back to a size two in a week. I wanted to take time off to bond and nurse and I gained a lot of weight with each of my children. With Molly I gained fifty pounds and didn’t lose it for a year or more. I told my agents that I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to put myself out there and miss that time with my child.

On the show, you play the mother of a child who has Asperger’s syndrome. Did you do anything special to prepare for that?

I’ve seen parents who have kids on the autism spectrum, a lot of them are friends of mine, people I’m close with, and my sister works with autistic adults. I wanted to show Kristina’s flaws, how sometimes she doesn’t have a lot of patience for Max, but at the same time she’s a fighter for him too. Mostly because that’s how I am in my own kid’s lives; you’re not always doing the right things, you’re screwing up a lot of the time but you’re doing your best. She is a good mother, sometimes a little pushy and sometimes very emotional. Sometimes it’s hell for her, like where does she really fit in to this family? I try to keep it real.

You seem to come from the “keep it real” school of acting. How and where did you train?

I started when I was twelve in Cleveland. I started modeling for extra money; I’d take the bus downtown after school and go on auditions and modeling calls. It was something that I wanted to do, but I also saw it as a way out. We grew up pretty poor and I had this idea that I could save the family. Whenever I would model I never felt really comfortable; I wanted to play a character and not try on clothes and hope they fit. I had a lot of anxiety around that and I did it for fifteen years and was always anxious. My sister was taking lessons at the Cleveland Playhouse and I would go and watch. I did a play in 8th grade and made my costume and wig and I liked that. I started doing commercials and that led to acting. It’s funny because I used to hear actors talk about their craft and their method and the schools they went to, where they’d studied, and I’d think, that’s great, but I didn’t. I got married at eighteen and had a baby at nineteen and moved from Cleveland to Chicago and worked there, mostly as a model. I did “Star Search” and I lost. [laughs] I lost big time; it was the spokesmodel thing and it was awful.

So then, what was your big break?

I did a commercial with Luc Besson. I’d had a lot of little big breaks along the way, but that commercial was a big break. He cast me in a French commercial for gum but we went to Hawaii to shoot it and I told him that I could boogie board, but when I saw the waves there I said, “Forget it.”

How did you break into the film side of the business?

Well, my first movie was with Richard Grieco; it was called Heaven or Vegas. It’s funny because I just saw him the other day walking his dog and he looks great. He is one of the nicest guys I have ever worked with, just the sweetest and he’s so talented. You just want people like that to succeed. It’s funny because people say things about actors all the time, like, “Whatever happened to...?” They say that about me, whatever happened to her, she was supposed to be the next so and so. It was like I’d quit or something. The thing is, for me, it’s about family first. I had to stop acting here and move back to Cleveland when I got divorced from my first husband. It’s about my life, I didn’t have a publicist, and I wasn’t trying to step on anyone to get to the top. I would be the girl who goes on an audition and says to the casting director, “You know who would be good for this?” and I’d recommend anotheractress. I don’t know if it’s because I was raised with sisters and I pushed for them to do great things or if I just honestly see how certain people are good for certain things. But people thought I was insane when I did that.

I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about “the casting couch” from beautiful actresses. Did anyone ever try that with you?

Yes, there were a few times. I was just, “Wait, are you kidding? I mean, really dude, seriously?” I would turn it into a joke, because, well, I had to. And I didn’t play the game and I didn’t get the part. There are sleazy people out there that try to take advantage. I think, well, I hope it’s changing, I hope so for the younger actresses, but I don’t know if it is. Now I’d just laugh in someone’s face if they tried that with me.

Have you ever turned down a job and wished that you hadn’t?

Some things, a few, but they were B movies or a part that I just couldn’t get myself into doing. I don’t do a lot of movies, but the ones that I have done, I really love and relish. I loved doing Con Air, that was such a happy time, and I loved Without Limits, also. I don’t do a lot of TV shows either, just this one, “Trust Me,” and “Boston Legal.” [laughs] Now that show [“Boston Legal”] was something, you either do well there or you just hit the road. The writing was awesome and intense and I wouldn’t say it was a training ground, because you had to know what the hell you were doing in there, but it was just different. On “Parenthood,” we improvise a lot, which is great. They tell us to trust ourselves and have fun and I love it.

Which is a better work situation for you, films or television?

I love doing films; I love to travel and all that goes with it. If my schedule permits, I’d love to do a movie, but right now I don’t think I can. I don’t have enough time off to do that. It’s funny because I’ve always liked making films more than doing TV, but this show changed everything. It feels like we’re on a movie set because of where we are shooting, here at Universal Studios. I love working on this lot. When you do a movie, for that short period of time you feel like you’re part of a family and that’s what this is now, on our set we’re a family. But with a film, well, it ends in two or three months and this show goes almost all year long. So it’s a lot better and it’s more comfortable — still challenging, but comfortable.

Then would you say you are in a very comfortable place in your career?

Very comfortable, more so than I have ever been. I would always hear actresses say, “My 30s were way better than my 20s and my 40s were better than my 30s,” and I was always thinking, “Yeah, right, you’re just saying that because you are getting old.” [laughs] But, it’s 100% the truth. I wouldn’t want to be in my 20s again. I mean, the anxiety I used to have... I still get anxious about things but I’m finally comfortable with who I am and what I’m doing. I’m just living my life. 􀀀

Season 2 of “Parenthood” premieres on Tuesday, September 14th at 10pm on NBC.

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