Dave Karger
September 07, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

10:00-11:00PM · ABC · Returns Sept. 30

Things are getting a little testy in the Walker household. Youngest son Justin (Dave Annable) is now home from a tour in Iraq and suffering from a severe knee injury that’s left him wheelchair-bound, while mom Nora (Sally Field) is firing on all overprotective cylinders. When grandson Cooper hops on Justin’s lap and lands on his bad leg, it’s simply too much for her to watch. ”You have to admit you’re hurt and let me take care of you,” she pleads. ”You wanna take care of me?” Justin yells back. ”Then back off, Mom! All right?” When it comes to Brothers & Sisters, at least the juiciest drama is now taking place in front of the cameras. ABC’s star-studded dysfunctional family drama was expected to be the train wreck of 2006 because of a major cast upheaval, the abrupt exit of an executive producer, and a complete reshooting of the show’s pilot. But once the revised lineup was in place — notably two-time Oscar winner Field, who replaced stage veteran Betty Buckley as Nora, the newly widowed family figurehead —Brothers & Sisters began to hit its stride. It brought in an ace exec producer (Greg Berlanti of Everwood) and lured a big-name guest star (Rob Lowe as Senator McCallister, a love interest for costar Calista Flockhart’s Kitty, will become a full-fledged cast member this month). And viewers responded — an average of 11 million were drawn in by the show’s addictive mix of sibling drama, social relevance, and guilty-pleasure twists.

”We all looked at the pilot and said, ‘Oh, we didn’t get it right,”’ admits ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson. ”But to the credit of everyone involved, we rolled up our sleeves, spent a lot of money and effort, got Sally into it, and the rest is history.” And as of July, Emmy history, as Field and Rachel Griffiths, the Aussie Six Feet Under alum who plays no-nonsense older sister Sarah, both received acting nominations (awards will be handed out Sept. 16).

In season 2, both actresses have promising plotlines: Nora develops a flirtation with Lowe’s new campaign manager (Danny Glover), while Berlanti hints that the recently separated Sarah will ”deal with issues of custody” with her estranged husband. Sitting on Sarah’s living-room sofa during a break in shooting, the two nominees chatted about crying on camera, same-sex kissing, and why they ”don’t give a f–” about doing movies. Yes, Sally Field said ”f–.”

Entertainment Weekly Sally, how were you first asked to take over the role of Nora?

Sally Field I got a call one day from my agent, who said, ”I know you don’t want to do television, but they want to know if you would just look at the pilot because they want to make some serious changes.” I met with them and I loved what they wanted to do: They wanted to look at this big American family that had a very strong father figure, a real patriarchal family, but that over the process of time became a matriarchal family, where the women became the strong voices. And literally, like 10 days later, we were practically filming. I hadn’t met any of the cast, and we had a big ABC photo shoot where we all showed up and it was like, ”Hi! Here we all are! Getting to know each other!”

Rachel Griffiths It was very exciting because it meant that the family was going to have this anchor that was a proven, deep, funny force. And in a way, it was clearer what the show was going to be, knowing Sally. She can swing from absolutely adorable and hilarious to heartbreaking. If there was one thing that there probably wasn’t enough of in the first pilot, it was humor. And quite frankly, I was excited that there was going to be another major player to split the workload!

EW Rachel, when you watched the pilot, did you see its faults?

RG Actually, we were really happy with it. I spoke to Calista, and we thought it was really solid. Ten years ago, when a pilot didn’t have to be 100 percent of what it was going to be, I think no one would have really blinked. Now, there’s more pressure for it to be absolutely everything. What we did find when we remade it was that we were more relaxed with each other. And I’m sure that came through.

EW Were you worried that all the attention on Calista’s return to TV would overshadow the rest of the show?

SF I didn’t think of anything except I didn’t want to let down any of these incredibly talented actors, whether they were the newer ones or not.

RG You find out a little beforehand. I did a little sussing out on Calista. I don’t want to go to work and not be getting on with people. And I really never had — I was so in love with my Six Feet Undies. My lawyer rang and said, ”I just want you to know, I’ve also been Calista’s lawyer for 20 years, and you guys are gonna get on like a house on fire.” And that was all I needed.

EW What an interesting decision to hint that Uncle Saul [Ron Rifkin] is gay in last season’s finale. With Kevin [Matthew Rhys], that makes two gay main characters on the show.

RG My best friend predicted it. She was asking me last year, ”What’s with Uncle Saul? He’s gay, right?” I said, ”No, he’s not gay!” She goes, ”What’s with, like, the pink jumpers?” I’m like, ”In America that doesn’t mean you’re gay.” She’s like, ”I think he’s gay.” I’m like, ”Kate, I’m on the show. He’s not gay.” But I love that this show deals with the political through the personal. We don’t deal with Iraq in the abstract so much as there’s a son, a mom, a sister. We’ve had letters like, ”Please, can you stop with the kissing? It’s okay that there’s a gay in the family, but I don’t have to see him make pash face.”

EW ”Pash face”?

SF It’s Australian.

RG I’ve had older women come up to me: ”Could you tell your writers I can’t deal with those gays kissing all the time!” And I’m like, ”How do you feel about a black person and a white person kissing?” They’re like, ”Well, that’s all right.” And I’m like, ”Well, you know what? Your mother probably would have been uncomfortable with that. So you just have to get with the program.”

EW Did you two feel guilty that you got Emmy nominations but the rest of the cast didn’t?

RG We wish there was an ensemble award, because this show is really in the spirit of that. This is part of a new breed of shows where it’s a bunch of stars. It’s kind of an embarrassment in a way to be singled out. But we just think it’s because we cried the most. Didn’t we agree that was why? I’m not going to cry as much this season. Give someone else the bucket!

EW Do you have any favorite moments from the first season?

SF I thought the stuff last year with Sarah’s marriage falling apart was so beautifully written and so heartbreaking. Because both sides made sense. It’s so tragic.

RG I loved meeting Nora’s mother [Marion Ross]. Suddenly Nora and Saul became, like, children again. I just love in that episode how Nora climbs into the pantry to look for alcohol!

EW How does doing this show limit what you can take on in the film world?

RG I don’t give a f–.

SF There you go!

RG I don’t give a f–! I’m like, ”You know what? I’ve just worked the hardest year of my life. I have two kids under 3. I don’t want to read a script.” I don’t want to even think that being on a hit TV show is not enough. I’m playing a role that I get to explore every part of me: myself as a mother, as a sister, as a daughter, as a working woman. There’s no part of me that’s not getting exercised.

EW [To Field] And you?

SF I don’t give a f–! [Laughs] You know, the truth of the matter is, we have so little time off. I feel the same way: ”Please, God, don’t let anything come my way!” We worked last year 10 months straight…. I think television right now is exploring more relationships and people things than film is. I don’t really have a desire to stand there and not be acting.

EW So was there a moment during this whole Brothers & Sisters journey where you thought, ”Phew. We’re going to be all right”?

RG I did feel a corner turned about halfway through last season when women would approach me on the street and say, ”I love the new show.” It wasn’t like, ”Love the new show.” It was ”I loooove the new show.” That made me go, ”They’re engaged. We’re on kind of a solid ground.”

SF I don’t think you can ever sit back and take anything for granted. Every single moment you have to be looking at: Are we taking the right step, are we on the right path, are we doing good work? I think that the minute you sit back and dust yourself off and say ”La-de-da,” the lightning bolt will strike.

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