Gilmore Girls actor Robert Michael Lee takes us behind the counter at Luke's Diner
Luke's quietest employee shares his behind-the-scenes Stars Hollow stories
Like many Gilmore Girls actors, Lee played multiple roles throughout the series–until it became a problem.
If you’re a Gilmore superfan, you’ve probably noticed more than a few actors playing multiple roles throughout the series—coming to mind are Sherilyn Fenn, Alex Borstein, and of course, Sean Gunn as “Mick the DSL Guy”. Robert Lee was a background actor who played an array of different townies over Gilmore Girls’ 7-year run.
Lee was brought in by first assistant director Carla McClosky, who he met while working on the set of the sci-fi series Babylon 5. Originally there to portray a teacher at Chilton Academy, he eventually found himself in lots featured background roles. “Subsequent to that, I was a normal townsperson, and the very first time I was a busboy was Episode 12,” Lee said.
Beyond serving burgers and fries at Luke’s, Lee also served as a stand-in during non-Luke’s scenes; in conversation with Lee, Remarkist founder John Cabrera (who played Lane’s bandmate and roommate, Brian) recalled that Lee stood in for an actor during the infamous house party scene in “Keg! Max!” (Season 3, Episode 19). Lee later remembered it was actually John he stood in for.
In early episodes of Gilmore Girls, Lee is seen wandering around Stars Hollow as background talent, until it became a continuity problem. “By season 3, there was an edict that I was no longer welcome to work on any other scene except for the diner,” Lee said with a laugh. “There were some slight problems in seasons 1 and 2, where I may have been spotted walking around and then [in the next scene] I’m in the diner as the busboy!”
That’s the power of movie magic, kids. Or perhaps Luke’s busboys are simply all-star multitaskers!
There was a good reason for the window between Taylor’s Olde Fashioned Soda Shoppe and Luke’s Diner.
In Season 3 of Gilmore Girls, Town Selectman (or perhaps Town Everything Guy) Taylor Doose opens Taylor’s Olde-Fashioned Soda Shoppe directly next to Luke’s Diner, with a window separating the two establishments. Though Luke’s chagrin was the fictional reasoning behind this choice, Lee revealed the production logistics that inspired this move.
“The diner was a pretty small set and it was kind of taking us a long time to get those scenes done,” Lee said. “The scenes in the diner were always more than three pages long. It was a lot of dialog and work, and when you're on set, you have to get coverage done and you have to move the cameras… We were having a little trouble being creative as to how they were shooting Luke and Lorelai sitting at or around the tables, and we were just too cramped.”
The production team couldn’t just tear down a wall like Gorbachev. Thus, the infamous window became their solution. “We had a couple of fun episodes where Luke just loses it because he doesn’t want this window,” Lee said. It was a real win-win for everyone (except for Luke).
Lee considered himself a part of the crew.
In many ways, Lee was central to Luke’s operation, both in fiction and in real life. Lee was often the only person allowed to walk around inside the diner set during scenes. He contributed to the production running smoothly, from helping first-time background talent learn the Gilmore code of conduct to buying chrome-like plastic utensils for Luke’s that he saw at Walmart.
And while most background talent dream of an elevated speaking role, Lee liked his role as a featured background actor, and the additional responsibilities that came with it. “I always felt that I was very proud to be part of the crew and be part of a production that made such a damn good show,” Lee said. “I wanted to help the production have a good show, and that was what I was focused on and what I really enjoyed.”
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