Lauren was a nerdy tomboy. She's changed a lot since then. Or has she?

Graham has perfected the role of the quirky, chatty single mother whose flaws anchor the show as much as her trademark zippy dialogue.

It's easy to find parallels between Graham and her television counterpart: They both talk fast, toss off jokes with aplomb, tend toward self-deprecation, and prefer jeans to pretty much anything else. We are talking about some of Graham's favorite places in Georgetown to buy vintage jeans, when I suggest she is someone who wears jeans well. She laughs. "I think I'm just too lazy to wear anything else," she says. But that's not entirely accurate. Her long, thin frame sits perfectly snug in a tight pair of denims. Not all women are that lucky.

"Oh, I disagree; I believe there is a jean for everyone," she says, as if proclaiming the Pledge of Allegiance. "Some people just haven't found theirs yet. I like to think that one of my great talents is finding the right pair of jeans for people." And so I offer her a test: What kind of jeans would she suggest for someone who is short and curvy? She responds like the kid who actually studied for the pop quiz. "Have you tried Juicy?" she asks. "It's a very forgiving cut with a long flare. I have trouble with Juicy because I'm tall, but I think you'd like it. It's a rounder cut." I haven't tried Juicy yet, but I will.

Actresses are often described as down-to-earth. What this usually means is that they don't have a nanny (shocking!) or they occasionally leave the house without makeup. Graham, on the other hand, really does seem down-to-earth. She is an actress whose personality actually overshadows her good looks. She is so likable that it's easy to forget she is, as it turns out, quite beautiful.

Lauren Graham grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, right next to the National Zoo. "And how great is that?" she asks. As a little girl, she loved animals and was always bringing home stray cats and dogs, and the zoo is a place she remembers vividly. Well, kind of. "We saw the pandas there," she says fondly, then stops. "Wait, were there pandas? Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing were the pandas there. Is that right? I'll have to fact-check that. Or you can get your people on it. Do you have people? Get them on it." It's a charming little diversion, equal parts self-doubt and tongue-in-cheek bossiness, that would be familiar to fans of the WB's Gilmore Girls, in which Graham has starred for the past six seasons. As Lorelai Gilmore.

She's also right about the zoo, by the way. Both Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived at the National Zoo in 1972, when Lauren Graham was five years old and brand-new to town. She had just moved to the D.C. area with her father after stints in Japan, in Honolulu, and on a houseboat in the Virgin Islands - "all the most glamorous places, before I was old enough to remember them," she jokes. Although Graham plays one of television's coolest moms, she actually grew up without one. "It was me and my dad on our own," she says. "For a while, my father was trying to be a writer and living the exotic writer's life," she says. "And then I think he realized, 'Wait, I've got a daughter. I've got to get a job."

Living together in D.C., they formed a tight-knit duo not entirely unlike Lorelai and her bookish daughter, Rory, played by Alexis Bledel. Graham and her father went to see ballet, theater, and puppet shows all over the city. They toured the city's wealth of museums. "At that time, you're too young to realize these things are good for you," she says. So she stared in awe at the iceman mummy in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and watched, awestruck, as the Foucault pendulum at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History shifted according to the rotation of the earth. ("I think!" she adds. "Fact-check! Fact-check!" As it turns out, the pendulum was moved from the museum in 1998.) She was wonkish like that, with more than a streak of the tomboy. "I didn't like Barbies," she says. "I was into trains and model horses and dinosaurs."

While Graham has reclaimed something of her girly-girl side - she wouldn't turn down a good pillow fight, for example - she has maintained a pragmatic, jeans-and-a-T-shirt unfussiness. She was raised by her father, after all. And though she is currently filming a self-proclaimed "chick flick" called Because I Said So with Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, anyone who saw her on NewsRadio or in her novel turn as a randy bartender in Bad Santa can tell she is something of a guy's gal. "My first boyfriend was a guy who'd been my best friend for years," she says. "I've always had a low tolerance for sap."

That's something she's brought to her work on Gilmore Girls, which manages to be touching and deeply feminine without seeming saccharine. Despite the obvious go-girl underpinnings of the show, including a you-complete-me theme song by Carole King, the show has managed to keep its edge by exploring not merely the friendship between mother and daughter but also the inevitable, and complicated, tensions. In 2002, Graham was nominated for a Golden Globe as the best leading actress in a dramatic series, and if Hollywood weren't so dismissive of actresses who prefer a light comic touch to histrionics, it might not have been her only nomination.