'Parenthood': Behind Adam And Kristina's Season 4 Cancer Battle With Peter Krause

12/11/2012 12:28 pm ET

It's been a difficult year for Peter Krause, who plays Adam on NBC's "Parenthood" (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST). The actor has had to fight cancer both on screen with the series' most emotional Season 4 storyline, Adam's wife Kristina (Monica Potter) battling cancer, and off screen with his father and mother's simultaneous battle with the disease.

Krause opened up to HuffPost TV via phone about his personal connections to cancer, the fear of loss and finding the humor in the most difficult times. He also assures "Parenthood" fans that what looks like a harrowing Christmas episode this week is "uplifting ... in the end."

What was your reaction when you found out about the cancer storyline for Season 4?
It put a big lump in my throat. I lost my dad to cancer in February and my mom was diagnosed with cancer in December so she's been undergoing chemotherapy. So it's been a year full of dealing with cancer both in my life and on the show.

I'm so sorry.
Yeah. It was interesting though, having it all go on at once. And my mother survived breast cancer 22 or 23 years ago.

How did being so close to the disease serve you in filming this season? Did it make some of the scenes more difficult to do?
It's difficult to go through, but that's part of the job of being an actor. Certainly, going through the things the characters did on "Six Feet Under" was challenging and difficult, but the reward was a well-told story. You know, I guess I'm saying it comes with the territory of being an actor so it wasn't especially hard or demanding or anything like that; it was just some difficult work and I think, if anything, it helped me play some of the scenes with a sense of what it's like to be with somebody day in and day out, who's going through chemotherapy treatments and how, as much as you can, you try to have some humor about things.

There was the end of the episode where Max had a sleepover with a friend and the last scene was written exactly how we played it with [Adam and Kristina] laughing in bed about the couple who'd gone to Vegas and was talking about "Zumanity." So having some humor surrounding it all is definitely something that you experience in life when you're trying to keep your spirits up and the spirits of your loved one that's going through it.

Another funny scene that came out of all of this was in that same episode when Adam went to Crosby -- with the kids in tow -- to try to get pot for Kristina.
[Laughs.] Holding Jasmine's G-string, yes. That was a very funny scene. Having those lighter moments is part of the journey and it's a funny thing because it can go from laughter to tears pretty quickly.

This season has been very well-received by both fans and critics, but was there a time when you worried that that wouldn't be the case because of the storyline?
I did at first. Sometimes in television, if there are storylines that are oft-told, people can be hypercritical of them. But I think the way that we do things on "Parenthood" is different from most shows. I don't feel like we've milked it for emotional effect. I think we've tried to follow the characters as believably as possible as they move through this in their lives and I think that that's something we've continued to do pretty well on "Parenthood" since we started. But I had some concerns that it would be, at times, melodramatic or too overwrought. I've tried, certainly, my hardest to keep it from being that way and I think that there are other times where we serve our audience by allowing them to go through something honestly. We walk across that emotional turf honestly and not try to make more of it or less of it.

We shot a scene recently for the upcoming episode (Season 4, Episode 11, titled "What To My Wondering Eye") where one of the themes is fear of loss and in this case, Adam is really afraid he's going to lose his wife. And it's my job as an actor to allow myself to really feel that fear so that's a scene coming up where I would be worried heading into it, "Oh gosh. I hope this isn't going to be too much," but I think that for those people who've experienced that fear -- certainly someone who's young and in their prime being taken before their time so to speak is something really difficult and I have some friends who've gone through that with siblings and spouses and it's a particularly difficult thing, not only losing them, but the fear that you feel at the prospect of it.

What can you tell viewers about what to expect in this week's episode?
Well, I don't want to give anything away. It's a tough episode, but I think it's really uplifting. You're going to have to travel some tough terrain with the characters, but in the end, it's an uplifting episode.

A lot of the "Parenthood" cast members talk about the freedom Jason Katims gives you with the scripts -- even though everything is written -- to ad lib and such if you want. Is there anything that stands out to you that you added this season?
It's all there and if we do anything, we put a little spin on it. The map is there and everybody follows the map of the story. It's not like anybody's adding a story or taking one a way. Sometimes, because it's a collaboration, you don't even know who ideas come from anymore, whether it's the director Larry Trilling or even another actor.

Something I particularly enjoy about working with Dax Shepard is we're constantly giving each other suggestions, running with it and seeing what happens. Not this week's episode, but the one after, which Dax Shepard directed -- and I directed the one after that --- there are some things in the wood shop that I added that were kind of funny and then he let me go crazy when we're in the bathroom of this hotel and I'm in a smoking jacket, which was just meant to be funny. So in that episode, you'll see some comical additions to the script on my end. If it's included in the script, I'm not sure it will be in the final edit, but there's something that I'm just going to refer to as the Johnson file that comes into play, which I was happy about. [Laughs.]

What's your favorite scene you've shot so far for Season 4?
I think the favorite scenes that I've filmed this year have been as a director while working with Miles Heizer. It'll be the thirteenth episode this season and it's a particularly dramatic episode for the character of Drew. As an actor, there have been many scenes I've had with Monica and Max [Burkholder] that have been very meaningful to me, but as a director, working with Miles Heizer this year has been a special experience and it's a really strong episode for him and I'm really proud of the work he does in the episode.

For more on this week's "Parenthood," check out this interview with Max Burkholder and check back later this week for an interview with Monica Potter. Also, you can read Maureen Ryan's thoughts on "Parenthood" Season 4 here.

Tune in to "Parenthood" on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.

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