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Mae Whitman Talks 'Parenthood,' 'Arrested Development' And More Reunions

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Mae Whitman talks
Mae Whitman talks "Parenthood" and more

Mae Whitman has played Amber on "Parenthood" (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC) for the past four seasons as the character has grown from rebellious teenager to much more sophisticated. And Whitman herself has grown up on camera, too.

From George Clooney's daughter in "One Fine Day," to a wealthy mini-socialite on the late "State of Grace," to George Michael's unforgettably forgettable girlfriend on "Arrested Development" (her?) and now, to Amber, Whitman has been acting for 18 of her 24 years.

The actress chatted with HuffPost TV about what's expected to be a very emotional Season 4 of "Parenthood," how they make those fight scenes so realistic, the challenges of growing up on screen and her hopes for a "One Fine Day" reunion. Read on for more with Whitman ...

I know we're only a couple episodes in, but Amber seems particularly grown up this season. Were you surprised when you read the first script for Season 4?
Absolutely. I was surprised. It's funny because, in a way, I still view her as a teenager because that's how it's been and when I think back to the journey she's taken, it's pretty amazing. You don't usually get to see this stage of life on TV and it's really cool to explore this transition of being a woman. It's definitely weird for me to realize that, all of sudden, she's being sexy and stuff. Now she's 20 years old -- it's such a weird time period that we all go through to try and find our own independence as an adult. I'm really excited that we're getting a chance to explore that realm.

Just seeing how she handled everything with Adam and the musician in Season 4. It makes sense, but looking back, it's just crazy how much Amber has grown.
It really is crazy, but that's how I was. I feel like I have changed so much -- now being 24 -- since I was a teenager. I think it's amazing that the show does mimic real life in a lot of ways. You really see people grow and change. I think that's really an amazing gift to be able to witness.

"Parenthood" is also very realistic in the way it portrays the characters arguing and fighting. Are those scenes improvised?
They definitely are open to us adding some things. I think the one message is really "be natural" on this show. And that's something that's really rare and I think it's a really beautiful thing that Jason [Katims] has created for us. And we all just happen to really love each other a lot. I mean, most of my best friends are on "Parenthood."

So with the fighting and talking over each other, that's what real life is like. It's not clean; it's messy. And when you have family that's big, it's oftentimes like that. It's that chaos where you're like, "I love this, but, oh my God it's driving me crazy." So I think that really plays into what's special about the show. And they definitely appreciate any time we really go for it -- they just see what comes out, especially scenes that are high intensity like that.

Haddie and Amber have really been through a lot, from Amber sleeping with Haddie's boyfriend in high school to Haddie telling Kristina about Amber's relationship with Bob last season. Will we see more of how that plays out?
You know, I wonder. I've always thought that their relationship was really cool -- when you have a cousin and you're like sisters, but you also grow up different and you turn out to be so different. It's funny that you have these girls that are similar in age, but also are so very different and we get to illustrate that and what that's like. Those differences have always been really cool to me. Even through all the stuff that they've put each other through -- of which there's been a lot -- they always are together and they have this relationship that's really special. They're both going through it together and I think they recognize that in each other. They're like, "Yeah. This is hard and I didn't like the way she handled that, but we're both having a hard time and she's in my same boat." They understand that they're both coming from the best possible place-- it's just that being a teenager is really hard sometimes. So I would love to see more of their relationship because, to me, it's so cool and they really relate to each other. And, you know, Sarah Ramos is my best friend in real life so any time I get to work with her it's a joy.

The same thing goes for Miles Heizer [who plays Drew]. He's my other best friend. Anytime you get to see their relationship, it's so special -- older sister and younger brother -- and the way they get along and love each other. They fight about stuff, but they're so close in so many ways. I love exploring that relationship so I really hope they get more scenes too.

It's very sweet and genuine.
We love each other so much, and I think that comes across.

And you're working with another friend, Alia Shawkat, on the revival of "Arrested Development," which everyone's really excited for. Do you prefer doing comedies over dramas or vice versa?
It's tough to say. It really depends mostly on the project. I mean, even when I'm doing a drama, we're still laughing all the time off-screen. And even when I'm doing a comedy, there can be a lot of drama going on behind-the-scenes. [Laughs.] So they're all well-rounded experiences no matter what you're doing. I think that my preference is to do both and I feel really lucky that I've had the opportunity to be a part of things that are comedic and dramatic because that's what life is. As I move forward, I want to explore everything and try new things that are difficult and strange and go outside my comfort zone and not be afraid to learn and grow as an actor and as a person. Hopefully, that will reflect in my art as well because there's so many aspects to life; to be able to explore all the different sides of it is a real treat.

I know you've been acting since such a young age and it was kind of a fluke that you got into the industry. Can you imagine doing anything else? Was there any period of time where you didn't want to act anymore?
You know, I think every actor goes through that. Probably everybody in the world goes through it with their own thing. It's a hard industry -- I'm sure for everybody -- but also for girls. I mean, it's just difficult because so much of it is disproportionately based on looks and based on where you are in your popularity standing. But I think that's like everything else ... that's like high school. Like every job in the world, there are parts of it where you think, "Ugh. If I let this get to me, it would be really difficult." But I think it's mostly just a reflection of life where, of course there are aspects of it where you'll feel this way or that way, but you gotta keep yourself as the source of strength and clarity as to what feels right and what doesn't.

For me, there's always things where I think, "Ooh. That'll be fun! Ooh, maybe I want to be a museum tour guide. Ooh, maybe I want to work at the zoo. Maybe I want to be a lifeguard." There are all sorts of little things that pop up to me because I love life so much and I want to try everything. But then I think, "Well, that's why I'm an actor." Because I get to be a bajillion different people in my lifetime and have a little small taste of what all these different lives would be like. And that to me is just sort of the ultimate gift -- to explore everyone's life and bring my own understanding to all these different people's struggles. Hopefully, that'll connect with maybe one other person in the world and I feel like that would be the best thing ever.

One throwback question. "One Fine Day" is a movie very close to my heart -- my family and I always watched it together. Do you remember what filming that was like, even though you were so young?
First of all, that's amazing. I do absolutely remember. Those experiences made me who I am. When you're young, you're not thinking, "What's this movie going to be like? Is it going to make money? Who's in it?" You're just like, "Cool! I get to go on this new adventure with these new people." And, you know, I spent a lot of time with my family growing up, which was so important to me, and traveling to new places. I think if you have a really strong family and you choose projects that are right for you, I think child acting can be really rewarding and great. Everybody's so supportive and they're there to make sure you're alright. And that one for me was my first real chunk of time spent in New York City. I just fell in love with it so much. I'd never been in a place like that before in my life, so being able to be there with my family and other people that I loved, it was an incredible experience for me and a very formative one. That one really holds a special place in my heart, too.

Would you ever do a reunion?
Yes! I would absolutely love that so much. I would absolutely love to do some sort of reuniting of some movie I did as a little kid. Even "State of Grace." That, to me, would be amazing to see Hannah and Grace and where they are now. You know, we're all here and we all still love all the projects so it feels right. That's what's so great about "Arrested Development." It's literally people loving it back into existence. And when everybody's back in the same room, it's just the most magical feeling.

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