This September, actress Alexis Bledel turns 40 years old. Growing up in a Spanish-speaking household with an Argentinian father and an American mother, Bledel was raised in Mexico and didn’t start speaking English until she went to school. She started out as a model due to her piercing blue eyes and extremely fair skin, before she soon became famous for her role as the latter half of the mother-daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, on the WB/CW/Netflix series: Gilmore Girls.
Bledel has been acting in film and television for over 20 years and is now more than double the age she was when she first started. So many actors known for a specific role have crystallized in the nostalgia of a generation that can feel overly observed as they age. Bledel is now older than her TV mom ever was on Gilmore Girls. Even when the Netflix revival came out at the end of 2016, people were noting how she finally caught up to the age of her character’s mom in season one.
The constant fascination with this concept can make breaking out into adult roles hard as you often feel beholden to your fans’ ideas of how you’re supposed to look or feel. For the early part of Bledel’s acting career, in and around the time of Gilmore, we see her attempting to keep up with contemporaries by taking roles in Tuck Everlasting and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The goal here was potentially launching into a career that could send her across that horizon from a teen actor on a WB show to a blockbuster star. Her appearance in Sin City definitely feels this way, and this stands to possibly be the closest we’ll ever get to see her in a superhero movie.
Fast forward to recent times and she’s done some work on Mad Men (where she met her eventual husband, Vincent Kartheiser). Her career pivoted more towards prestige television and that brings us to The Handmaid’s Tale. In this series, Bledel plays Emily Malek, a lesbian professor of cellular biology, who struggles to escape the oppressive world of Gilead and make it back to her wife and son. The amount of punishment her character must endure before receiving her happy ending is a far cry from the, at times, overprivileged Rory Gilmore. Bledel gives a powerful scene when she can read to her son without fear of punishment. She can’t get through it without sobbing and her wife has to help her—showing us a family that is working on healing.
Bledel's performance in Handmaid's Tale has given us a fully adult woman who has let herself be completely absorbed into an unlikely role. She doesn't feel like Rory Gilmore or a thinly veiled version of Alexis herself. Her real-life persona is secondary to the role she is playing. It’s no surprise that this is the role that landed Bledel her first Emmy Award.
That is not to say that Bledel wasn’t doing good work on Gilmore Girls. For older Millennials, who were around Rory’s age and in high school when the show started, Rory offered the representation that brainy introverted girls wanted. Her mom Lorelai was what we aspired to be: funny, attractive, smart, quick-witted, and fashionable. Rory offered a point of view that was more grounded in the hyper-stylized and fast-talking world crafted by Amy Sherman Palladino. She was the voice of reason, the sensible one (at least during the show's early seasons). That couldn’t be done without Alexis Bledel selling us on Rory being intelligent and at the same time, a little bit cold. She complimented Lauren Graham’s Lorelai who was warm and whimsical.
I believe that, if she had wanted to, Bledel could have launched more into a career resembling those of her peers like Hilary Duff or Mandy Moore. Where we ended up seems much more in tune with where she would rather be, and luckily, she evaded that rough outcome that tragically befell a lot of early 00s teen stars.
I started watching Gilmore Girls during middle school, almost by accident. I wanted to watch a new show to fall asleep to, and with my sister away at college, I could ransack her DVD collection. Among those DVDs were other early 00s teen hits like The OC. I randomly picked the season 4 box set of Gilmore and proceeded to stay up late watching the first disc. Eventually, I realized that this was the show that had been missing from my life, and over the past 14 or so years, I have watched and rewatched every episode multiple times. I have spent many hours with Alexis Bledel, and her voice is permanently etched into my brain. With all that being said, I feel confident that she still has a lot left to show us in the acting department, and at 40, she’s nowhere close to losing her steam.
Marco is a comedian, writer, and underemployed New Yorker trying to make it in this damn world. He enjoys fruitlessly pursuing love on dating apps and keeping track of all of the movies he’s seen on Letterboxd.