I last interviewed Lisa Edelstein mid-season five, just as her House, M.D. character Lisa Cuddy was preparing to adopt a child (“Joy”). That episode began a story arc that led straight (well, maybe not so straight) to where we now sit at the start of season seven.
House (Hugh Laurie) and Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) are poised to move more deeply into a relationship that provides challenges for both heavily-guarded characters, but one for which both seem willing to compromise and build together. Episode four, “Massage Therapy,” which aired tonight on Fox, forges into some of that rockier terrain as both House and Cuddy seem reluctant to move past nice and easy and into the realm of a serious relationship.
The always-gracious Edelstein took a few minutes from her busy schedule to talk by phone with me about the season, the House-Cuddy (or, if you prefer, Huddy) relationship—and an upcoming series guest star.
Although some fans wonder why the show has seemingly once again made a big directional change, Edelstein doesn’t so much feel that it has. It’s less a new direction, she believes, than inevitable development. It’s not so much new as a logical next step. “That’s the funny thing,” she told me. “I really feel that we’re exploring the relationship because it needed to happen at some point.”
The first couple of episodes (especially the first) certainly had a different feel, but by last week, said Edelstein, the series seems like it’s “back to the normative House that everyone knows. Yes, it’s a newly existing relationship [in the series], but [House and Cuddy] still have their wonderful dynamic. It’s there; we deal with it, and move the story along, getting back to House as we know it.”
I wondered whether she had some insight on whether the new relationship will sustain or (as with so most relationships on the series) crash and burn. Edelstein noted that (of course) “It is House, so nothing really works” with relationships. But it’s also clear after “Massage Therapy” that both are really, really trying. Of course, most of us expect Cuddy to be the serious one, but even House is taking the relationship very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he wonders why he hasn’t yet interacted with Rachel.
That will apparently change by next week’s episode. “There is a little bit coming up exploring family life for Dr. House,” noted Edelstein. Of course, balancing motherhood and House—both as a boyfriend and a subordinate can be tricky. “I think in terms of being able to handle House as a boyfriend, and being a mother,” said Edelstein, “I think Cuddy has that all under control. She really is happy to be in the relationship, so it does enhance her life.” Cuddy has always had to deal with House’s crap, Edelstein pointed out, and she’s used to it; that much hasn’t changed.
Although she’s enjoying her increased presence in the storyline, fundamentally, Edelstein said, the series is “is about House’s journey and his troubles, and every once in a while we get to see her in it. But in the end it’s really about House and how he relates to the world.”
Although Edelstein views this new story arc as a natural progression, I wondered if it offered the actress any new challenges—playing a larger role—and an intimate relationship with Dr. House. “I’m just having a great time,” she noted. “I’ve been on the show for long enough and know this character well enough I don’t have to worry about all the kinds of stuff you have to worry about when you first get on a show like ‘who’s this person’ and ‘how’s she going to respond?’”
Edelstein knows her character well. “I can trust my instincts on that; the directors trust me on that, and I have fun playing with that. Hugh and I have now been working together forever. There’s a nice relaxed freedom with that.” And whatever increased work the storyline requires, she sees it as a pleasure. “It’s been great fun and I love my job, so when they make work harder, I love it!”
The sexual nature of the House-Cuddy relationship requires a substantial number of intimate scenes between the actors. The fact that Laurie and Edelstein have worked so long and so well together makes the potentially difficult scenes “easier for me. I feel very safe with Hugh. It’s not uncomfortable; it’s not inappropriate. There’s a lot of warmth and he’s my friend. I couldn’t ask for a better acting partner in having to do stuff that might make a person nervous or uncomfortable.”
I wondered whether after all these years, whether she has much input into her character’s development. Not surprisingly, she told me that it’s not very much: House is very much a writers’ show. “You just sort of step into the story that the writers are telling. I don’t have that kind of say in those matters, but I think the way you perform or play a character influences the direction your character is going. I think that happens over an extended period of time.” She noted that that often “storylines come out of the way people relate to each other: if there’s chemistry—or if there’s no chemistry. If something was funny they didn’t expect, or if something takes a turn that is surprising, those things can inspire story lines. It’s never like: this is what I want to have happen to my character.”
Last week, House, Cuddy, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and his girlfriend Sam (Cynthia Watros) went go-karting. It was an interesting experience for the actors, Edelstein said. Although she couldn’t quite recall if she’d ever done it before, she did rememb a track on Coney Island from when she was a kid growing up in Brooklyn.
Shooting the scene “was fun.” But, she added, “It was a weird day because it was during a really bad heat wave in LA and where we were shooting it was about 115 degrees.” And someone decided that no air conditioning was required. “It was so deadly hot in that place, and I was wearing a cashmere sweater, so that was overriding all the fun I would have been having. But we made a good time out of it. I think about seven hours in they were forced to turn the air conditioning on.”
We will soon meet Dr. Cuddy’s mother in the guise of the legendary Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown). “She’s awesome. There are many things great about Candice, but one of the things really wonderful about her is that she’s so smart. All her humor comes with an enormous amount of intelligence, so she’s very interesting to watch; always surprising. She adds lots of layers you might not expect and it was really a fantastic experience working with her.”
With House and Cuddy now in a relationship, and the series now in its seventh season, I asked Edelstein how many more years she thought the show might continue. “I have no idea, but we’re now in the last season we’re all contracted for, except for Hugh who is contracted for one more. So at some point this year they have to ask us for whatever else they’d like. And that hasn’t happened yet.”
And—yes, I did ask her about those “leaked” promo shots taken of House and Cuddy at the beach and at a concert venue. “Will we ever see those scenes on House?” I asked. Or were they subterfuge to throw fans off the scent of any spoilers? “Subterfuge,” laughed Edelstein. “Subterfuge.”
House airs Monday nights on Fox 8 p.m. ET. My review of “Massage Therapy” will be up sometime tomorrow morning. So stay tuned.