Producer–turned-director Marc Abraham wasn't familiar with Lauren Graham's work, however she just happened to be on The Ellen Show when her agent was discussing a role in Flash of Genius with Abraham on the phone. After checking her out on the show, Abraham believed Graham would be right for the role of Phyllis, mother of six and wife of Robert Kearns, the man who spent years fighting against the Ford Motor Company in order to get credit for his invention (intermittent windshield wipers).
"I think we just kind of connected," said Graham about meeting Abraham for the first time. "We definitely connected as people, all of us. I just did a lot of research. I read The New Yorker article. There's a whole other world of sort of preparation you can do when something is based on a true story that I never get to do. So I just looked up everything I could and I really loved the script. A lot of these parts…this part was a supporting part for sure, but it was a little smaller even and so sometimes the challenge is to kind of flesh it out for yourself and maybe for the story. So I just had a lot of thoughts about it."
Graham didn't speak with any of the members of the real Kearns family as she was preparing for the role. "No, the director really kind of did that," said Graham. "Marc had done a lot of that before we started and so the script was in a place where he could answer most of the questions. I think that he felt sensitive about, since we're not impersonating these people, keeping a little bit of a boundary so that our work was what we were doing. You can only really work within the limits or the sort of story of the script. But I did get to meet some of the family and Phyllis, who I played, at the end, on the day we were shooting the courtroom when I was saying goodbye to Greg [Kinnear] and walking down the hall."
"It was very moving to meet her, actually. I've just never had that experience before and just to see an actual person who shared their story with you, and was so vulnerable in that way, and to think about what that must've been like for her. I thought about it for me as the character, as the person playing the part, but it kind of takes you out of yourself and you think about it for her. That wouldn't have helped my work. I don't know. I've just never had that happen before and she was really sweet."
Robert Kearns' obsession with getting the automotive giant to admit they'd taken his design without acknowledging it was his caused friction in the family. Phyllis stood by Robert for years before eventually opting out of the marriage. "She ended up with somebody. He didn't. Really, from there the story gets darker," explained Graham about the relationship between Phyllis and Robert. "He had many victories along the way, but he never gave up that fight and that's sort of hinted at in the movie. We talked about how much you put that in there. It's a movie and this is a story of a triumph, so it's already kind of sad and a story with a lot of conflict. Do you put a thing at the end saying he died surrounded by documents and still fighting lots of cases and spent a lot of the money he got in pursuit of that same goal, which was for them to say, 'It was your idea. You're right. We took it.' So that wasn't the focus of this. That's Flash of Genius II. It's going to be a water ride at Universal."
Asked if she thought Robert's lengthy legal battle was worth it after seeing how much it cost him personally, Graham replied, "I already played the lady and it's like none of my business if it was the right thing or the wrong thing. They had the experience that they had as a family and I'm sure they all have a feeling about it. I hope for them, that to see this story kind of lift up what was heroic about their father and also show what was flawed, that that's been a satisfying feeling for them."
Kinnear's performance in Flash of Genius is one of the few to generate Oscar buzz thus far this year, and Graham says they had a wonderful time together on the set. "I loved it," said of working with Kinnear. "We had such a good time. The beauty is that this movie has kind of been doing nicely and going to festivals and stuff is honestly that we just continue to have fun. It's been one of the changes since The Gilmore Girls ended, having an experience that's with a certain group of people and then you leave and then you come back and you're refreshed. You've all fallen in love with each other again because you're not with them every day. But this is such a particular group that I think we were bonded and I think we all ended up working together because I feel like we have a similar aesthetic. I think that we kind of like the taste of this."
"For me, I know the movie is a sentimental story, but I think it's very cleanly told. It could be way more melodramatic, especially the stuff between he and I. The director is a fan of some sort of classic '70s movies that have a slightly more, hopefully, documentary style. He didn't make a big deal out of the period. It wasn't like a costume movie. I think we also shared a similar way of working. We really talked it out. We really did our work and then we'd go to dinner at the end of the day and have a good time. It was just kind of a very functional and fun working relationship and I think Greg is amazing. "