Q&A: Parenthood’s Monica Potter & Executive Producer Jason Katims

Monica on the breast cancer storyline: "I just want it to feel real for me and hopefully that will come through in the performance"

monica-potter-parenthoodNow in its fourth season, Parenthood is one of those show’s that never stay long on my Tivo. The ensemble of actors work perfectly together and the show itself just keeps getting better and better.

One of the main storylines this season has Monica Potter’s character Kristina battling breast cancer. Potter and the series’ creator Jason Katims (who based the this storyline on his wife) recently participated in a conference call where they talked about what Potter’s character is going through, how this hit close to home for Katims and what kind of research Potter did.

Parenthood airs at 10pm on Tuesdays on NBC

Jason, after dealing with breast cancer in your own life, what did you think about all the options that are now available to women and how you could translate that into the show?

Jason Katims: Well, you know, I felt in turn of approaching the storyline, and you know, first there was the question of, “Whether or not it was something that, you know, we wanted to take on on the show.”

And I struggled with that decision because I, you know, I thought it was difficult subject matter and subject matter that could get, you know, could be challenging to both as – from the point of view of storytelling, and sometimes too to watch it. And – but I felt that as I, you know, I had a similar things when I – when we – in – when I was working on the pilot of the show with, you know, including the Asperger storyline, which is also very personal to me.

And it was something ultimately I decided to do and felt it was incredibly, you know, gratifying and in a lot of ways cathartic to do that. And so that sort of gave me courage to approach this storyline and I just felt it was something that was something that I, you know, kind of went through with my life and my family.

And you know, I just felt it was the kind of storyline that Parenthood, the show, would be able to tell well. That, you know, we’re lucky to have – I’m lucky to have, you know, this incredible cast and actors like Monica and Peter and all the people, you know, and the rest of that cast, to tell these stories. And I felt we can do it in way that was, you know, kind of honest.

And one of the things that I loved about, you know, my first conversation with Monica about it, was you know, she said, “Look, I really want to – I want to find the humor in the situation too, we don’t want to get to a place that’s – that – where I’m crying all the time, and that’s all I’m doing.”

And I was so happy to hear that was her take on, because you know, to me this, you know, the whole thing with going through something like this, that I’ve found, was that you know, you go through it, but as you’re going through it life goes on. You have your children, getting your children to school and doing all the stuff of life, you know, still continues.

And you know, I thought that was really something that would be, you know, that was important to me in sort of the way that we sort of told this story. That it was sort of have the ring of truth to it.

Monica, can you talk about how you handled the news when you learned of the new direction?

Monica Potter: I was on-board, I actually emailed Jason over the summer, I went for my first mammogram in April. And I thought, I just had mentioned it to my husband, “This would be a great storyline.”

And knowing that it touched Jason personally, I just reached out and said, “What if we tried to do a storyline on Kristina?” And he emailed me right away and said, “I got the chills,” because they had been working on that storyline already, which was kind of cool.

So I thought, “You know, I’d didn’t real know what it would entail.” But I’m glad, I mean I was scared, but I was also – I’ve got a lot of friends that have gone through it. And, you know, knowing how they write and as long as like Jason said, “We could keep some (unintelligible) in the storyline, that would great.” And so I was on-board as soon as he said that they were doing it.

Monica, we were wondering what kind of research did you do when it came time to start showing the story?

Monica Potter: Kind of what I did for the Asperger storyline, I talked to my sons. But as far as doing research and going online, I did nothing. Only because I wanted to experience it as a person doing it for the first time and getting – because there’s so many different aspects of it and there’s so many stories that I can pull from.

But having a fresh perspective on it and feeling those real feelings of being scared and hearing the news, and you know, while we were on set looking at the different Web sites, while Peter was walking in the room for the first time.

So you know, doing that and not interviewing 10,000 women, it actually came at a time, I had gone to get my mammogram, and this was in April and they said that, you know, that there was a blip or something on the screen, so I had to go back.

And those real feeling came out in performance as well because I have to go again this Thursday to check and see if it’s gone. So it stuff that I’m sort of going through, but not really, you know, investigating too much because I don’t want it to feel sale.

And I just want it to feel real for me and hopefully that will come through in the performance.

Max Burkholder, we think, is just one of the most talented young actors there, and we were wondering if you could both talk a little bit about working with him?

Monica Potter: I’m – I love him like he’s my own. I just – he reminds me so much of my son, Liam. He’s so weird in the best way, he’s just – I just – I adore him. I would, you know, and Kelly and I, his mom, we’re really close. We’ve gotten to be really close in the past four years. And he’s just – he’s so smart.

I was drinking alkaline water the other day and we were doing a scene in the mini-van, and he’s like, “You shouldn’t drink a lot of that.” I was like, “Why,” and he says, “Because you’re body – you have to have base.”

I’m like, “A base of what?” Like he does – and he does preach, you just is really concerned about your health and he’s funny. He’s intuitive, he’s just, he’s loving. I can’t say enough, and was afraid working with kids.

I was like, “Oh, it’s going to typical,” I don’t know, (unintelligible). You have the best group of kids on our show, down to the twins. And he’s just the best kid in the world. I can’t say enough good things about him. Jason.

Jason Katims: With Max, where – I mean, it – Max is – I of course agree with everything that Monica said. I think that to me, when I was writing, you know, the – one of the things that I was so concerned about at the beginning of the show about including this Asperger storyline was how do, you know, it’s tough enough to get a child actor who can just sort of be themselves on screen.

But to get a child actor who is able to, you know, kind of catch – capture the essence of this very specific behavior that isn’t Max at all, you know, I just didn’t know how, you know, I was very concerned about, you know, how we were going to be able to pull it off. And I found that over the course of doing the show and telling these stories that as we went on I realized I got – we were able to tell more and more detailed stories about Max. About Max and the family and what they were going through.

We were able to sort of dig in as writers and basically tell any story that we wanted to tell. To switch points – point of view to go from his point of view at times. And you know, we were able to do that because Max is so, you know, just has this sort of profound ability to, you know, to be able to sort of be in this other, you know, be in Max Braverman’s skin, and know what that’s like.

And so it’s really wonderful to have, you know, been able to work with him on the show and be able to, you know, tell these and continue throughout the seasons, to tell the story.

What can you reveal about the difficulties and choices Kristina is going to have to make in her medical treatment? Because I know there can be one initial prognosis and then all sorts of unanticipated complications can arise…

And will Kristina consider doing some of the things that people are doing now, like maybe a prophylactic mastectomy, even though she could technically have a lumpectomy. Are you going to deal with any of those sorts of issues?

Jason Katims: Well, we are – we’re dealing with the issue of her, you know, making the initial, you know, decision about you know, what her treatment is going to be.

And then we deal with her, you know, kind of getting thrown a curve ball in terms of what she’s dealing with, you know, in – with the cancer. And that it’s going – that you know, yes. And that it leads to her making – having – you know, I don’t want to get too specific because then I feel like it’s – you know, it’s going to like lose…

I mean this was like the one storyline I ever really – I you know, I didn’t want the storyline to be revealed before it – that we were even doing a breast cancer storyline, before it was seen on screen. And I’ve – everybody on the network and the cast and everybody really cooperated with that. And because I felt like I really wanted it to be like life, where you know, it comes out of the blue. And that’s you know, it was so clearly what happened to me. And I really wanted that to be that. I wanted it to be like that; where you’re just going through any other – like every – it’s every other day, it’s – the story you know, as we saw in that storyline, it wasn’t at all about her, you know, getting a mammogram or anything.

And what you’re asking is definitely one of the things that we’re – that we do address, which is that her initial, you know, her initial diagnosis is – changes a little bit, and also her treatment changes as well as the season goes on.

Monica Potter: Yes, I’m excited to see what happened. I don’t know too much, which is good you know? Kind of, it keeps us on our toes and it – like Jason said, “It comes at you out of the blue,” and you – as an actress it’s great because you do it week by week and you learn, you know, different types of treatments and different types of feelings and situations that the family goes through that Kristina’s going through. So that’s all I have to say about that. Great.

You talked about how this is a very personal story for you, why did you want to have Kristina and Monica figure into this storyline, why not one of the other girls on the show?

Jason Katims: Well, that’s a good question. And I don’t have any answer for.

Monica Potter: My answer – well just because I feel like (unintelligible) and just thought that this is the way, just because your son – you know, you’ve dealt with the Asperger storyline and I feel like Adam is you in a way. Not that you’re playing favorites, but that’s just the way I’m interpreting it and that’s all. I mean…

Jason Katims: No I do think – no I mean I do think there’s something as somebody who’s talking about before that was particularly, you know, that’s particularly challenging about this storyline because of Max, you know, and I think that was something that was definitely was on my mind.

And you know, and truthfully at some, you know, sometimes things get, you know, will sort of slip through the cracks too. And there’s that aspect to it, that sometimes there’s just too much to deal with and you can’t handle everything at once. And I thought that would be an, you know, another sort of compelling, you know, aspect of it.

So I guess it just naturally, you know, as Monica was saying, it’s sort of just because it mirrored a little bit what was going on with personally, that’s probably how we came up to it.

But, you know, I just – the thing is it wasn’t like – it was never like we – it’s not like we said, “Let’s give somebody cancer, let’s decide who.”

You know, it didn’t work that way, it just like – it was like the story was more thinking about, “What if Kristina was going through this.” That’s how it – it was born that way, so it wasn’t a conscious decision.

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