Music is integral to Gilmore Girls; it’s woven into the storytelling, it’s a key theme in the many pop culture references within the show, and it’s a key passion to many of the key players. Rory and Lorelai both share a passion for music, but it’s through Lane Kim (Keiko Agena) that this passion finds voice and through Hep Alien that we are allowed a place to rock out with abandon. Joining forces with Lane in Hep Alien were Dave Rygalski (Adam Brody), Brian Fuller (John Cabrera) and Zack Van Gerbig (Todd Lowe), and later Gil (Sebastian Bach).
It’s through the absence of Dave that we are given a better introduction to Zack, who ultimately becomes Lane’s husband and father to her twin boys. I had a chance to talk with Todd Lowe about his role in Gilmore Girls, how he felt about his shift into this leading-man role, and what it was like to return to Stars Hollow for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
Todd Lowe joined Gilmore Girls as Zack van Gerbig in Season 3 after auditioning for the role with a Pixies song sung half in English, half in German:
“I came in way back in 2002 or 2003 in the third season,” Todd shares, “I read and they asked me to sing something. At the time I was performing in a comedy band where we pretended we were pop singers in Los Angeles from Germany, so I sang a Pixies song in half German, half English. I got the call a couple of days later! I thought it was just a one-off, but they kept adding more and more episodes.”
Little did Todd know that his role would grow to one that would encompass 42 episodes across 5 seasons of the show. Todd came to Gilmore Girls early in his acting career, three years after finishing his degree at the University of Texas. It was at university that Todd also explored his interest in music. “I went to school at the University of Texas in Austin and they kind of hand you a guitar when you go to that town! I had picked one up in high school and started playing. In Austin, I used it in comedy acts and played in little bands. It stayed by me, I stuck with it. I wish I was better than I was, but I enjoy playing and I enjoy singing and trying to tell jokes at the same time.”
Todd continues to play music, currently in a band called LA Hootenanny, which Todd describes as a “bar band” – a group of 11 musicians who love music and get together in some form whenever they can.
Zack Van Gerbig has always remained a bit of mystery on Gilmore Girls. He joins the band without being the “primary” guitarist, taking a back seat to Dave Rygalski (Adam Brody), who immediately strikes it off with Lane Kim. Zack, though, has always been the one who shared Lane’s seriousness for music, even if the rest of his character lacked seriousness or depth, at least initially. Given how little we are told about Zack, I asked Todd his opinion.
“Well, he was just a guy,” shares Todd. “I think he might be a couple of years older than Brian and Lane, who just showed up in Lane’s band. He lived in Stars Hollow, probably working slacker-type jobs, but wanted to be a musician. Was very serious about how we had to be ‘True Rockers.’”
Todd shares that playing Zack has always felt comfortable, thanks to the insight of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino: “A good writer will talk to their actors and will learn their speech patterns and rhythms. I mean, it’s not a second skin I had to jump back into when I came back to do this again. The character fits me pretty well. Maybe she could have made him an amateur theatre guy, because that’s a little closer to who I am. I spend a little bit more time doing plays than I do music, but she kept it in my voice, I think, and never stretched it too far.”
Todd notes that his character was given more depth and focus when Dave Rygalski took off. This was not the original plan for Gilmore Girls, but rather happened with actor Adam Brody left to join The O.C.. Todd shares with us how this opened the door for Zack, “Since Dave Rygalski took off, I think he was slated to be Lane’s love interest, and then I guess I was the next guy in line. So they kind of wrote for me and her to get married.”
This shift in love interest has been rather polarizing for fans, who believed that Lane belonged with Dave. Indeed, it’s very likely that was the path Lane was on. “I think he was the next choice of what they wanted to do with the storyline,” muses Todd. “It’s pretty common knowledge that Hep Alien is an anagram for Helen Pai, our music coordinator, and she married a musician named Dave Rygalski and I think that Amy probably had that in her head. Amy and Helen were friends growing up, so she paralleled that with Rory and Lane and so she just kind of wrote from what she knew. So I was the next man up, and lucky me!”
While many fans believe that Lane and Dave were ‘meant to be,’ an equal number grew to respect the relationship that grew between Lane and Zack and the maturity of Zack through the seasons. By the end of the series, Zack had matured into a caring and doting husband, nervous about his new role as a father to twins. On the surprise pregnancy, Todd notes, “From what I remember, we went to Mexico and with the aid of a faulty prophylactic, was how the conception happened. And bam, there we are. We’re in it. I think a lot of people it happens to that way.”
For Zack, it was a moment that helped shape him into a stronger person, “I’d like to think that with an impending pregnancy… that’s going to sober a good man up and I think that Zack was a good guy,” notes Todd. When we left Zack & Lane at the end of Season 7 of Gilmore Girls, Zack had landed a role as guitarist for an opening band, going on tour while Lane stayed home with the boys. Todd sees this as Zack’s way of taking responsibility for his kids, “He used the tools that he had to go out and perform while his wife stayed home. He’s got to go out and win some kind of bread! So, he did what he knew how to do…”
I asked Todd what he think happened to Zack in the 9 years before when we see the series pick back up for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, and Todd suggests that Zack perhaps continued to play music “with maybe another act,” but that likely he stepped up to find other work. “I don’t want to spoil anything and say what’s going on now, but he followed that dream as a young musician and Lane gave him a blessing and so he went off and did his stuff and came back after a few months on tour… and probably had to look for other work.”
Just as we would hope for Lane, which I discussed recently with Keiko Agena, we all hope that Zack continued with his pursuit of music. Todd notes, “I think he would try to strike a balance of both. Find a job, like any struggling musician or artist, to pay the bills while he does what he wants to do at night. And Lane is also in the band too! But once the babies come, where do you put a drum kit when you’ve got two bassinets?”
Although we won’t know the answer to that one until we see Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, we all hope that music continued to be a part of their lives. Of course, it’s quite promising that all members of Hep Alien are confirmed to return for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Indeed, the fandom surrounding Hep Alien is quite intense, as evidence at the recent Hep Alien secret show at the ATX Festival this past summer.
Indeed, we can give credit to Todd for the first live performance of Hep Alien at the ATX Festival, featuring Todd Lowe, John Cabrera and Keiko Agena, “That was something that John and I… we were just sitting and having coffee and we were like ‘We’re going to this festival’ and Austin is my hometown,” Todd shares, noting that he made some calls and the band, supplemented with some additional musicians, began rehearsing. In the end, the response was overwhelming. “It went over great. It was hot as hell! It was 110 degrees in that asphalt parking lot on South Congress. I was sweating big time! But Man, I felt like The Beatles! There were just screaming when we came out! We had a police escort off the stage… or patio I should say.”
— Alexa Gonzalez Wagz (@alexagwagner) June 6, 2015
The fandom surrounding Hep Alien could mirror non-fictional band and is a part of Gilmore Girls that has given rise to a very unique fan base. Todd suggests that Hep Alien resonated because they were relatable, “They picked smart covers that we did; they are fun songs. We aren’t the best band, so maybe people can relate to it. Very few bands become huge mega acts and I don’t think Hep Alien is ever going to be selling out arenas! I think it’s relatable. The chemistry within the band between Zack and Brian, I mean they all lived together. Hopefully we landed a couple of the jokes on the series! We don’t sound bad, half the time!”
Taking part in 42 episodes, I asked Todd which episode was his favourite. “I like the scene where I lose my shit and take it out my band at the big showcase. We get in a big fight,” Todd shares. “I think Dan wrote that episode… it was inspired by that movie Dig!, and in fact the title of that episode was ‘He’s Slipping’ ‘Em Bread… Dig?’ and then we had that guy Joel from the The Brian Jonestown Massacre band [featured in the Dig! documentary], and they re-enacted a scene from that documentary where it’s a big show and the egotistical musician wants to micro-manage everything and it creates a terrible tension and explodes on stage. That was a lot of fun to shoot.”
Co-star John Cabrera also mentioned this episode as one of his favourites, in a past interview with GilmoreNews. The on-screen chemistry between the members of Hep Alien was mirrored offline with friendships that have continued to this day. I asked Todd who his favourite person to work with was, and he remained faithful to his bandmates, “I’d have to say who I’m closest with, and that would be Keiko and John, and I’d have to say when Sebastian Bach came in, that was just a shot in the arm that was unexpected and made those days really fun. Even when we’d have to have rehearsals to prep the number that we were going to do on the show, spending time with those guys was just a blast and I think it reflected in our chemistry on the screen. And I got to work with Carole King, that was pretty cool.”
It was recently revealed that talks of a reunion began almost as soon as Gilmore Girls went off air, though only more seriously in the past two years. I asked Todd if he believed Gilmore Girls would come back. “No. I knew it was playing 2 or 3 times a day on ABC Family after the series went down, and then when the original came out on Netflix a couple of years ago, it got an enormous second wind. I was working on True Blood, which was a really high profile show, but then I started getting a lot of people – like friends of my girlfriend’s kids, they’re high schoolers – and they would know me from Gilmore Girls, which was a while ago. I’m so impressed that… it was very 2000s and a lot of very topical reference to the time, and now the younger people of today are still getting them, or maybe they’re Googling what was referenced on the show and remembering back to bands like The Shins, and things like that… you can’t underestimate the generation younger than you, because they’re just as smart, if not smarter, than we are.”
Todd shares that he heard about the Gilmore Girls revival initially from John Cabrera, who sent him a text with the news, and then it was a waiting game to see if his character would return. “Well, then it was ‘Ooh, boy, I wonder if they’re going to use me? I assume they’re going to use me, unless they’re going to write me out and say Zack died on tour and Lane’s raising the kids by herself! It was a bit of a waiting game and they I finally got a call from casting that said, ‘Yes, hold Todd for these available dates in the Spring.’” And the rest is history!
Todd says he returns for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life for more than one episode, and that little has changed, apart from his pant size and hair color. “I probably have the distinction of being the person who’s aged the most,” Todd jokes. “My hair’s completely grey. But I’m just saying that as a pre-emptive strike if any Internet hate flies my way.”
Todd says that being back in Stars Hollow was amazing, “The art department did an incredible job! I show up and there’s Luke’s Diner and there’s new signage about smartphones and such that you would expect. But yeah, there’s Taylor’s Market, it looks exactly the same, they put the gazebo back. I thought they would just build set-by-set, but no, they built the whole town, all at once. And there we were!”
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life will give fans 4 new episodes, 90-minute each, and Todd says we’ll be happy with the material. “Oh yeah, oh yeah yeah yeah. Don’t worry! I thought it was funnier this time around! Now, maybe there’s an imbalance between the funniness and the heartfelt stuff, but the table reads were a riot. And yes, it’s got its heartfelt moments too. I think fans will be pleased. I hope so!”
Of course, with the talks circling already about more Gilmore Girls episodes, I had to ask Todd if he would be game to return for more: “Of course! Of course! That was the first big job I had in Los Angeles and it has a special place in my heart and I’m so grateful to Amy and Dan. I mean, I did 40 or so episodes, I paid off my student loans, it kind of validated me. ‘I can play a part in a tv show, I’m doing the right thing.’ Because it’s kind of scary to move out to Los Angeles and try this and yeah, it gave me the validation like, ‘Hey, I can work on television, this is nice’,
Of course, no GilmoreNews interview would be complete without the question, is Todd Team Dean, Team Jess or Team Logan? “I would say that I’m Team Logan,” Todd asserts. “He seems the smartest. Rory’s a smart girl.”
If you miss seeing Todd regularly on television, for Gilmore Girls or True Blood, you may soon find him in a new digital series for Verizon’s Go90, the same platform currently hosting Milo Ventimiglia’s new series, Relationship Status. Todd’s new series is called Cold.
“I shot a little pilot / digital series for the upcoming Verizon Go90 platform. I shot this in Sudbury, Ontario. It’s not a Canadian series, but it’s set in Canada. I play an incarcerated man in a Canadian prison. I hope it’s a hit! It’s a young Canadian director, her name is Emily Diana Ruth, so we’re seeing what the response is on that and seeing if there’s another season. It’s called Cold series. Produced by Ron Howard and Brian Glazer. They shot like 2 hours of material that they’re going to release in 10-minute episodes, like 10-minute series. They hope people will binge it like they would a normal series.”
Stay tuned for more information about Todd’s new series, as it becomes available. And tune in on November 25th to see what Zack is up to now on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.