If you loved NBC’s Parenthood as much as we did, then like us, you’re counting the minutes until the first of the show’s four final episodes airs later this evening. Recently, Your Teen had the opportunity to talk with Lawrence Trilling, a producer-director of Parenthood, about the show, raising his own family, and lots more.
Lawrence Trilling Interview, Director of the Parenthood TV Series
Q: Do you see overlap between directing the fictional family on Parenthood and building your own real-life family?
Trilling: In most people’s lives, there’s a big distinction between what happens at work and what happens at home. Because my work is creating a fictional home, I have the good fortune of being able to carry what I learn in both directions. I bring what I learn on the set home and what I learn at home onto the set. I have a pretty blessed situation from the standpoint that there’s no distinction between what I’m thinking about for my family and what I’m thinking about in my professional experience. But it’s not only me. Most of the writers, directors, and producers are parents and we often draw on our own experiences with our children or stories from our friends and try to infuse these real-life experiences into the characters.
Q: Give us an example.
Trilling: I feel like our married couples, even though they have disputes and arguments, ultimately treat each other in a very loving way. The characters seem to have a sense of timing, of when it’s appropriate to confront someone and when it’s not. There’s always the scene on our show where after the argument or fight, cooler heads prevail and they have a loving conversation that heals the rift. I would say that I’ve gotten insight in my own marriage about how to pick timing better about when a fight might happen and when to let go and realize this isn’t the time to solve this and how to come back and have that more healing conversation.
Q: Do you have a favorite storyline from the show?
Trilling: I have to say that Max’s journey has been the most rewarding storyline—watching a kid who struggles with autism grow into someone who’s beginning to understand his challenges and his gifts. He has been the center of the family in the way that radiated out to the rest of the family and increased everyone else’s sensitivity not only to Max’s condition but understanding how to communicate and have more empathy for each other. In a way, Max’s journey is the emotional centerpiece of the show. There have been moments that were so moving. One, in particular, really touched me. Last season, Max was bullied on his school trip. After some kids peed in his canteen, Max broke down in his parent’s car. Even though we’ve had so many emotional moments on the show, this was the only moment for me as a director that I cried on the set.
Q: It is extremely impressive how well the character of Max portrays Asperger’s. Did that also stem from real-life experiences?
Trilling: Max comes directly from Jason Katims, the creator of the show, who has a son with Asperger’s. He has infused the joys and challenges of his experience into the show. In addition, we consult with an autism expert who reads every script and works closely with Max Burkholder, the actor who plays Max Braverman, to give him insights into that world.
Q: We’ve really enjoyed Zeek. What makes the character so relatable?
Trilling: Craig T. Nelson is an amazing actor. He has such a range and brings both comedy and gravity to what he does. I think we relate to him as the embarrassing yet loving parent. There is that moment when you realize your parents are not perfect. You might resent them for those flaws, but at the same time you lean on their wisdom. I think Craig embodies all of that. He can be politically incorrect, a little embarrassing, a little Archie Bunker, but in the end, he’s there for everybody with his love and wisdom.
Q: Do your kids mind being material for the show?
Trilling: There have probably been a few moments where my kids have felt, “Hey, why did you talk about what happened to me?” But it’s usually fictionalized enough that our kids aren’t aware that they’re the source. Early on, we had a story about Sydney’s bird dying, which led to existential questions about death, afterlife, and god. Those all came from my family, but I don’t think my kids recognized the story.
Q: Can you give another example?
Trilling: Yes, when I’m directing the actors, working with the younger actors or doing parenting scenes, I’ll infuse my own experiences into the parents’ struggles communicating with a teen. This year, the character played by Ray Romano is having difficulty dealing with his teenage daughter and this has played a big part of the storyline. Like all teenagers, the daughter can say the most scathing thing in one moment—boring into her father’s worst qualities—and then turn into the sweetest, neediest kid. Teens flip without any provocation from one pole to the other. I’ve directly experienced that at the hands of my own teenagers, so I’ve been able to help navigate that on the set as well.
Q: The whole development of Ray Romano’s character, an adult who befriends Max and wonders whether he too has Asperger’s, is also really interesting. Where did that come from?
Trilling: People have watched the show and said, “Oh my, I think that’s me.” Max raised a lot of awareness of Asperger’s, and while we didn’t set out to do that, his story really struck a chord with families as they started the process of diagnosing their own children or themselves.
Q: How do your kids feel about you working in Hollywood?
Trilling: I work hard to keep my kids’ lives separate from Hollywood. The only taste of Hollywood that they get is when they visit me at work—which used to be really exciting. But they’ve been on the set enough that it now feels normal. A lot of people bring their family around, so the set is an inviting, fun, and warm environment that doesn’t feel glamorous or snooty.
Q: Can you share any of your parenting struggles?
Trilling: My son is a smart kid who is just starting to find his way academically. At the beginning of high school, we were getting notices from teachers all the time, so we quickly intervened with tutors and lots of parental supervision. But, our over-involvement had the reverse affect, and this year, we pulled back. We support him, but we aren’t on top of him, and he’s really turning things around. Now, we’re getting wonderful feedback from teachers.
Q: I think we can all relate to the pressures of college. How do you deal with that?
Trilling: In my professional experience, a fancy school doesn’t correlate to professional success. I work with people all the time who went to pretty humble or obscure colleges and are doing fantastic. So, we’re really trying hard not to get too wrapped up in the college craziness and trust that there will be a great place for each of our kids.
Q: What has been your biggest take-away from the show?
Trilling: I’ve learned that parenting teens is more like being along for the ride. Through our stories, I’ve realized that kids go through some eruptions in their life and then return to equilibrium. Kids will get out of control, but I now know that we can come through to the other side and get back to the equilibrium with new insight. I’ve been able to incorporate that in my own life.