Calling all Donna Pinciotti fans! OK, so it's not exactly the same redhead from That '70s Show, but Laura Prepon is back on the small screen with a lighter 'do and a big role — playing Mom on the new ABC drama October Road, which airs a new episode tonight at 10 pm/ET. While she's no Kitty Forman, her 28-year-old character, Hannah, does balance a job, a relationship and parent-teacher meetings. But her biggest struggle is her high-school sweetheart (played by Bryan Greenberg) rolling back into town after a decade's absence and dragging the past along with him. TVGuide.com talked to the fun, enthusiastic Prepon about her "awesome" character, grand gestures and her Jersey upbringing that brings it all full circle. Plus, a look at her directing debut and her own review of another new show.
TVGuide.com: So I've already watched the first four episodes of October Road, and I like the story.
Laura Prepon: Yeah, the vibe of the show is pretty different... the music, too. There aren't a lot of pop hits in there, it's all Rush and Journey.
TVGuide.com: It's funny you bring that up, because I kept thinking about how much I liked the music as I was watching.
Prepon: Well, it's nostalgic. Whenever I hear any of that music, it brings me back to that comfortable place. The music is definitely a really big part of the show. [Writers] Scott Rosenberg, Josh [Appelbaum] and Andre [Nemec] did that deliberately.
TVGuide.com: What made you sign on for this show?
Prepon: I got the script for October Road a week after I wrapped That '70s Show, and I was like, "Oh, my god, ['70s] was the best job in the world, I just want to focus on my films." Even though all these movie stars are doing TV now, like Hugh Jackman [with the CBS pilot Viva Laughlin] and Minnie Driver [The Riches], I still wanted to focus on my films. My manager, Paul Brown, who I've been with for 11 years, was like, "Look, I know your taste, you're going to love this. It's written like an independent film — you have to read October Road." I knew that Scott wrote Beautiful Girls, which I love, so I read it and loved it.
TVGuide.com: Hannah has such an interesting story and it creates a complicated character. She's hurt by the past, confused in the present, surviving on her own....
Prepon: Isn't she f--kin' cool?! I love her. It's pretty crazy, because here she is, in love with this guy [Greenberg's Nick], they thought they were going to be together forever, and he's going on a six-week trip, but really she knows that he's leaving [for good]. Imagine that happening and then 10 years later, you've moved on. [Hannah] now has a new boyfriend, is dating the guy who we all hated in high school, and has a 10-year-old son.
TVGuide.com: It all creates so many storytelling possibilities.
Prepon: Yeah, and Warren Christie (Battlestar Galactica) who plays my new boyfriend, Big Cat (Ray), is so great at playing that role, because he's endearing and you actually really like Big Cat. The casting on this show was so smart, because that character could have been a typical, by-the-book guy who was a d--k, but Warren gives him so many different levels. Same thing with Tom Berenger. Some guy could come into that commander role and be the gruff dad who doesn't really speak, but Tom brings so many levels to that guy, you totally feel for his character.
TVGuide.com: Even Slade Pearce, who plays your son Sam, is great.
Prepon: He's rad! [Laughs] He's hilarious. It's insane, he's so smart.
TVGuide.com: How is it playing a mom?
Prepon: All my friends always tell me I have a maternal instinct. Even when my sister gave birth to her son, I picked him up and it was so natural to me. It just isn't something that freaks me out. Most of my friends are guys, and my house is like the central stomping ground of our group, so in between auditions and meetings, they come over, I make them food, they hang out, and then they go about their day. So playing a mom wasn't weird to me at all. Even though Slade is 10 years old, what's so cool about Hannah is she doesn't treat him like a kid — her son is her best friend.
TVGuide.com: I noticed that she doesn't talk to him like she's the mom.
Prepon: I think kids know when you're speaking condescendingly toward them. Whenever I'm around kids, I always try to talk to them like I would anybody else, except for maybe cutting back on my swearing, which Slade charges me a dollar for every time. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Without revealing too much, there's this grand gesture that goes down at the Pumpkin Fest in an upcoming episode. Have you ever had a guy try to impress you like that?
Prepon: That's a good question. My boyfriend got me a horse one year, but that doesn't really count. That isn't like Say Anything. I need a Lloyd Dobler moment. Guys are always too scared to do anything to me, they're always so intimidated. [Laughs] And the boyfriend I'm with now, I picked him up at a bar, so let me just think about this for a second.... No one's asked me that question yet.
TVGuide.com: The horse story is pretty funny, though.
Prepon: Yeah. He brought me to the stables, showed me the horse and said, "It's yours." It's a really great gesture, but it's not like standing on a street corner with a boombox over your head. Definitely nothing like Slade did to Amanda. [Sings] "Amandaaaa!"
TVGuide.com: Well, I loved that scene. It suited the small-town feel of Knights Ridge, where everybody knows everybody.
Prepon: There are so many towns like that across the United States, and that's the thing I love about the show. You feel like you know this place exists somewhere, like you know these people. Dude, when I go back to Jersey, I'm sorry, but some of my friends still live with their moms, some of them drive tow trucks or snow-plow trucks, most of them work in construction or at a gas station. The characters on this show, I know these people, it's so freaky. No matter where you are or what walk of life [you're from], there's somebody on the show you relate to.
TVGuide.com: That's exactly what I wanted to ask you, because I grew up in Jersey, too....
Prepon: Dude, get out!
TVGuide.com: So I thought you'd also relate to Knights Ridge.
Prepon: Oh, totally, besides the fact that my character is awesome, and the creators and everybody are so great. Here's the thing: It's not a CSI, it's not a doctor show — which, don't get me wrong, you've got to love Grey's Anatomy; we're following them, so I'm glad everyone loves them — and we don't have a crazy hook or explosions or a meteor hitting Earth. It's literally thirtysomething meets Beautiful Girls. Our show is about these people and these relationships, which is what all of us deal with every day. That's why I hope people will like it.
TVGuide.com: I talked to Bryan last week, and he was saying how he was nervous at first because it's not gimmicky like Lost or 24. Do you have that feeling at all?
Prepon: This isn't cliché, I'm actually sincere about this, but I always just try to do work that's going to be with an incredible group of people, a really great product, and a character that speaks to me and really challenges me, and this girl does that. And also, it's someone I want to play every day. Like, I loved playing Donna. It was such a great first thing for me. From here, I'll do movies on my hiatus, but this seemed like the perfect next step. It's like '70s was high school and college, and then you step out in the real world, and now I'm playing a woman who has a kid with all these real human emotions in serious situations.
TVGuide.com: It does seem fitting.
Prepon: It's a natural transition, and I'll continue with my directing, which I'm all about. You're always nervous, like, "Oh, my god, are people going to like it?" Dude, Little Miss Sunshine is such an incredible movie and people didn't even want to make that at first. You just never know. If everybody knew what was going to be a hit, there wouldn't be so many canceled pilots every year. All I know is, we are so proud of [October Road], we stand behind every frame that's on the screen.
TVGuide.com: Do you all have fun on the set? Any poker going on in between scenes, since I know you're a fan?
Prepon: We have so much fun. Most of the guys actually don't play poker! Only myself, Bryan and Warren played a bit. When the show goes [on hiatus], I'm going to teach everybody how to play so we can have a weekly game.
TVGuide.com: Do you miss the '70s cast? Still talk to anyone?
Prepon: Oh, yeah, all the time. I just talked to Wilmer [Valderrama], I saw Topher [Grace] a couple weeks ago, I see Ashton [Kutcher] and Mila [Kunis], I see Danny [Masterson] all the time.... I did The View [last week] and Debra Jo [Rupp] called me right after and said, "I watched you!"
TVGuide.com: What's lined up on the movie front?
Prepon: I want to direct my first feature, Abide with Me, this year. I could go out and get money for the film just based off of, "Hey, I want to direct a movie, I'm blah-blah-blah," but I would never do that. I want to get money for the right reasons and have actors sign on because they believe in my work as a director and they know I know what I'm doing. I've been taking a film class for a couple of years, but I never wanted to step behind a camera until I was fully in control of what I wanted to put on the screen and how I'd want to affect an audience. So I took scenes from the movie and directed a short film. Now I can send it to actors who I want to be in the movie and be like, "Look, watch this, just so you know to give me a shot at this," because they wouldn't deserve anything less. When you're on a set, it's such a close-knit, collaborative thing, if you don't trust your director, the project is done. I want to do everything I can so my actors have faith in me before we step foot on a set.
TVGuide.com: Well, good luck with everything.
Prepon: Thanks for watching all the episodes of October Road, that was really sweet of you.
TVGuide.com: Well, I couldn't really stop since I had them all.
Prepon: I was like that with The Riches. When I was [guest-hosting] The View, we had to interview Minnie Driver, so they sent me three episodes and she is great in it. Talk about a complicated character! It's interesting because Eddie Izzard is serious in it, yet when you think of Eddie Izzard, you think of a stand-up comic. I kept on waiting for him to go into something funny. Like when Ashton and Wilmer started doing movies, everybody was waiting for them to go into their funny bit, and I found myself doing that with Eddie Izzard. If all you do is comedy, you have to break out of that.
TVGuide.com: That's funny, because I just watched The Guardian [starring Kutcher and Kevin Costner] and I was like, "Wow, this is a different side of Ashton."
Prepon: Yeah, you keep waiting for him to trip over a table or something!
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