'Parenthood': Matt Lauria previews Ryan's emotional return (and a Luke Cafferty appearance?)

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If the previews for this week’s penultimate episode of Parenthood tell us anything, it’s that we’re going to need even more tissues than normal. And a key factor in that tear-jerking equation is, of course, the return of fan favorite (and love of Amber’s life) Ryan.

Last we saw Ryan, he was re-enlisting after having come to the realization that he is and always will be a soldier. And as an effect of that decision, he and Amber broke off their engagement. But now, after weeks of Amber drowning her sorrows in ice cream and pot, Ryan is back. Even worse? He’s injured.

We don’t know much other than that, but we caught up with Matt Lauria to talk about Ryan’s reunion with Amber, his potential future on the show, and the theoretical appearance of his Friday Night Lights character Luke Cafferty (because why not?):

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Obviously, this is a very big and emotional episode with Ryan’s return. What can you tell me about his return and how injured he is?
MATT LAURIA: All I can say is that he is back from the Army. I can’t give any details in terms of under what circumstances or for how long, but I can say that he’s back and that you can see from the trailers that he might be a little banged up, and that Ryan and Amber do have a chance to see each other.

What about his mental state? When he left, he’d just made this very difficult decision that he’s a soldier and that’s how he knows how to live. Has that changed?
I can say that this return only adds unexpected complications to his plan because, as you said, it was hard to make that decision to leave [Amber]. By returning to the military, he broke off the engagement, which was a horribly difficult decision to arrive at, but one that, in some way, he felt was the only possibility, the only option. So then to find himself unexpectedly back under these conditions was not a variable that he had anticipated or was necessarily prepared to deal with. When you have the plan and, as hard as it may be, you go with the plan, you stick with the plan, and then something throws a wrench in the system like this, I think that it renders everybody a little ill-prepared.

In terms of his actual reunion with Amber, will they revert back to their old ways instinctively? It’s a very complicated dynamic …
I think that’s what’s so beautiful about this, and what Mae [Whitman] and I kind of talked about was the idea of, sometimes there’s moments in life and interactions between people that are complicated and not easily defined, but what it comes down to at the very elementary level is: “Just being here with you is something.” It defies definition or description and just comes down to, aside from judgment or anything else, this is about one human being wanting to be present with another human being. So I think that the care that they have for each other is so deep and the love is so deep and so complicated, but I think it really comes down to two individuals who have a very intense history together finding a way to just be present with one another.

So how long has Ryan been gone in Parenthood time?
I don’t know. I guess a few months. I have no idea. But I’d say I think long enough to settle back in the groove. I really don’t know.

Personally, from the relationship that you have with this character, can you ever see him not being a soldier?
I think that that’s the problem that he faces. That’s what led to the eventual decision to break off the engagement. That’s a good question. At this point, I think that [being a soldier] feels like the most likely option for him. I just think the factors of where he comes from and what his upbringing was, combined with the challenges that he’s faced as a result of his service, I think that he’s in for life. Yeah.

Will we get a Ryan-Zeek moment? I love them.
If I’m being frank, at least this season, there isn’t a re-engagement with Zeek, but I know that Zeek, in Ryan’s absence, I think has probably been dealing with that. I think everyone’s been dealing with Ryan’s absence and the effect on Amber, and I think that Zeek’s care for Amber would probably dictate some kind of keeping Ryan in his awareness and concern.

Do you think it’s possible for Ryan to stay on the show but not as a romantic interest for Amber? And the answer should be yes.
[Laughs] That’s very kind. That has to do with ole Grandpa Katims. (He’s the youngest grandpa in the world. He’s only what? 40-something?) He’s the mastermind, and they’ve been very kind to me. This was a huge blessing of an opportunity, and I’ve loved every minute of it, but I don’t know. They have such a huge cast and then logistically, I’m working on another show. I would always love to come back to Parenthood and keep Ryan’s role alive, but who knows.

I think you should show up as Luke on Friday Night at the Luncheonette, and be like Ryan’s twin brother.
His doppelganger, and Amber will be so confused and she’ll have these feelings and not know why. And be Southern and have boots and stuff. [Laughs]

Parenthood airs tonight at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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