A Chat With Lisa Edelstein
909 Magazine recently had the chance to sit down and speak with Lisa Edelstein star of the hit Bravo television series Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce which just wrapped up its third season. Many people also know Lisa from her role on the Fox hit drama House for which she played Doctor Cuddy.
909: Of course, many people know you as Dr. Lisa Cuddy from House, or as the self- help author Abby McCarthy from your hit Bravo Network show Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. For those who don’t know, please tell us a little bit about this show.
Lisa: Well, it’s a rollicking romp of a dramedy about a self-help book writer whose life and marriage falls apart quite publicly. She has to recover from her failed marriage, her failed fantasies and her failed idea of herself. It’s sexy, it’s funny, it’s raw and sometimes raunchy and the clothes and shoes don’t disappoint either. How’s that for a sales pitch?
909: Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce is Bravo’s first scripted show. Did that present as a challenge in anyway?
Lisa: It was only a challenge in the sense that Bravo had no experience selling a scripted show to an audience. They were already quite good at selling their reality programs. Their hope was to keep their viewers watching Bravo for their scripted fare, rather then changing the channel when they were ready to change format. That said, our show was their first, their baby, and because of that — they approached it and us with great enthusiasm and excitement. It’s hard for any show to stay on the air especially on an established network of scripted shows. The demand is immediate and show’s death often comes quick. That was not true at Bravo. We had a great opportunity to be allowed to grow and find our audience.
909: You were married right before you started filming for a show about divorce. What was that like? Has the show ever leaked out into your personal life?
Lisa: It’s true, we got married the day before I had to leave for Vancouver. I was so stressed out trying to get ready for this huge job and our beautiful wedding. The morning after the wedding, as we hit the road north I was down with the flu. So my husband got to prove the ‘in-sickness’ part of the deal right out of the gate. But doing a show about divorce as a newlywed is actually a great thing. It’s a cautionary tale, a reminder that love is not enough, that you have to pay attention, stay alert, listen, and actively keep your marriage healthy. There is no sitting back. Marriage isn’t really a noun, it’s a verb.
909: What’s a typical Friday night like for Lisa? Do you have any hobbies?
Lisa: While I’m shooting? A Friday night while I’m shooting is work and sleep. Our job is long hours and a lot of people so the social part of it is both wonderful and exhausting. I like quiet on the weekends. When I’m not shooting, we do what we call hip-hop Shabbat on Fridays. For a while we had this fabulous hip-hop dance teacher come over and the kids would dance for a few hours while I cooked. Then we’d sit down for a great family Shabbat dinner. It’s pretty fabulous. We aren’t religious people but I love the ritual. It reminds us to appreciate the work we all did that week; the good moments; the hard moments, and to remember to take a day off and celebrate each other while we can. My husband and I like to go to galleries and museums. He is an amazing artist and many of his friends are incredibly talented. It’s a fascinating world, completely different from my own, so it’s a good escape!
909: I’ve read that James St. James referred to you as the Queen of the Night, and that you were very big in the club scenes in the 80’s, how did that lead into your acting career?
Lisa: Not quite… James and I were best friends when we were 18 and we started clubbing together. We were very young and wildly enthusiastic and ended up becoming somewhat well known for, well… being young and wildly enthusiastic. The Queen of the Night business came out of an article Maureen Dowd did about me in the NY Times Magazine a few years later called, “Lisa In Wonderland”. I’m not sure who she was quoting but there you go. The experience I had of sudden national fame was both overwhelming and terrifying. It taught me an enormous amount. That fame should not be a goal; that fame takes away as much personal power as it appears to give, and that if I wanted to be an actress just to be famous then I better find a new career path, because that was not worth the trouble. So, I became very reclusive. I dropped out of that whole scene, and I dropped out of school. I became extremely introspective. After about a year I wrote, composed, produced and performed in a musical I’d written about the one real, important, and deeply disturbing experience that actually mattered at the time: The AIDS crisis. Because of the sudden fame I’d experience before this I was able to do a workshop of my play at a wonderful theatre. They knew there was enough curiosity about me to draw a crowd, at least for a weekend. After that, it was on me to prove myself. The play was a success, it went into full production a year later. I was able to take excerpts of it on the road to schools and benefits… So, what started off as a vacuous experience; being famous for no reason, ended up making a deeply meaningful experience possible. From that, it gave me the confidence to go out into the world as the artist I always wanted to be.
909: Are there any particular characters that you’ve played that stood out as a personal favorite? A role that you feel has made a lasting impact on your life?
Lisa: I definitely have my favorites, mostly because they were parts that changed the course of my life — little bits at a time… The “Risotto Girl” on Seinfeld; Rhonda Roth on Relativity (first ever lesbian kiss on network tv, thank you very much); Laurie the sex worker/law student on The West Wing, Cindy the trans woman on Ally McBeal; Cuddy on House and finally Abby on GG2D, (Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce). All these parts led to each other. Each one more exciting and satisfying then the last. I’ve worked a long time and succeeded in small steps. I’m grateful for the careful pace — never too overwhelming, and always moving forward. If my dreams were to continue to come true it would be to continue to be challenged in new and exciting ways. Always giving more and always learning how much more I can give.
909: By the time people read this article it will be March, National Woman’s History month. Do you have any strong female role models you feel inspired you in your life and career?
Lisa: One of my personal heroes is Cecile Richards. She stands so bravely at the forefront of the fight for reproductive rights. In this day an age, it’s very easy to abuse people – to threaten people – to assault someone with words. But she shows up everyday, so well spoken, and so put together. I’m sure it’s quite a feat but it never shows. Her strength and poise make it possible for the rest of us to believe we can – and must – show up, too.
909: What sort of advice would you give to women trying to make it in Hollywood today?
Lisa: I wouldn’t know the first thing about making it in Hollywood today. This business has never had a career path; you forge it yourself, and it’s unique to you. It always has been and always will be. I suppose there is this: work hard, focus, remember your goals, always seek improvement, always seek opportunity to create, and make stuff. Do it yourself. Do it with friends. Don’t wait.
909: You’ve done mostly television roles; do you feel like television suits you better? Do you have a preference for television over film?
Lisa: I love television. I love long-form storytelling. I don’t want to sit with a character for an hour and a half, I want 13-hours! 22-hours! I’m greedy that way! That said, film is awesome, too.
909: Lastly before we go, I know you’ve done a lot of work with Best Friends Animal Society, and you are considered an Ambassador for them. Can you tell us a little about what they do?
Lisa: I’ve known and worked with Best Friends for years and years. They mean what they say; they do what they say, and they are good at what they do. They have a beautiful ranch for a multitude of rescues of different breeds and species. But more then that, they help local rescue groups organize and work together. They help improve animal rights with city governments; they go into disaster sites, and war torn areas… They are tireless in their efforts to help animals and for that I’m deeply grateful.