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On ‘Gilmore Girls,’ veteran stars count too

Often the actors playing Lorelai's parents steal the show
/ Source: The Associated Press

Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann are engaged in lunchtime banter on the Warner Bros. lot, and it’s no less entertaining then their marital sparring on “Gilmore Girls.”

At this particular moment the actors, Tony Award winners both, are sharing insider tips on the theater.

“A wonderful actor taught me you have 10 seconds, maybe 15, to convince the audience that you’re worth watching,” Herrmann said. “Then they can relax, they’re in good hands, you’re not going to mess up.”

That still leaves room for audience gaffes; let Bishop and Herrmann count the ways.

“Standing ovation mania. I can’t bear it,” Bishop said. “What do you do when it’s special?”

“’God, honey, they remembered their lines. Stand!”’ Herrmann says, mimicking an overeager theatergoer.

“We should put a program note saying, ’Please do not stand unless we are exceptional,”’ Bishop suggests.

Herrmann amplifies: “Turn off your cell phone, your pagers, don’t talk, don’t unwrap the candy and DON’T STAND.”

Parents steal the showMore than polite applause seems called for when it comes to their WB series. The title is “Gilmore Girls” (airing 8 p.m. ET Tuesday) but it’s not unusual for the Gilmore parents to steal the show.

Herrmann and Bishop rely on their experience to make the most of the lengthy 75- to 80-page scripts, stuffed with the kind of witty, rapid-fire dialogue that belonged to 1930s screwball comedies.

“The king and queen of my life,” series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino said of the pair. “Incredible people, incredible talent.”

The imposing, 6-foot-5 Herrmann plays Richard, an imposing, WASP-y New England businessman who’s used to being in charge but cedes command of the house and social schedule to acerbic wife Emily, played by Bishop.

Acerbic — and estranged — describes their daughter Lorelai (Lauren Graham), who cut ties with her parents when she became a teenage single mom. She later established an uneasy truce to gain their help in ensuring an Ivy League education for daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel).

Bishop and Herrmann have a bit of shared history. It was in 1976 that each collected their Tony trophy, she for playing sexy Sheila in the original production of “A Chorus Line” and he for George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.”

For Bishop, 59, the part of the elegant Emily was a welcome break from the “tootsies and low-class girls” she’d felt locked into, although she occasionally played traditional wives or mothers. Her films include “Dirty Dancing,” “Six Degrees of Separation” and “Wonder Boys.”

Herrmann, 60, made his first series commitment with “Gilmore Girls.” But he’s long familiar to viewers through TV movies (1976’s “Eleanor and Franklin” and its sequel), series guest appearances (a 1999 Emmy-winning turn on “The Practice”) and as an in-demand documentary narrator and host.

His extensive film credits include “The Emperor’s Club,” “The Cat’s Meow” and the upcoming “The Aviator” from director Martin Scorsese.

“I wanted to do WB because your audience gets old,” Herrmann said over a pasta lunch. “You’ve got to reinvent yourself.”

Bigger family pictureThat the veteran actors are part of an adamantly youth-infatuated network is a tribute to Sherman-Palladino, who’s also an executive producer on “Gilmore Girls.”

If WB executives envisioned a series focused solely on a sexy young mom and her equally delectable daughter, Sherman-Palladino had a bigger family picture in mind. Bishop and Herrmann helped make it happen.

“I believe what got the show on the air and kept it on is the family relationship, that mother and father,” she said. “Without having that dynamic, without those stellar performances and those actors, I don’t believe ‘Gilmore’ would have made it.”

Both Bishop and Herrmann are long-distance commuters to the Warner Bros. studio. Herrmann lives in Connecticut with his wife and their 7-year-old child; Bishop and husband Lee Leonard, a longtime TV host, live in New Jersey.

The harsh winter has made travel more difficult but neither is complaining. They are ready for more “Gilmore Girls,” now in its fourth season, and other projects that come their way.

Bishop wouldn’t mind emulating the late Ruth Gordon, the elfin actress who won an Oscar at the age of 72 for “Rosemary’s Baby.”

“I would love to be that kind of character actor. I would be very happy to have that toward the end of my life,” she said.

“And so you shall, you sweet old-fashioned thing, you,” said Herrmann.

Such a joker.

“It’s everything I can do to keep from slapping him,” a smiling Bishop said in her haughtiest Emily Gilmore tone.

“I do everything I can to annoy her,” Herrmann replied.

Just a couple of pros, who can’t resist putting on a good show.