Knowing the Part

updated 05/07/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/07/2001 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Though she doesn't have kids of her own, Lauren Graham says she "really has an affection" for her TV character Lorelai Gilmore, the unconventional single mother of teenage Rory (Alexis Bledel) on The WB's acclaimed Gilmore Girls. But maybe it's Rory she should be identifying with. From age 4, when her parents broke up, to 14, when her own single father remarried, Graham, 34, knew she was different from the other kids in her Langley, Va., neighborhood. For one thing she didn't have to keep her room neat. Even better, she ate out a lot. "I just couldn't bring myself to make dinner every night," admits her father, Lawrence Graham, 58, a candy-industry lobbyist.

Still, it was "so important when my father married my stepmother [Karen, now 45, a corporate meeting planner] to have a woman come into my life," says Graham, who is also close to her mother, Donna Grant, 57, a retail buyer living in England. Even then Lauren "was very independent," says her father. After earning an MFA in drama from Southern Methodist University in 1992, "I slept on my aunt's couch for six months," she says, while auditioning in L.A. She broke through in 1996 with a recurring role as Caroline in the City's wacky Shelly. Currently Graham, who's unattached ("I'm dating—that's all you get from me"), is working 16-hour days on Gilmore when she's not furnishing her new two-bedroom house in L.A. "I eat out of plastic containers," she laments. Maybe it's time for Dad to take her out to dinner again.

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