The season finale of NBC’s “Parenthood” brings more than a little relief for Monica Potter.
The 41-year-old actress has seen her character, Kristina Braverman, through an emotionally grueling season, complete with everything from a newborn baby and a breast cancer diagnosis to hair loss and navigating the puberty talk tight-rope with a son who has Asperger’s syndrome.
“It has been quite a ride,” Potter said recently by phone. “I’m glad we’re almost done with it because it’s been some of the most draining and challenging work I’ve ever done.... Ah! I feel guilty event saying that, you know? It’s hard to explain. I feel a little bit overwhelmed, but I feel guilty for feeling that way because I don’t actually have breast cancer, I don’t actually have no hair, I don’t actually know what all this feels like, and so many women do.”
It was a storyline with a bit of kismet behind it. Potter went in for her first mammogram last April. After a small scare resulted in follow-ups, Potter phoned “Parenthood” showrunner Jason Katims and suggested exploring something similar with Kristina. Coincidentally, Katims and the show’s writers were already on that path (Katims--whose own wife, Kathy, was treated for breast cancer in 2010--had decided it was a storyline he wanted to pursue.)
“It was all very, very weird,” she said.
The cancer-battle storyline has fans of the drama wishing the Emmys would take notice of Potter’s performance, which has viewers reaching for the nearest box of tissue week after week.
"I feel like Monica Potter has done just such an amazing job," Katims told Show Tracker during his own Q+A about the show. "She has always on the show, but particularly with the material this year, I think she’s found so many layers to it all."
With the season wrapping Tuesday night, Potter reflected on the difficult season.
Your storyline this season has been quite emotionally charged — moreso than it's already been. What method did you want to take in approaching this new challenge Kristina was faced with?I actually didn’t do any research on breast cancer it because I didn’t want to know too much. I wanted to sort of learn as she was. My husband is actually a cancer surgeon, which is kind of ironic. And it was really hard not to ask him questions. He deals mostly with lung cancer, which is a different arena, but he deals with the same kind of treatments. So, yeah, I didn’t want to know too much because I wanted to make sure I was going through it with her. It made it a little more human, a little more real that way. I think. I hope.
It's sort of autobiographical to what Jason Katim's wife went through. But did you feel like maybe it would be too much for the show? Did you think this added weight on Kristina would turn off viewers at all?
I didn't. I think because it’s real. It’s so real. That’s life. I think that the writers … don’t like me very much. No, no. I think that these are real situations. And people can relate to it in some way — maybe not having a kid with Asperger's and having breast cancer, but they can relate to the challenges that pile up. It’s real life. And I feel grateful to portray that.
We've seen female TV characters battle the disease before — probably the one most women viewers call to mind is Samantha in "Sex and the City," which was able to add a bit of humor to the conversation. What had you wanted to get across through with your portrayal?
Realness. In "Keep on Rowing," which was directed by Dax Shepard, was one of my favorites because we shed light on her having fun and her going out with her sister-in-laws and her rebeling against the disease and sticking her middle finger at it saying, “I’m going to go out, and I’m going to have fun, and I’m going to have some drinks and just be Kristina again." I thought it was so powerful. It went from one end of the spectrum to the other. I feel like we have had a little bit of light moments with it at times, but I also feel like the writers have kept it very grounded. And I like that.
And it's not always about the illness.
Right. She's a mom. She's a wife. There are other things that consume her thoughts. Like the Max going through puberty episode. Peter and I talked about that. It was such a nice break. And I think in the episode afterward, with Max and what he’s dealing with at school — it was a nice break. I like forgot that Kristina had cancer. You remember that she's not defined by it. That's she's not sulking in it. The finale, though, is a little bit different. I won't ruin it, though.
I had gone into it not really worrying that Kristina could ever die from it. It just wasn't an option in my mind. But when the previews to the Christmas episode had aired, it was the first time I ever considered that maybe she wouldn't beat it.
That's sort of what we wanted. I mean, when you start out, you sort of feel like, "OK, this sucks, but I'll be the one who makes it through." You never think it can happen to you. With my friends who have gone through it, and they were in remission and came back — that to me was so poignant because this is happening and it's real. It’s not just a tooth ache. It lingers, and it can always take a turn for the better or for the worse. The Christmas episode wasn’t meant to make people scared or to draw big ratings. It was just about bringing it back to what really happens with this disease. And it was important to show that. We don’t know what happens to Kristina. And if we come back next season, we still don’t know.
Kristina is a character who loves to be in control. In a weird way, has it been nice to play her in such a vulnerable state, where she's not in control?
I love it. And I think that that is going to sort of bring out something that we haven’t seen before with her, especially if we come back next season. She’s not going to sweat the small stuff as much. It actually taught me a lot as well as a mom, as a person, to take it easy, take a break, take a step back because we don’t have control. We have control over very little and I think that this is really good for her character. She’s always the one that makes the lists, has the calendar all set and now she’s like throwing her hands up in the air. And that’s OK.