Like you, Kelly Bishop has opinions about those jeans.
“They were really ugly jeans,” Bishop, the actress responsible for bringing Emily Gilmore’s acerbic elegance to life for seven seasons on Gilmore Girls, says of the shocking choice in pantswear revealed in the trailer for the series’ upcoming Netflix revival.
It’s been nine years since the Gilmore Girls left the screen and a lot, apparently, has changed in the lives of the beloved characters—the least of which is the hitherto unheard-of decision for Emily, the beacon of taste and class, to don denim.
“Those were really funky, torn, not good-fitting jeans,” Bishop says. “They were really comfortable I can tell you that. That was, of course, amazing to see Emily in a pair of jeans and moccasins and a little T-shirt.”
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, the four films, each titled after a season, that comprise Friday’s Netflix revival are, yes, about change and growth and reconciliation, with numerous references to things in life coming full circle. All of this, of course, with the requisite whiplash banter, copious cups of coffee, and torturous, brutally real screaming matches between three Gilmore generations to offset the whimsical hotbed of quirk that is Stars Hollow.
And while the extent to which Emily Gilmore has evolved—at one point she actually says the phrase, “Have you seen Jerry Maguire? It was on Starz last night and it was delightful”—only briefly includes a foray into casual wear, it’s a profound and devastating journey as A Year in the Life’s seasons progress.
Setting that journey off, as Gilmore Girls fans have been bracing themselves for since the revival was announced, is the death of Emily’s husband, Richard, who was played by the late Edward Herrmann on the series.
The grief underscores the entire revival, irreparably altering the relationships between the three leads—Lauren Graham’s Lorelai and Alexis Bledel’s Rory included—and setting each on their own paths toward healing, occasionally leading in directions both self-destructive and infuriating, before finding their way back to each other.
For all the anticipation for the return of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s signature caffeinated dialogue, each line sweetened with at least two packets of pop culture references, it’s the tears and the sometimes unwatchable heartache these characters suffer that are the real reasons to tune into this more grown-up version of the show. And it’s Emily’s pain and ultimate pursuit of joy, particularly, that pulses at its heart.
“I think every widow or widower goes through this,” Bishop says. “Which is, ‘How do I do it? Where do I go? I’m lonely. I’m scared. I hate this. I don’t know how to get my life straight.’”
At various points Emily is distracted, busying herself with the Marie Kondo-inspired excising of all her possessions and becoming, somehow, a surrogate matriarch for her maid’s entire extended family in order to bury her sadness. At others, she lashes out at her daughter, revisiting decades of resentment. At still more, she comes to the epiphany that, without her partner of 50 years, she needs to relearn who she is herself.
“Through the course of the four chapters, they’re calling them, she manages to find a kind of, sort of, maybe ‘serenity’ is the right word,” she says. “She starts to get herself back into focus, but at first she’s really way off.”
It’s one thing for fans to be emotional anticipating what Gilmore Girls might be like without the presence of Edward Herrmann’s indomitable Richard Gilmore. “He’s certainly with us, and he’s very prevalent on the show,” Bishop says, referring to the way his loss is constantly on the minds of these characters in addition to the literally wall-sized portrait of her husband that Emily accidentally commissions in honor. (The revival’s greatest sight gag.)
But it was a whole other thing for Bishop, who returned to shoot a TV series without her constant scene partner and her close friend. She and Herrmann shared a trailer when they shot the original series, she says. They’d do crossword puzzles together, and grab a drink after long shoots. After the show wrapped, they maintained their friendship over email. Even Herrmann and Bishop’s husband kept an email conversation going over the years, “mainly about antique cars and such.”
“I considered him a dear friend, and I had no idea he was ill until we all read about it in the newspapers, which was only about two weeks before he died,” she says. “So it was so sad, because I know he would’ve loved doing this. There was just sort of an empty feel. There was a space where he was supposed to be.”
That space was felt especially when she’d go to work on the revival’s set where Emily and Richard’s house was. The cast playing characters living in Stars Hollow had the advantage of town comradery, but Bishop’s shoots were typically isolated to include just the Gilmore family. “It was being in the house or being in the dining room without him,” Bishop says. “There was such a comfort and fondness and a friend.”
Sitting in a hotel room not far from Central Park, Bishop, at least in appearance, looks just like the iconic character she plays, wearing an expensive-looking, smart black blouse with tasteful bedazzling, sleek black pants, and a sculpted hairdo that reads positively regal. Her speaking voice has the same high-class rasp, elongating certain words for effect and morphing into a bit of a chirp, even, when she’s satisfied with herself, for a particularly cute answer to a question.
There’s a frankness, too, that’s refreshing. Asked if going back to set felt like a reunion, she confesses, “No, I’m afraid it wasn’t.” She never really worked with the show’s bit players, and so she didn’t really know them well. It’s not mean-spirited, or even particularly juicy. But in the age of mandated “we’re a family and it was a joy!” press tours, it’s almost groundbreaking in its honesty. And kind of fun.
She and Lauren Graham are good friends and chat all the time. Graham really is like her daughter, she says, but was often busy during this particular shoot writing a book. “Miss Very Smart Lauren Graham,” Bishop smiles.
“Alexis Bledel is pretty quiet and shy and doesn’t talk anyway,” she says—again, not in a mean way, just matter of fact. “So I’m just kind of standing around swimming my arms not really knowing what to do. So I was lonely without [Edward Hermann], I would say.”
Then there’s the question of those oh-so-famous final four words that Sherman-Palladino has long-promised she’ll end the series with, but never had a chance to write them since she left the series before its final seventh season.
Bishop says the four words were kept top-secret, with the end of the script merely saying, “And then the last four words are said.” She doesn’t consider herself a particularly nosy person, so she went most of the shoot without bothering ask about them. When she finally did ask someone, they told her, and she said, “Oh.”
“If it’s true, this is a really lousy thing to say, if it’s really true that those are the last four words then my reaction is, ‘Eh,’” she shrugs. “That’s it.”
In fear of the wrath of the Netflix powers that be, which are desperate to keep specific details about the revival under wraps, we won’t go into it much more than that. We will say that near the end, there’s a rapturous moment for Emily where, now that the show is freed from the shackles of network censors, she gets to say not four words, per se, but one specific word and it is glorious.
Underlying everything we discuss is Bishop’s gratitude for being able to return to this role. “It’s so hard, especially as an older woman, to get work,” she says. “It’s through the graces of Amy Sherman-Palladino, not only because she’s a loyal employer, but she writes really great characters and gave me the job and we see eye to eye completely on this character.”
She skirts cliché while recounting how blown away she has been by the building popularity of Gilmore Girls since the show aired, culminating in this revival, from the surprisingly iconic status Emily has been granted by young fans—“I remember thinking, ‘Really?’”—to the fact that people have discovered this small WB-turned-CW talky dramedy in the first place.
“You know, as an adult, would I go dial surfing and look for One Tree Hill? No. So I wouldn’t have found Gilmore Girls unless someone told me about it,” she says, raving about the word of mouth that gave the show a new life. “When I read it I thought it was good, and it’s so satisfying to know that other people [also] thought this way.”