Lisa Edelstein, the fine actress who plays Dr. Lisa Cuddy on House, fielded questions from the press during a conference call this week. She was gracious and patient and seemed to enjoy speaking with journalists from all across the globe.
The call lasted about thirty minutes and the number of journalists dialing in was less than I had anticipated. The fact that I got a couple of questions in was a lovely surprise.
Edelstein is a versatile actress who has taken on some quirky roles in her day. On Ally McBeal she played a transsexual, on The West Wing, a high priced call girl, on Seinfeld she played George Constanza’s girlfriend, “The Risotto Girl”.
If you’re in the business long enough and luck is with you, you’ll eventually find that one defining role. If you’re really lucky, that role might last for a considerable amount of time. Edelstein seems to have found that role; she’s played Dr. Lisa Cuddy for the past seven years.
During the call Edelstein fielded questions on topics such as House/Cuddy intimacy to how Cuddy’s clothes define her to what Edelstein does in her free time. Thirty minutes went by quickly but were put to good use.
When asked about the emotional challenges she and Hugh Laurie face in their roles, Edelstein replied, “We’ve been working together seven years, which is like ‘dog years’ in our line of work. It’s like forty-nine years”. Their personal friendship, she maintains, makes it easier to show the intimacy of their characters. “If there’s anybody I would have to be intimate with on camera, it would have to be someone I knew and trusted as much as I do Hugh”.
The news that Candice Bergen would do a guest shot on House made both viewers and the cast of the show extremely happy. Edelstein, obviously a fan, revealed how she grew up watching Bergen and that Bergen is really fun to work with. “She is an incredibly bright woman, which I think just shines through all the dialogue”. Edelstein also said it was fun pushing the envelope and seeing what it would be like for House to have to deal with Cuddy’s “very pushy mom”. That pushiness makes it clear why Cuddy’s mom would be able to tolerate a character like House.
The season opener laid the groundwork for what was to come in the House/Cuddy relationship. The dialogue between the two in that episode was so natural, in some way more than in an average episode. When asked why this was so, Edelstein replied that the episode was “more like a play. The writers felt that you couldn’t put these two characters together. You have to give them a moment”. She went on to say that the writers worked hard to think of various ways to handle the relationship and make it work. “They (House and Cuddy) are two complicated people who want to be together. They might not be able to, but they want to”.
Has Cuddy changed over the years? In response, Edelstein quoted showrunner, David Shore: “Characters don’t change. They get unveiled”, and then went on to describe how it is a melding of the actor’s portrayal of the character and the writer’s take on that portrayal that truly forms the character.
Edelstein offered some excellent advice for those who dream of pursuing acting as a career. “It is a very hard business. Find a way to enjoy the process. If you can’t enjoy auditioning and not getting the job, you will suffer. The whole life of an actor (and that means the ups and downs, the good and bad) is something you should derive pleasure from”.
When asked what it’s like working on the show, Edelstein explained that the House set is fun because the cast and crew all like each other. But it is not filled with pranksters. “There is too much to do”, she said with a laugh. “However, there are many great “disturbed” wits on the set”.
One of Edelstein favorite episodes is “5 to 9”, the Cuddy-centric offering from Season 6. Being on the set more than anyone else and keeping her attitude upbeat was a challenge she rose to. “If you have an attitude or are tired, it drags everybody down”.
Did she have a notion early on that House and Cuddy would become a couple? “It wasn’t a surprise”, she said, and thought she saw signs of it when they filmed the pilot. She felt Cuddy and House had a complicated relationship and if the show went on long enough, there would be time to explore it.
The clothes Cuddy wears have always attracted attention. But what do they say about the character? “She’s very controlling so she wears very structured, tight outfits. Her life is very restricted, all work and very little play. She can’t even run fast in those skirts! Everything she wears holds her in. She doesn’t have great freedom. Also, she is a woman who lives most of her life in the hospital and uses that time to feel sexy and beautiful”.
A deeper look into Cuddy’s backstory enables us to see how her family defines her. “It’s easy to see how Cuddy can tolerate a guy like House when we see how difficult her mother is”. In the next episode, “Family Practice”, a health crisis hits and things get even more complicated family-wise. “It gets very messy”, Edelstein revealed.
“There is a great history between House and Cuddy.” she said when asked a what these characters do for each other. “As you get older, that’s an important thing to have with one another. For him, she is someone he trusts. He knows she wants the best for him. He knows she’ll tell him when things have gone too far. Then he decides for himself if he wants to listen. For her it’s his intelligence and brilliance that really excite her. Getting attention from a man like that is not an easy thing to achieve. Whether or not he is someone she can trust is something he has to prove”.
On her time away from the set, Edelstein enjoys taking care of herself, hiking, slow mornings, walks with her dog, swimming. She tries not to drive too much. Keeping calm is the key.
The not so great news, Edelstein revealed, is that the show has not yet been picked up for next season, citing legalities that have to be worked out. NBC wants FOX to take over costs for production and FOX doesn’t want to do it. Hugh is the only cast member to be signed for an eighth season. Until NBC works out things with FOX, cast negotiations will not be able to go forward.
When asked why people continue to watch the show after seven seasons, she replied, “It’s the magic bullet, isn’t it? I can only thank (David) Shore and Hugh Laurie and be grateful for the ride. It’s so arbitrary as to what makes it and what doesn’t. We had the luxury of being on after American Idol. Before that we were on their own and (probably) would have been canceled”.
Lastly, Edelstein was asked what her hopes are for future of the show. With a laugh, she replied, “I stay out of it and enjoy the ride”.