A Conversation with LISA EDELSTEIN
Lisa Edelstein by Tyler Malone
Lisa Edelstein is known for her role as Dr. Lisa Cuddy on the hit Fox TV show House. You should be watching House because it is undeniably one of the best shows on television, but even if you’ve never seen House, I’d bet you’d recognize Lisa Edelstein. If you’ve watched any hit show in the last two decades, I can guarantee you’ve seen her acting. Before becoming known as Cuddy, she had mostly taken on small roles and guest spots in many of the most popular shows on television. She played the “Rissoto Girl” on Seinfeld (one of the two girlfriends of George Costanza that appeared in more than one episode), and also famously portrayed a transsexual on Ally McBeal. Didn’t watch Seinfeld or Ally McBeal? Well, unless your TV has been off since 1989, you must have caught one of these shows: Frasier, Wings, ER, Just Shoot Me!, The West Wing, Felicity, Superman: The Animated Series, Mad About You, Sports Night, Relativity, King Of The Hill and The Larry Sanders Show (all of which Edelstein appeared in in some small capacity). She’s a supremely talented actress, but had, until House put her in the spotlight, flown mostly under the radar. Now, with House in its 7th season and things beginning to get a little steamy between Dr. Cuddy and Dr. House, I got a chance to talk to the beautiful actress and gain some insight into her thoughts on the show, on acting and on life.
Tyler Malone: Now that House has reached its 7th season, and continues to be critically and commercially successful, how does it feel to have been able to work with the same group of people and to continue the story of your character? Before House, you were known mostly for your wonderful guest spots on many of the most popular shows of the last two decades (Seinfeld, Frasier, Wings, ER, Just Shoot Me!, Ally McBeal, The West Wing, Felicity, etc.), but how does this character, this show and this experience differ from those?
Lisa Edelstein: I think the average person stays at the same job a hell of a lot longer than we do in this industry. Normally we are in and out of there in a few days or weeks…maybe months if you’re lucky or at most, and most rarely a year or two. Seven years and counting is practically unheard of. This show hopping makes for a bit of a traveling carnival type social atmosphere, with short, intense friendships and relationships that are over when the gig is up. So being together for all this time has been an incredible treat. What makes it even more special is the people themselves. We are staffed by incredibly funny, twisted, smart writers. The actors I get to work with are remarkably talented and hard working. I could have been stuck on a dumb show with nightmare drama queens but instead I landed my dream job.
Playing the same character all this time remains interesting and fun, the credit going to the writers who keep twisting things around and digging deeper. It’s been a great experience.
TM: Besides your first name, what else do you share with Dr. Lisa Cuddy? And where do you and your character differ?
LE: She’s much more serious than I am. Much more conservative. Clearly liked school more than me. Extraordinarily ambitious. I get to play more, travel more, wear more comfortable clothes and smile more.
TM: Seeing that the show is called House, pretty much everyone in the series is defined by their relationship with the titular character. Often though, the relationships between House and various characters are so hard to describe because they encompass many opposing emotions and power relations and desires and needs. How do you see their relationship?
LE: If Wilson is House’s conscience, then Cuddy is his boundary maker.
TM: Almost everyone who watches the show has been anticipating a romantic relationship growing between House and Cuddy. It has always been there, that sexual tension and chemistry between them, but this season the show is finally willing to take the leap and really delve into the possibilities there. All too often though, having the two lead characters finally get together can be the death knell for a show, how do you think House can avoid that cliché?
LE: Well, first of all, it’s a show about Dr. House who, brilliant as he is, really struggles though life. I think this storyline is just an extension of that. The tension between him and Cuddy has been kicked around for quite sometime and I think it would get tiresome if it didn’t change. And perhaps change again. There are no happy endings on this show. Just long, slow, interesting and disastrous bleeds.
TM: Besides this current season of House, do you have any other projects you’re working on that you can discuss with us? You’re a very talented actress who has only recently really started to get the accolades you deserve—where do you see your career heading over the next few years?
LE: Thanks for that. Right now I’m starting to look into projects that I’d like to produce as well as be in. I haven’t done that since my play, 8 billion years ago, and it’s really a pleasure. I look forward to having the ability to hire people and to being a part of a project from the very beginning.
TM: If I’m correct, you live in LA now, but you’re also known as one of the 80s NYC club kids. How do you compare living in NYC and living in LA?
LE: Actually, when my job permits I’m still a bit bi-coastal. I really need the NYC fix, just walking to the bodega down the street from my apartment makes me happy, running into old friends, days unfolding in ways I didn’t expect… Life is much more fluid there. But LA has been good to me, I have a great career and a beautiful home. There are amazing things to see in LA if you are willing to fight traffic. Having both though, that’s the life. I’m so happy about it.
TM: Do you miss those celebutante days or are you glad they’re behind you? What are some of the fond memories you have of that time?
LE: No, I was a kid, having a blast, living out a great moment in downtown Manhattan. The thing I really miss is the mixture of people we used to see, it wasn’t a money or celebrity oriented culture. It created it’s own establishment, filled with the weirdest and most wonderful. I’m not sure there’s a place for that anymore. Cities, well most of them, don’t hold the kind of secrets they used to. Culture is immediate and immediately international because of the web, so there are fewer microcosms to discover. You have to really be willing to dig.
Lisa Edelstein is an actress and playwright. Though she is now known mostly for her role as Dr. Lisa Cuddy on the hit Fox TV show House, she has appeared in numerous television shows throughout the 90s and 2000s, including Seinfeld, Ally McBeal, Frasier, Wings, ER, Just Shoot Me! and The West Wing. She also wrote, composed and starred in Positive Me, a musical about AIDS which was informed by her celebutante days as Lisa E., the Queen of Downtown, in New York City in the 80s.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by Collin Stark, Courtesy of Craig Schneider at Pinnacle PR, & Patrick McMullan for PatrickMcMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Lisa Edelstein, Photography by Collin Stark, Courtesy of Craig Schneider at Pinnacle PR
Lisa Edelstein, House press photograph, Courtesy of FOX TV, All copyright © FOX and corresponding photographers
Lisa Edelstein, Michael Musto, and Tish Gervais at the Friday night party at the Palladium, NYC, September 27, 1985*, Photography by Patrick McMullan for PatrickMcMullan.com (*Photograph featured in so8os: A Photographic Diary of a Decade by Patrick McMullan)