April 23, 2020
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For fans of the perpetually popular TV series “Gilmore Girls,” which aired on the CW from 2000-2007, writer, director and actor Chris Eigeman ’87 will forever be known for his portrayal of Jason “Digger” Stiles — the charmingly neurotic and self-deprecating business partner of Lorelai Gilmore’s father, Richard.
Nearly a decade after “Gilmore Girls” went off the air, fans of all ages are eagerly devouring episodes of the series revival, “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” which landed on Netflix today, Friday, Nov. 25. Eigeman recently answered questions about life after Kenyon, the social hazards of playing a somewhat unpopular TV character and the importance of taking risks.
It seems like the entire world has been counting down the minutes until “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” drops on Netflix. Are you planning to watch it?
My love for Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, who created the show, and Lauren Graham and other cast members knows no bounds, but I tend not to watch stuff that I’m in. I’ve known those guys from way before I ever got on the show — well before I joined the cast. I consider them family.
You’ve played some iconic roles on film over the years, from Nick Smith in “Metropolitan” to Max in “Kicking and Screaming.” When people see you on the street, which character are they most likely to remember you as?
If anybody recognizes me. I just assume no one would bother to recognize me. [Wife] Linda [Djerejian Eigeman ’87] and I went, after “Metropolitan” came out, to a very fancy restaurant in New York, just the two of us. It was a beautiful dining room and we sat at the table, and I noticed that people at other tables were looking over at me. I suddenly bloomed with the arrogance of, “Well, I’m now in this movie so of course people are craning their necks to see me, or just to catch a glimpse.” And about halfway through the meal, Linda looked over at me and was like, “Do you honestly think those people are looking at you?” And I’m like, “Well, you know, I’m in a movie.” She said, “Sidney Poitier is sitting two tables behind us.” Ever since then I’ve really tried to keep it in check. But if people do recognize me, if they are of a certain age, it’s likely for “Gilmore Girls.” If they’re of another age, it might be for “Metropolitan.” The default is usually “Maid in Manhattan.”
Your character on “Gilmore Girls” is somewhat unpopular due to his interference with Luke and Lorelai’s relationship. As an actor, how does it feel when disgust is the main reaction coming at you from everywhere?
The character I played on “Gilmore Girls,” I think that in the world, he had his champions, but he's not really designed to be the hero. The engine of that show was, and is, Luke and Lorelai. There was a time, when I was doing the show, when 16-year-old girls would scream at me [on the street] — and not with affection. They just weren’t happy.
In what ways has your Kenyon education helped you get to where you are today?
There’s a story I told at [longtime Professor of Drama] Tom Turgeon’s memorial a few years ago. We were doing a play and Tom had been really insistent that, at the very opening of the play, I do something that was designed for me to get a laugh. Which is really scary for [an actor] to do, because if you start a play and you try and get a laugh, and the laugh falls flat, you now have an entire play to try and get that audience back. … That first performance, I didn’t do it. I kind of wimped out. Tom was like, “You’ll get it. Do it again.” Then I wimped out the second night. And I remember he said, “Eventually, being an actor, you are going to figure out that it’s better to be brave than to shy away.” I think about that all the time.
Anything else you want people to know about you or what you’ve been up to?
We have a little boy [who is almost nine years old], and the day will come when we take him up to the Hill and point to all of the buildings, and say, “This is where we grew up, so have a look around.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.