Tears and Parenthood go together like Adam and Kristina, and this season has brought the waterworks like never before thanks to Kristina's breast cancer storyline. But it's been equally emotional watching Julia refuse to acknowledge the regret she feels over adopting a pre-teen since she wants him to have a better life, and desperately wants to be capable of being the kind of person who provides that.
Victor's future in the Graham-Braverman household comes to a head in tonight's can't miss episode as Julia and Joel are confronted by the adoption deadline. In advance of One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, ETonline caught up with Erika Christensen to talk about this major moment, the double-edged sword facing Julia and why she believes Parenthood has connected with fans on such a profound level.
ETonline: What have you thought about Parenthood season four?
Erika Christensen: It's interesting because there's this kind of transcendence of letting go and feeling that we don't have to manipulate every aspect of something that we seem to have just touched on with this show. It's so cool the way the writers let us do that and if audience members can't quite put their finger on it, that's what they’re feeling. These characters feel alive because we're giving them that kind of respect as actors.
ETonline: What was your reaction to first finding out Joel and Julia would be adopting a child, but it wasn't going to be a baby like they planned/hoped?
Christensen: I thought it was really interesting because I knew from the get-go it wasn't going to be easy. I mean, that's what makes for great television [laughs]. But I was afraid, in a good way, that the audience would some kind of betrayal by the universe, or the writers, in giving them such a tough time. But the cool thing is, throughout this whole show, I feel lucky to have played a character who is so self-assured despite always being put in situations she doesn't know how to handle. That dichotomy is so interesting and they really took it to the nth degree this season by taking Julia out of her element at the firm and putting her full-on in, what's kind of like, an arranged marriage, with this kid. Her heart is in the right place, but it's so rough getting to know each other and try to earn each other's trust.
ETonline: It's brought out some unexpected reactions from Julia. What have you enjoyed about how Julia has responded to Victor?
Christensen: I think it's great that she doesn't know what to do. On one hand, there's the real need to help someone and wanting to make sure she's capable of helping someone. But realizing she might not be capable of helping him has been the worst kind of heartbreak. Then, it's also about how much she can give without getting anything in return. It's going back and forth between both of those kinds of heartbreak. And I've been amazed at how much of that pain she's allowed Victor to see. She's not withholding from him how hard this is on her, which I think is really interesting because it's so embarrassing to see someone act out in front of their child. I've found the moments where she doesn't put up a front for Victor really interesting.
ETonline: I've also been surprised at how much empathy I've felt for Sydney throughout this.
Christensen: Yeah, absolutely. When it first started to ramp up and Syd was talking back, it was Joel who recognized her behavior wasn't unfounded. And that was so true. Ultimately, Julia feels like, I have a child to whom I am completely responsible for and now I have another child who I'd like to be responsible for, and am trying to be there for him, but if it compromises the first relationship, it can't happen. It's so rough.
ETonline: Tonight's episode involves the deadline for Julia and Joel to cement or back out of the adoption -- how much of their decision involves Sydney's well-being?
Christensen: It's addressed, but I don't want to ruin too much about the episode. If you look at last week's episode, when the cops came, Sydney was really shaken up by that and it became very clear to Julia where her allegiances lied in that moment.
ETonline: Julia is quite often her own worst critic and never allows herself to make mistakes. If she were to give Victor back, would she ever forgive herself?
Christensen: No. I don't think she could. She thinks that her standards are achievable, or should be striven for, so there's really no excuse not to succeed. Just getting flustered, which happens to her all the time, is unacceptable. It's not only a matter of Sydney's reaction, or her reaction to being so treated so badly by someone at home, but, ultimately, it's about how good of a home are we for this boy if he's not happy here? How much does it benefit him to be somewhere he doesn't want to be?
ETonline: By beautifully dealing with topics that are always in the cultural consciousness, Parenthood is notorious for reducing its audience to sobbing pools of emotion. What's it like to be on a show that has such a profound impact on its audience?
Christensen: It's everything. And I find myself happy crying and sad crying just as much when I watch the show. It's just this juggernaut of emotion. It's so crazy. It means a lot to me to be part of a show that has people coming up to me and saying "Watching Parenthood is out marriage therapy." I actually get that a lot. I also get "This is the only show we can agree on! He has his shows and I have my shows, but we watch Parenthood together." Last season as Julia was going through the horribly drawn out adoption process, a friend of mine was going through a similar thing, so it was interesting to have someone so close to me be so strongly affected by the show. It's really pretty amazing.
Parenthood airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC and check out Erika on Across the Board, Joy Braynt's Reserve Channel show.