It's the eve of Parenthood's last season — a fact Monica Potter, who plays Kristina Braverman, still hasn't quite accepted. The cast and crew were just about a week into shooting the final episodes of the NBC drama when I stopped by the set. Monica took a seat next to me on the couch in the Bravermans' house after wrapping a scene, settling in as comfortably as she might in her own living room. "I have hope that we'll come back next year," the actor says. "And I'm the only ding-dong walking around saying that. I just . . . I don't know."
It's not hard to understand why Monica feels a little reluctant to let go. After more than four years as Kristina, she's seen her character through her teen daughter's coming out, a run for mayor, and even breast cancer; that storyline eerily corresponded to Monica's own irregular mammogram in 2012. Read on for more from Monica on what fans can expect from the final chapter of the series, which premieres this Thursday night, and to watch a video from our interview.
PS: You just recently came back to work. Does it feel different this time around?
MP: It feels bittersweet. I see Peter [Krause] look away and reminisce. We're talking a lot about the first season and Max. Max Burkholder just got his license. I was talking to his mom, Kelly, and he's driving to Santa Monica. I said, 'He can't drive! He's too little! He can't drive.' Peter said, 'This is insane that he's driving. He started this when he was a little kid.' It's sad.
PS: Your show creator, Jason Katims, said that in this final season, he has this "go big or go home" mentality. What did he mean by that?
MP: I'm not allowed to say too much, but I do know that when I read the scripts I was crying. A lot. But again, I think it's bittersweet. I don't know what's gonna happen at the end. I know a few things that are happening right now, but he is pulling out all the stops. There are so many surprises in store, which makes me a little sad, because then I feel like it's so final.
PS: What would feel like a satisfying ending to you?
MP: A satisfying ending would be . . . to sort of leave it open-ended, because I don't want there to be an end! Then we can do a movie, where we can go to Hawaii [laughs]. I feel like a satisfying ending would probably be the way that Jason is doing things so far. He has this genius knack for making things feel like they're not all tied up and constructed and constricted. I think that if he sort of leaves it the way that he's been, we're good to go.
PS: And that's how life is too. It's not all clean and pretty.
MP: It sure ain't. It's not, and he knows how to do that, to write for that. So it's good.
PS: It's hard to imagine what else this family can go through at this point.
MP: I know! If you think about it, we've been through everything. It was sort of weird, too, because this week we were filming Zeek's birthday party, and now Adam and Kristina have the parties at their house, and it happens in real life too. When your parents get older and buy a little condo or something, you sort of take over the duties of matriarch and patriarch, having these huge parties and taking care of the family. So I notice the shift in Adam and Kristina doing that this year. We're gonna have a lot on our shoulders.
PS: The show's dealt with so many issues, from Kristina's breast cancer to Haddie coming out . . .
MP: I know! And I'm so excited. I was, like, clapping. I don't know why I'm so excited about this, that I have a gay child. I think it's wonderful! And I'm really excited about that too, because I get to see Sarah Ramos a lot more. I miss her terribly, and she is just such a huge part of the show. I'm so glad she's back for this season, because we get to wrap it up with her. We started with her.
PS: So it sounds like we will see much more of that relationship play out this season.
MP: I think so, yeah. I'm not sure how much, because of real-life stuff or whatever, but I think that it will be there.
PS: What are your plans post-Parenthood? I know you said — maybe a little bit jokingly — that you were planning to go to college, since your sons are college age.
MP: I don't think that I'll go to college. I did, however, sign up for a tap-dancing class at Valley College on Saturdays. I bought some shoes at Payless, and I'm going. My teacher is 86 years old, from England. So I'll see how that goes. But at least I'm going to a college for a class. To me, it counts! I have a little business that I'm working on that I've been doing for years, and that's keeping me so busy. It's like having another baby. And then I'll probably do another show of some sort.
PS: It's really rare as an actor to live with a character for this many years. Are there things you discovered about yourself, or even about motherhood, through playing Kristina?
MP: Yeah, definitely. I also think that we sort of, in some ways, become one. I feel like she always looks at the bright side of things, which she has taught me. Sometimes I can be a little more edgy and not as Kristina-esque. And she also taught me how to have — I can't say the word, can I? — balls?
PS: Yeah, you can say balls. Say it as many times as you want!
MP: Balls! There. Kristina gave me balls. Just through the whole breast cancer storyline, she taught me a lot. To seize the day, as corny as that sounds. But so many women have come up to me and said, "That character taught me something." Just take chances, because there are no guarantees. Really just wake up every morning excited and look at the positive. I've done so many things in this last year that I never thought I would do. I owe a lot of that to Kristina in some weird way.
PS: As a working mom, I want to get your take on the "having it all" debate. Do you think it's ridiculous that we're still having this conversation?
MP: I think that every person does what they can. I remember comparing myself with other moms who were my peers. There was always this weird underlying competition. For me, there isn't any longer. I don't do that. Like, "Oh, where is your son going to school? What's his GPA?" You just have this horrible anxiety sometimes. In the past 10 years, [I taught] my kids to just do good enough right now, for yourself. Be proud of who you are, strive to be your best every day, don't stress out about small things. I'm telling myself that as well. Enjoy every single moment. It's corny and cliché, but it's the truth. So much of the time, we're so fixed on what [other people] are doing, and I'm guilty of it myself. "This person's career is better than mine." In whose eyes? I feel like if all of us just slowed down a little bit, took a step back, and realized how lucky we are, it wouldn't be this sort of rat race.
PS: Speaking of your other creative outlets, let's talk about Monica Potter Home. Tell me a little about the company and what sparked it for you.
MP: My father was an inventor, my mom was a homemaker. She would clean the malls to fund my father's inventions, and I was the token boy of the family. I'm one of four girls; my dad and I were best buddies. I would go to work with him every day at his fishing-lure company and make things with him. I've always had this passion to do things for the community, to make really quality home goods that people can enjoy — that people take pride in making — and to make every house a home no matter what your income level is. I have a little lab in my dining room in LA, and I bought the house back that I grew up in, where it all started. It's coming full circle.
PS: You really got started doing this because you like to do your own DIYs, so what's been one of your biggest projects over the years?
MP: I think it's upcoming. It's probably the house I bought back. I grew up in a house in Cleveland on the lake. My parents sold it in 1987, and the guy that bought it from us unfortunately passed away in the house. I was told that our house went on the market, and I was having vivid dreams about the house. I wanted to go back. My father, in some weird way, was in the dream and saying, "You've got to come back and take his house and reclaim it." I bought it sight unseen. It was abandoned. My sisters and I went in. We opened the door, and it was just a flood of emotions. Everything that we had left to Jim— his name was Jim, the man who bought the house from us— was still there. Our dining room table, our chairs, kitchen table, my mom and dad's bedspread was there, and the curtains were the same. The dishwasher that my dad bought my mom . . . I get a little teary when I think about. I will be flying quite a bit this year to rehab it, because it's a mess. But it's a good mess. I found my yo-yo under the kitchen table.
PS: Wow. Now, we're in this house, which you guys will be saying goodbye to once the season is over. It feels very homey on this set; is there something that you're going to take with you?
MP: There was a can of pineapple in the pantry that has been here since season one, and whenever Peter and I are having a tough day . . . Well, someone had written bad words on the back of the can. Peter will just pick it up and point at it, in the middle of the scene. That's all I want, that can of pineapple. But he said he's taking it, so we'll see.
PS: Maybe you can share custody of the pineapple can.
MP: We'll send it back and forth in a little cradle or something. It's hard because there are so many things around here I see that I would love to snag. But I'm not a klepto, and then I would feel guilty. I'd have to bring it back, and it'd be a different set. We actually walked over to the set where we had the house last year of Camille and Zeek's. Craig [T. Nelson] and I went on a little field trip, did a little recon. He and I just looked at each other and he's like, "This sucks. Our house is not here." There's a whole other show with judge's chambers and a courthouse. It was bizarre. It's hard for all of us, 'cause we're all such a sensitive group. It's gonna be a sad day, it really will. We're all getting nostalgic so early because we know that it's a wrap-up this year. It'll be a tearjerker, but I said we could do a spinoff.
PS: Do you have a concept?
MP: I do. Actually, our DP David Miller brought this up. He said, "What if you and Peter were married in real life on another show, and you had just played Kristina and Adam, and in the other show, now you can't get jobs. You're like, 'Boy, do you remember playing Adam and Kristina?'" Max could come in and out as Max, just being regular Max, now grown up. We have many, many thoughts about spinoffs. It would be sort of like the Married . . . With Children version where we're drinking beer and smoking. Not like the typical Adam and Kristina.
PS: It's like the bad Bravermans.
MP: Totally. Bad Bravermans. I don't know if people would tune in. I think they like the Adam and Kristina. I know I don't want another guy to play my husband on TV, ever.