From day one, Parenthood has been TV's go-to-source for cathartic crying. But after three seasons of happy and sad tears, NBC's family drama reached an emotional zenith in season four when Kristina Braverman was diagnosed with breast cancer. What followed was the single best portrayal of the physical, mental, spiritual and communal toll cancer takes on the afflicted and their kin.
And while much of the credit must go to Parenthood's bravely cliche-allergic writers, the true success of the arc lies in the ovation-worthy, ugly-cry-extracting, raw-nerve performance Monica Potter delivered in every single episode. Those are three reasons (on a innumerable list) why she is poised to follow her Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama with a matching Emmy!
I caught up with the uncontested best crier on television to talk about performance pressure, the welcomed burden of bringing to life a(nother) real-world disease and decompressing from delivering the best work of her career ... so far.
ETonline: Congratulations on winning The Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. What has it been like to have all this awards attention focused on you?
Monica Potter: Overwhelming. I'm so grateful for any attention I'm getting or the show is getting because [Parenthood] is such a group effort. I know that sounds like a politically correct thing to say, but it's true. This has all been so exciting and almost spiritual. For all the times you doubt yourself as a person or an actor, it's nice to sit back and say, "Wow, this is the coolest sh*t ever." Honestly, the feeling of being loved like this is quite overwhelming. I feel like I did when I was 23 and I moved out to LA. As you get older, you start to become a little cynical and I feel like I have a whole new fresh set of eyes in looking at the business. I feel excited, happy and young again.
ETonline: Obviously critical and peer praise is wonderful, but what's your experience with the fans been like since I'm sure many viewers have been though something similar to Kristina?
Potter: That's a very good observation, because you can play a role the critics love but the fans hate. So for me to get the support and the love and response we did from critics, but to also be at Trader Joe's and have women come up to me and cry and hug me is on another level. That makes you take a step back because there are genuine emotions at stake. People were truly on a journey with her. This story opened up week by week like a flower. It was just a magical season, and I'm so happy I got to do it.
ETonline: Do you have to ignore the awareness of that responsibility in order to be truthful to the performance?
Potter: I think that there's an inherent responsibility actors feel when portraying something that actually exists in the world. It's arguably something that not all actors would agree on because this is a craft, but for me, it's the emotion of what a character is going through that makes the performance what it is. We have a responsibility to bring those emotions to light. I'm not saying you need to become a spokesperson for every cause your character goes through, but it's important to absolutely do the best job we can in portraying a disease, and all the crap that goes with it. Especially given the fact I was essentially playing Jason Katim's [Parenthood executive producer] wife Kathy, who is amazing and has become a good friend. She went through this, so I really wanted to do right by them.
ETonline: You previously told me about the coincidental way this storyline came to life; do you believe in fate?
Potter: Absolutely. 100 percent. If I didn't, I would be curled up in a ball somewhere. I mean, Jason broke the story for Kristina having breast cancer the same day I had a bit of a scare and suggested it to him as a result. I just started crying when he told me that. It was crazy.
ETonline: What was harder for you: Getting into this storyline as Kristina or getting out of this storyline as Monica?
Potter: Getting out. For sure. I don't tend to have meetings or read other scripts while I'm in the middle of one project because it makes me feel like I'm cheating on the work at hand, but I was seriously in a vacuum this season. I also felt a lot of guilt when the season ended. First because I could leave all of that on set while so many women cannot and secondly because I didn't shave my head for the role. I couldn't figure out how to explain why I didn't without sounding like a vain assh*le. The truth is, I didn't feel like I earned that badge. I didn't want to be thought of this "brave actor" who shaved her head when I didn't earn that. I'm not saying anything about other actors who do things like that, but for me, it wasn't right. I also think I went a little crazy by the end of the season. I was a little unstable ... which is not that uncommon for actresses [laughs]. I was like The Incredible Hulk or something -- I went through so much in that period, got it all out and I was able to eventually get back to normal.
ETonline: Parenthood has long been one of, if not the best, drama on NBC. But it seemed like the network finally realized that by this year, picking the show up for a full 22 episode fifth season. Why do you think it seemed to click now?
Potter: I think that it couldn't be ignored any longer. The way our show is structured and the way our storylines evolved this season, everyone had a powerful year. I think it woke NBC up a little bit and, while they've always been behind the show, we're seeing the support more so now. As a show, we've always felt like The Little Engine That Could, and this year, we finally got over the hill.
ETonline: Kristina was in remission at the end of season four, what's important to you with her journey in season five?
Potter: That we see remnants of it next year. All of the stuff we went through as a family affected everyone's storyline, so I hope we're not done dealing with that yet. But I don't think season five will be as heavy, particularly for Kristina. It will have a refreshing tone. I don't know exactly what's coming, but she won't sweat the small stuff as much. Hopefully she'll try things she hasn't tried before. I'm excited by the potential of finding out some great new nuances with her.
For more Monica, watch my SAG Foundation Q&A with the actress below!
Parenthood returns Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC this fall.