Now in its third season, NBC’s family drama Parenthood—overseen by showrunner Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights)—adroitly balances adult issues with teenage angst giving the younger cast members some of its most poignant moments.
Witness the downward spiral of rebellious Amber, played with steely grit by Mae Whitman, 23, or the heartbreak of 20-year-old Sarah Ramos’ headstrong Haddie upon the breakup of her relationship with her older boyfriend, or the blush of first love experienced by Amber’s sensitive brother, Drew (Miles Heizer, 17). While their parents are concerned with new babies and new businesses, the teens of Parenthood are making tentative first steps into the world of adulthood and, more often than not, just like their parents, stumbling along the way.
Just outside the stage where Parenthood, shoots, Whitman and her co-stars are sprawled on a couch in her trailer. Wrapped in a blanket, Whitman draws on her arm, talking about her recent visit to Nashville; Ramos does a crossword puzzle, while Heizer chats with his cousin, who is visiting the set. It’s difficult at times to remember that these three aren’t actually related—they have the relaxed posture and deft shorthand of cousins who have grown up together.
It’s all very comfy. That is, until the subject of haircuts comes up. Ramos’ new haircut, in particular, has been the subject of much Internet debate, with TV Guide even going so far as to list her on its recent list of The Worst Hair of Fall TV. (Ouch.) Like family, however, they’re quick to jump to one another’s defense. What follows is an edited transcript of what Whitman, Ramos, and Heizer had to say about Taylor Swift, life lessons, and the hairstyle that launched a thousand tweets.
How similar are you to your characters on the show?
Ramos: When Haddie and Alex [Michael B. Jordan] broke up, I was watching and thinking, I’m not like this character very much at all. I used to think I was more similar, but we’re pretty different.
Whitman: There are parts of Amber that are similar to me, the little things that she does, like knitting and crossword puzzles, and her clothes choices. This season, I try to make her be a little bit more settled and not so wild and out there and rebellious. After the accident [at the end of Season 2] to try to mellow out a bit seemed like a good choice.
Heizer: I try to throw things in there that are like me in real life. Small things, such as Taylor Swift or watching Millionaire Matchmaker, or Amy Grant. Those are all personal to myself, but I feel like they fit the character. But his behavior is very different.
Because there is such a sprawling cast, it seems many of you don’t get a chance to interact. Do you think the writers are trying to throw together different characters this year?
Whitman: I think they’re definitely trying to do that this season. It would be fun for me for Amber to have more scenes with Crosby, I think, because Dax [Shepard] is the shit and because their characters are similar. It seems natural to me that they’d be drawn to hanging out; they’re both kind of wacky and have a hard time getting on their feet sometimes.
Ramos: I work with Peter [Krause] and Monica [Potter] more than I work with anybody else and I’ve learned so much from them. They’ve given me advice when I didn’t know what to do. And Craig, man—
Whitman: When Craig gives advice, it’s hard to deal with. Sarah and I have had times with Craig where we end up, all three of us, just crying.
Ramos: Crying, at lunch.
Whitman: Openly. Me, and Craig, and Sarah just weeping in each other’s arms that way. Everybody on the cast brings some really different and wonderful things to our lives. I learn stuff from everybody here. I’m really close with Lauren and we’re good friends and we talk about things all the time. That’s been an invaluable gift to have somebody like her around to look up to.
Is there a sense of camaraderie on the set?
Whitman: It’s best friends camp every day, all day. We’re all family. Truly, I’ve met some of my best friends here.
Ramos: We brought in a Polaroid and took a bunch of portraits of everybody.
Whitman: Sarah and Miles are really amazing artists.
Ramos: If you go into the makeup trailer, they’re all in there.
Whitman: There are also some Taylor Swift-inspired artworks. We’re trying to get her on the show. We want her in the Luncheonette.
Ramos: We’re her biggest fans, so if we could just get some awareness from her camp… but try to make us seem cool.
Whitman: And funny. Funny and cool.
Heizer: And not like we’ve been singing her lyrics while we’ve been talking.
What would be the craziest thing the writers could do to your characters?
Heizer: I would become a pop star.
Ramos: Miles loves Rebecca Black. It’s true.
Heizer: There was a time. I was a big fan. We pitched her for [the character of] Amy briefly, but it fell through.
Ramos: I was thinking Haddie would be a firefighter or an abstract artist, someone who makes sculptures out of found art.
Heizer: That’s so weird.
Whitman: My immediate thing is an incestuous relationship. I should start dating Crosby and then have to have a talk with Jabbar [Tyree Brown] and be like, “I’m not trying to replace your mom,” that kind of stuff.
The writers seem to like to punish Amber.
Whitman: I like that you said that.
Ramos: Does she get punished more than anybody else?
Whitman: I think so. She definitely does have a rough time of it. I want them to punish Haddie more by putting her in scenes with me.
Ramos: Great. Could we both be found artists?
When Parenthood returned for Season 3, many of you came back with different haircuts and viewers didn’t appear to be too happy.
Ramos: I forgot that I didn’t have bangs on Parenthood and I came back and was like, “Oh, business as usual,” and I was just wearing my hair the way that I wore it in real life and then no one was happy about it. It took us a while to find something that worked. I mean, for everybody else. I’m glad to have this documented of something that, as a consensus, was not good.
Heizer: On Twitter.
Whitman: On the record, I think Sarah’s hair is adorable.
Heizer: I also want to say it.
Ramos: Aw, guys. It would be weird if everybody had picture-perfect magazine hair. That’s not how life works.
Heizer: Every time I watch the show, I’m always really upset by the way my hair looks. It’s just getting shorter and shorter.
Whitman: Miles, if you got blond tips, we’d have the same hair.
Ramos: I have the same hair as Max. We’ve gotten much attention for it. It’s fun that people are talking about Parenthood for whatever reason.
The writers have done a good job keeping Amber around, but now Haddie is applying to colleges. They’re both at an age where they could leave.
Ramos: I’ve gotten some hints in my dialogue recently.
Whitman: Don’t spoil it!
Ramos: It’s just a line that was like, “Alex is the one who told me to go for it and apply to Yale and blah, blah.” And I was like, what? Is that going to end up happening? There are some pretty good schools in the Berkeley area.
My prediction is that Amber and Haddie will end up going to Berkeley together.
Whitman: I feel like Sarah and I never have too much going on and the things we do have are unpleasant.
Amber did sleep with Haddie’s boyfriend.
Whitman: Somebody always throws that in my face!