A Chat with Lisa Edelstein
These days, Lisa Edelstein is predominantly known for her role as hospital administrator Dr. Lisa Cuddy, but many diehard TV fans have been familiar with her work for years. She’s played comedic roles on “Mad About You,” “Frasier,” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” gotten dramatic on “Judging Amy,” “The Practice,” and “Without a Trace,” and even written a musical…and even before all of that, she was arguably the Paris Hilton of her day, spending some time in the ‘80s as a NYC party girl. Edelstein took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about some of her past roles, the success of “House,” and why it’s hard for her to be a vegan.
Lisa Edelstein: Hi!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, how are you?
LE: I’m good, how are you?
BE: I’m great. Well, it’s a pleasure to talk to you.
LE: Thank you!
BE: I’ve been a fan of “House” since episode 1…
LE: Oh, nice. You’re one of our diehards.
BE: Absolutely. And I’ve been a fan of Hugh Laurie’s since the “Fry and Laurie” days, too, so I was kind of an instant audience.
BE: So I guess the third season begins on September 5th?
LE: Yeah, it’s exciting.
BE: Do you have a stock line that you offer up whenever someone asks you, “So, what can we expect this season?”
LE: (Laughs) Yeah: “I can’t tell you anything.” That’s it. Um, yeah, I think that this season…I think that every year now, every year that we get the opportunity to have, we’ll be able to dive deeper into the whole cast of characters. And that’s really exciting for all of us.
BE: It seems like, with each season, they’ve expanded the history of each main character considerably.
LE: Yeah! Because they can. They can keep to the format, but they also get to explore our characters more because they’re established already. And that makes it more fun for us.
BE: So are they going to continue making the implication that Cuddy and House are going to get together?
LE: Yeah…well, I mean, who the hell knows? (Laughs) They don’t tell me anything. I think they like to keep me as on the edge as everybody else.
BE: I hear you tend to be kind of a glass-half-empty kind of person when discussing the show’s success.
LE: Well, I just…I’m just enjoying it. It’s funny that I have that kind of reputation; I just…people ask me, “Is it surprising, the success of ‘House’?’ And I think anything in our business is surprising. You really just can’t tell what’s going to happen with a show, and it’s very nice to have this experience.
BE: Do you think part of the success owes to the cushy post-“American Idol” slot that it had when it first got started?
LE: Well, it didn’t have it when we first got started, so I’m really happy that we were on Fox, because on any other network, we would’ve been cancelled! We had a small audience, but they were very loyal; they showed up every week for the first six episodes. And then “American Idol” started, and a lot of people got to find out about our show, and that was great…but we were still unsure as to whether we were getting all those people because they were already watching Fox or because they actually enjoyed “House.” And, then, the following season, when we started off again without “American Idol,” we had a huge audience, so it was clear that people actually liked our show. And then we could start feeling a little bit more confident that our show could stand on its own two feet.
BE: Is it still weird hearing Hugh switch from his British accent to House’s American accent?
LE: For me? No, it’s almost like having two different friends. I get really excited when I see the English guy, because that’s the guy I met at first, and I like him a lot. I mean, the American guy’s perfectly nice, but the English guy’s less stressed out!
BE: Between your work on both “Ally McBeal” and “Felicity,” I think most every single woman with a romantic side must’ve come to know you on sight.
LE: It’s amazing how many people watched “Felicity”! I had no idea! I thought that when I took that job, it was going to be one of those under-the-radar jobs, but, really, it was quite the opposite!
BE: I read somewhere that you said you’re recognized a lot from your spots on “Seinfeld” because that show’s fans are so diehard…
LE: Absolutely. I will forever be known for being on “Seinfeld,” but I love it, because it was great.
BE: …and “Felicity” fans are pretty obsessive, too, so I’d think the same would be the case for them as well.
LE: They are really obsessive! And all ages! Not just people you’d think would’ve been teenagers at the time, but people who were 40 years old at the time! It’s really funny!
BE: And I know you worked briefly on both “Sports Night” and “The West Wing.” Does that bode reasonably well for a spot on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”? (Writer’s note: all three shows were created by Aaron Sorkin.)
LE: Oh, God, I would love it! You know, we did a photo shoot for “House,” like, three weeks ago or so, and it just so happened that “Studio 60” was doing a photo shoot for their show in the same building, and because I’ve been doing this for so long and because I’ve hopped around from show to show so much, I knew every single person on that show…and their representation, and their makeup artist! So, for me, it was like a big reunion! The photo shoot was great; I had such a good time.
BE: Now, is there an Aaron Sorkin connection, since you were on two of his shows?
LE: There is. Well, um, first, there’s a Tommy Schlamme connection (a regular Sorkin collaborator), because I had worked with Tommy on a sitcom a long time ago (“Almost Perfect”), then he cast me in the live “E.R.” episode. And then the “Sports Night” episode was one of those things where I got a phone call at 9 in the morning to ask if I could be there at 10:30. And I showed up, and I met Aaron, and I read…I was already hired, but they just wanted to do a reading of the scenes out loud…and from that minute on, we were fast friends. And I was supposed to do one episode, and then they turned it into two episodes. And then the show got cancelled, and they offered me the part of the hooker on “The West Wing.” (Laughs)
LE: So, yes, it’s one of those things in my business where one thing really does lead to another. If you’re good to work with and you enjoy people, then I think it makes a difference.
BE: And, certainly, you’ve played a wide variety of characters, from hooker to transsexual (on “Ally McBeal”).
LE: Yeah, it’s fun. You get a good, fun career that way.
BE: And I read a couple of quotes about you being a vegan. I actually live only about ten minutes from PETA’s world headquarters (in Norfolk, VA).
LE: Oh, that’s funny! I’m not a vegan; I’m a vegetarian. I can’t take credit for being a full vegan. I have been on and off in the past, but I have a hard time with shoes.
BE: Yeah, actually, that was one of the quotes that I’d read, about how the hardest part was finding shoes that aren’t made with leather.
LE: Yeah, and my feet are the worst; I have terrible feet! But, also, I do eat dairy a bit. I’m not a perfect vegan by any stretch of the imagination, but I am vegetarian. Politically, I agree with veganism. I mean, nobody dies making milk, but the dairy industry has some very cruel practices. Trying to minimize the amount of cruelty you participate in, I think, is healthy for anybody to do. And it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. But I think making the effort makes a difference. Making different choices, even a couple of days a week, makes a difference.
BE: And I didn’t realize until recently that you’d been kind of a staple of the New York party scene in the ‘80s.
LE: (Sheepishly) Yeah…
BE: I guess if I read about it online, it’s not really a skeleton in your closet.
LE: No! It was great! I was a kid! I had a great time, I met amazing people, it was really exciting and fun. It was a growing experience, for sure! It was everything I wanted at the time; I couldn’t have been happier.
BE: And the fame you received was, I guess, what led you to be able to write and produce your musical (“Positive Me,” about AIDS).
LE: Well, that’s right. Because I had a built-in audience. People were wondering what I did, since I was being famous for no reason! (Laughs) But, thankfully, I did something. And it was something of value…something of social value.
BE: And what was the deal on the MTV show you were cast in after that?
LE: What was the deal…?
BE: Yeah, what show was it…?
LE: It was called “Awake on the Wild Side.” (Writer’s note: further research reveals that it was MTV’s attempt to capture the morning show audience.) It was, I like to say, four hours of national humiliation every day! It was a really stupid show.
BE: I know you’ve bounced around a bit, but of all the shows you’ve been a part of, which one do you think is the most underrated?
LE: The most underrated…?
BE: The one you really thought should’ve made it.
LE: Um…that I thought should’ve been a hit?
LE: I think “Sports Night” was a brilliant show.
BE: I’ve got the complete series box set, so I’d agree.
LE: It was a really, really smart show. Maybe a little bit ahead of its time. I don’t think people were used to single-camera (shows) yet.
BE: Oh, and I also saw that you reprised your role as Mercy Graves (from “Superman: The Animated Series”) on “Justice League.”
LE: Mercy Graves…that’s so much fun. I love doing cartoons. I also recently did a guest spot on “American Dad” that I’m very excited about. I think that airs…I did it last year, but it takes so long for them to do the animation, so I don’t think it airs ‘til February.
BE: And do you have anything else in the pipeline?
LE: No, not at the moment. Just doing “House.”
BE: I’m sure that keeps you hopping.
LE: It does. It’s kind of hard to fit other stuff in, but we’re working on it, because it would be fun to up the ante a little bit.
BE: Do you have any on-set anecdotes to share? Like, is anyone in the cast practical joker?
LE: (Adamantly) No!
LE: We get asked that a lot, but…
BE: It just seems like, at the very least, Hugh would be.
LE: No. There’s no time! We are so busy…and Hugh has tons of dialogue, has to walk with a limp and a cane, handle a gazillion props, and speak with an accent; there’s very little time for anything but work, so it tends to be a rather concentrated set. I’m definitely more goofy than other people, but I think it’s because I’m not as exhausted! My character and Robert Sean Leonard’s character, we don’t have to be in all those diagnostic scenes and all the medical stuff because most of the time our characters aren’t involved in that. So for the most part, we do the least amount of tedious work.
BE: Do you love being able to get so many quips in your dialogue on “House”?
LE: Yeah, I really like…I think the writing is so smart, and I love the snappy dialogue that my character has with House, and I look forward to them writing even more of that. I like their relationship a lot.
BE: You have a great chemistry together, the two of you.
LE: Thank you so much.
BE: Well, I know you have to get back to work, but it’s been great talking to you…
LE: No problem!
BE: …and I look forward to next week.