The baseball player-turned-actor had played curmudgeonly diner owner Luke Danes for seven seasons in the original series, but couldn’t quite get back into character the first day he went to set for the Netflix revival, “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.”
“I thought it would be easy, but the reality set in right away. My first scene was in the diner, and I did not feel comfortable,” he told a small group of reporters in late July. “I didn’t feel like I had him yet. We did a quick rehearsal, got the blocking down, and something was off. So I said to [creator Amy Sherman-Palladino], ‘I need to take a little walk around Stars Hollow. I need a minute to get this guy.’ Because I’ve changed. I’ve had a son, a life. It’s been eight, nine years. You’re going to change a little bit. So I took a walk around the town and I took about 10 minutes and thought the thoughts and felt the feelings. Then I came back in and (snaps fingers) there he was.”
When Patterson first read for “Gilmore Girls,” he was in such a low place in his career that it somehow made him perfect to play Luke.
“I think [Amy] kind of sensed when I walked in the room that I sort of was that guy anyway. She was looking for a guy who was a little outside of society, a non-conformist, didn’t care,” said the actor. “I really walked into that room with what I refer to as the dumb courage of the truly burned-out because I was really burned-out on auditioning. I was auditioning beautifully for years, wasn’t getting to first base, was always the bridesmaid… I just didn’t care anymore, and I think Amy sensed that. She sensed that I had the ability or the innate personality to not try to make [Luke] likable, to just try to be myself because that’s the way I was in the room with them.”
Luke Danes is a man of simple pleasures: wearing a backwards baseball cap and untucked flannel shirt daily, serving straightforward diner food, helping out his on-again, off-again love Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), and opposing every scheme dreamed up by town busybody Taylor Doose (Michael Winters). When we left Luke in 2007, he and Lorelai were together after he had thrown Rory a last-minute going-away party so that she could leave town to cover Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.
“[Luke is a] Rock of Gibraltar type. No matter what, how big a wave or how many tidal waves were going to crash into him, he was just going to stand there. He was going to take it,” Patterson said. “He’s a throwback character to how men used to be… Luke is a guy who, he’s not in it for him. He’s like, ‘What can I do for you?’ He’s not looking to be the center of attention. He’s not looking to really get any credit. He just wants to be there. He loves and he loves deeply, and he’ll take the pain and he’ll be quiet about as not to attract the enemy while he’s screaming. So he’s a solid guy.”
The biggest test of Luke’s generosity was when he was asked to take in his nephew Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), a teenage troublemaker who was too smart for his own good. In the short period of time Jess was in town, he skipped school, moved in on Rory even though she already had a boyfriend, crashed her car, vandalized various fixtures and in general wreaked havoc around Stars Hollow.
Jess returns for at least one of the four “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” installments. Patterson wouldn’t reveal exactly what the uncle and nephew were up to, but said, “I think ultimately with Jess, Luke is proud of him. Luke isn’t ashamed of him. Luke feels good.”
The trailer for the revival hints at a bit more, including how some of the characters respond to the death of Lorelai’s father Richard Gilmore, who was played by Edward Herrmann who died in 2014.
“With the passing of Ed Hermann, that influenced the story a great deal,” Patterson confirmed. “It affects every single character. So we’re going deeper. We’re plumbing the depths here. The stakes are raised for sure.”
All four parts of “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” will be available on Nov. 25 on Netflix.