Interview: Lisa Edelstein Talks About House, Spinoffs And Pole-Dancing
I only just got around to watching Part 1 of the season finale of House and man, are we in for a big ending next week, or what? Lisa Edelstein, who plays Cuddy on House, was kind enough to talk to the press on a conference call last Friday. During the call she answers questions about Cuddy’s relationship with House, pole dancing, the rumors of a House spin-off and a number of other aspects of the show.
The interview took place last Friday, before the first part of the big 2-part finale aired on Monday, which explains why some of the questions and answers refer to the episode in the future-tense.
On the spin-off rumors, Edelstein says she knows nothing about a House spin-off other than the rumors she’s read about it online. Here’s the full transcript of the interview:
So, as the season began, knowing that there was a whole group of new doctors coming in, did you have concerns as to how Cuddy was going to fit in with the sort of remixed version of the show?
I felt the least affected. I think both Wilson and I felt the least affected by that. Certainly you wonder how they’re going to manage to give any of us anything to do with so many characters on a show, but they seem to have managed. It’s really the same structure where you have the inner workings of the case and then the B and C stories of what’s happening amongst the personalities of the main characters, and it’s been great. It’s a wonderful new group of people, and they have shown up with lots of excitement and eagerness, and they have great attitudes. So it’s been a wonderful experience.
Do you sense movement in Cuddy’s character in recent seasons? Do you sort of see a place that she’s going from here?
I do. I really think that her character has been filled out and that her relationship with House has become a beautiful, complicated, adult relationship filled with all kinds of subliminal messages. And it’s fun to play, and even when they don’t write it, I put it in.
I was going to say, how much of that subliminal stuff is you and how much is the writers?
I think it goes both ways. I think writers like to see how people bring their words to life, and it’s always surprising. Always, no matter what, whether it’s good or bad, it’s always surprising because a whole human being is coming to that piece of writing. And certainly there’s inspiration that comes out of that, but it’s also David Shore and what’s going on in his mind and where he would like to see things going.
I just wanted to quickly ask you, given your time on this show with all the lingo you’ve picked up, the demeanor you’ve picked up, if we were to dress you up as a doctor and disguise you, but drop you into a hospital, how long do you think it would be before you would be found out?
I think I could go half a day. You know what, I’ve always been a smarty-pants, and the only thing that goes wrong now is that people know that I play a doctor on TV and so they quickly call me out on the fact that I really think I am a doctor. But before, I used to get away with it much longer.
And what would trip you up finally? What would be the thing that would make somebody say, “Are you sure you’re a doctor?”
If somebody had a heart attack. It would be bad because even though I say, “Clear!” really well, I don’t really know what else to do.
Now we know Cuddy, in the finale, is in House’s head. What is Cuddy doing in his head, and what will it mean for the future of their relationship?
Well, it is very interesting what happens in the first half of the finale in terms of learning about how House sees people and kind of getting the world from his point of view directly. And he’s suffering from a brain injury, so he’s trying to remember what he saw before this accident, and in doing so, he’s using the people around him in his imagination to kind of help him dig through his memory and bring things up. And so when Cuddy enters into that fantasy, he decides he might as well have her strip, so we’ll see what happens.
Now we know there’s a cliffhanger coming … House’s relationships. Is it Cuddy or is it someone else?
Oh, I can’t tell you that. It’s a cliffhanger.
Well, okay … but will there be any kind of change in their complicated, beautiful, adult relationship?
I think so. You know, I don’t know when, but I think it definitely has a life of its own and more will be revealed.
Anyway, since it’s been awhile since the first season of House, what do you think of the fact that you’ve finally been able to play the same role for several years and it may keep going for several more? Is it freeing, is it challenging, is it weird? Is it all those things?
I love it. I’m loving the experience because it only gets more interesting. You know, it’s scary when you sign onto a pilot of a series because, as much as you want the series to go, you also want it to be a character that you’d be interested in playing for a long time. What ends up happening, well, on a show like this that’s so well-written, what ends up happening is that it just becomes more interesting because the layers and layers and layers that are added on and the complex relationships that start to reveal themselves. It’s great to play. I’m having such a good time.
And being on a show where you can see all the different ways that a human being can get sick, does it ever mess with your mind?
It does. When anybody I know has any symptoms at all, I have a thousand things that run through my head. A friend of mine has a rash that won’t go away, and I’m asking her if she had her immune system tested to make sure it’s not an auto-immune problem. It definitely gives you more information than you definitely want most of the time, but most of it goes in and out of our heads because we have to compile so much stuff per episode. We have to let it go.
If you could write the show or you could direct where the show’s going to go, do you think Cuddy would have a romantic relationship with House or Wilson, or would you prefer she find someone new?
I still think there’s more to explore with House. I don’t think her and Wilson are attracted to each other, but I think they have a common bond in terms of their weird relationships with House. But I do think there’s more to explore in regards to her relationship with House.
Just talking more about the relationship with House, I’ve always had a theory that she loves House and all of the games she has to play to keep him in line. What do you think of that theory?
I think that theory is right on the money. I think that she very much loves House and also lives vicariously through him because she’s a very smart woman who is very successful as a doctor and has a great job and a wonderful position, but also has had less and less to do with the actual practicing of medicine as the years have gone by, so I think she’s excited by what he does and how he does it and deeply frustrated by him at the same time. But as all intense people are, they’re incredibly interesting and compelling, and she definitely falls victim to that.
And I read that, in the two-parter, in the fantasy sequences, you actually have to work a stripper pole. How did you prepare for that?
I called Sheila Kelley, who has a company called S Factor. She’s actually the wife of Richard Schiff, who I’ve worked with a bunch of times on The West Wing and on Relativity, and she did a movie a long time ago about strippers and realized that stripping was a great way to stay in shape and also a great way for women to kind of explore their sexual power. And so I went to her, and she helped me choreograph this routine. It was a very interesting experience.
Was it good exercise and empowering …?
Yes, in a way I could say yes, yes. I didn’t really need it for the exercise because I would show up there having just done two hours of yoga, but in terms of learning about how to be sexy without doing it for somebody else, I think that’s the trick is that you stand within your own skin and your own power and you do it for your own enjoyment.
My question was regarding the rumors about a potential spin-off, and I was wondering if you had heard about any of that—
Only in rumor. I’ve heard the same rumors, but I haven’t heard anything directly.
And are you guys working on the next season already?
Yes. We just started.
And there’s mention of a potential, another private investigator character being introduced. Have you come into contact with that at all?
No, no. I’ve only read it, just like you, on the Internet.
Now, you already probably know the answer to this because you said you worked on the first new episode. We have a section, the week after your finale, we have something called “Burning Questions,” and I was going to ask you what burning question would you like to ask the producer after you did the finale. Was there anything hanging that you would love to say, or something that happened, “Why did you do this?” or “What’s going to happen?”
No, it doesn’t apply this year because we had to go right into season five, but usually we know nothing until we return. It’s a very exciting day when you finally get the first episode’s script. But this year, there is no surprise. I have no burning questions. We started, like, the minute we were done with season four, we were on season five.
Well, then, can you just tell us, do you think we will have some burning questions like, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen?”
What will your questions be? I think your main question will be, “What will become of House and Wilson’s friendship?”
What do you think that House thinks of Cuddy? Do you think he loves her like she loves him?
I think he’s attracted to her. I think he likes her smarts. I’m not sure House is capable of love the way other people are. I think he’s so disconnected to himself in that way that it would be impossible for him to truly be able to connect to somebody else. I mean, I think he loves Cuddy and I think he loves Wilson, but I don’t know that it would be in the same way they love him.
Yes, I’ve asked this question of David Shore before too, what do you think drives House? Because I’ve always thought he can’t truly be as disconnected and unempathetic as he plays, although Shore sort of says, yes, actually he is, but what do you think?
Well, I’d have to agree with David. I think that he has become so disconnected through his pain and his treatment of his pain and his anger at the world that he finds the connection in the puzzle more than in the people. And he’s so smart that he sees past everyone’s bull… to such a degree that people become uninteresting to him.
Why do you think all of that, though, ends up not disconnecting Cuddy and Wilson to him, but also us as viewers? I just think that’s always such an interesting dichotomy that you’re like, here’s this really non-empathetic person, but you feel connected to him—
Because he’s so smart about telling the truth about where you’re at, even when you’re not willing to admit it yourself, and there’s something very addictive about being around a person like that because you know you’re going to hear the truth and because they’ll talk to you anyway. It’s like being naked and still being spoken to. It’s being naked with all your defects. There’s something about it, even when it’s cruel, that’s comforting.
And the last thing is, having said all that about House, when you’re playing all that with Hugh Laurie, I mean, I guess what I’m asking is what’s Hugh Laurie like as compared to House? Because it seems to me like he’s so very different than all that.
Oh, yes. He is a much softer person and very sensitive and very empathetic and hilarious, an extremely hard worker.
How would you say you and Cuddy compare to each other, like yourself and your character?
I’m much more playful than she is. I behave younger and I have a different kind of energy, completely. I’m usually ricocheting off the set walls until they say “action,” and then I’m this serious person. She wears skirts that you can’t even take long strides in. But it’s great. It’s great playing that part of myself with her, but I think most people are surprised when they meet me that we’re so completely different.
So when you’re off the set or whatever, what sorts of TV shows do you enjoy watching when you’re on your downtime?
I love Project Runway, and I really love Lost. The Sopranos, I was really into. I love Big Love and Mad Men. I think they’re fantastic shows. There’s some really great television out there, actually, and, with the magic of TiVo, it’s really amazing because our schedules are so weird that I never can turn the TV on at a normal time.
So you said you’re starting right back up again, you’re still aiming for a fall premiere for season five?
Oh, yes. We’re starting season five. As soon as we finished season four, we started season five. We’re working straight through until August. Usually we have May and June off, so we work through to August, then we take a break for a few weeks, and then we come back and work through December. So, barring an actor’s strike, that will be our schedule.
How would Cuddy’s relationship have been different if the strike didn’t happen, with House?
I think they were planning on exploring her relationship with House a little bit in season four and decided to put it off, but I don’t really know to what extent because they don’t tell me.
How does House’s mental struggle affect Cuddy and the team?
I think they’re used to his mental struggle. It causes the same problems every day. They know that these are what to expect with him. Do you mean in terms of the finale, what he’s going through?
Oh. That’s really interesting because he ends up risking his own life in order to access his own mind, and none of the other people can do what he does, so they’re all willing to kind of participate in that risk.
They’re all keeping their fingers crossed, I guess.
Yes, holding their breath for a minute and waiting to see if it works. I mean, I don’t, for a long time, nobody really knows to what extent he’s risking his own life, but even when it becomes apparent, it still goes on.
You mentioned earlier that, if something wasn’t happening in the plotline that you wanted to happen, you would make sure that it did. How involved are you in the development of the narrative and of the plot?
Oh, I don’t think I said that. I have zero control over what happens in the plotline. I think I said that, if it wasn’t written in terms of subliminal messages, that I—
Oh, okay. That you would act it.
Yes. If it was appropriate, of course. I just think there’s always room for humanity in acting, one can only hope, so when you bring in the whole life of a person that’s playing a character, then surprises happen and are allowed to happen, and so it makes it more interesting.
Another question for you, I know that you guys have had a history of having a lot of big-name guests cameoing on the show, and I read that this finale has Fred Durst on it?
Yes. I didn’t work with him.
You didn’t work directly with him?
He was not in a scene that I was in, so we didn’t get to actually work together, but I met him. He’s very nice.
Have there been other people that have guested on the show in the past that you’ve been sort of surprised by their skill or that you’ve really enjoyed working with?
Oh, we’ve had some great guest stars. I thought Samantha Morton was really wonderful. David Morse was amazing. Joel Grey, that was exciting just because I’ve seen Cabaret, like, 80 times. We’ve had so many people come and go. We’ve had great guest stars, wonderful guest casts.
Is there anyone that you would just die to work with that you’re sort of angling to—?
I only wish that Clint Eastwood was playing Hugh’s dad, but they had already cast his dad in the very first season, but it should’ve been Clint.
You’ve played in movies and TV. Do you prefer one over the other?
No, I don’t. I just prefer better writing over worse writing.
What else can we expect in the next season?
The next season, you know, they just don’t tell us. I’ve only seen one episode so, in terms of script, but we really don’t have any clue as to where the storylines are going. I think there’s a nice House/Wilson storyline to kick off the season that is kind of, their friendship is on the line, so that’ll be interesting.
I know you talked earlier about being nervous a little bit when you sign up for a pilot for a new show. Was there a moment when you realized this is going to work?
Yes, well, there’s so many elements. It’s like, when I , I did the pilot of The West Wing, and when I saw it, it was like watching a movie and I thought, “This is going to work,” and it did. But I was also on the pilot of Relativity, which was an incredibly beautiful filmic pilot, and I thought, “This is going to work,” and it was done in one season. So there are so many elements from how the scripts continue to be written to what network you’re on and how their other shows are doing, what night they put you on, what you’re up against. There are just too many elements to really know beyond whether or not you like it as to whether or not the show’s going to last.
I don’t know if it’s true, but I’m wondering, can we expect the finale to set the stage for a House spin-off?
I’ve read that online also. No, not the finale. I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about in those rumors.
But you’ve heard the same thing? It’s about a private investigator or something.
Yes, but certainly not this season. I don’t know what that is, but then again, we’re already starting season five, so maybe something’s in the works that I don’t know about. Literally, they tell us nothing. We’re not allowed to know it until the day we receive the script.
How is the prospect of another potential strike sort of affecting the atmosphere as you go into this quick turnaround into the fifth season?
Well, I think the fact that we’re doing a quick turnaround to the fifth season is part of it, but you know, we’re all kind of holding our breath because nobody wants a strike, and hopefully a strike won’t be necessary, but it’s very scary, the kind of tactics that the AMPTP is pulling again. And it’s very sad, so fingers are crossed.
Is it something that anyone discusses? Like, are you guys talking about it on the side, the possibility of that?
Yes and no. It’s in the air, but we haven’t all gotten to that point just yet. They haven’t sent out strike approval notices or anything like that, and it’s scary. We were very behind the writers and the writers’ strike, and these are really legitimate issues that are being brought up, and some really terrible tactics are being used to work against the artists. So I really, really hope it doesn’t have to go to that place.
In House’s mind, Cuddy strips. Do you think, if the situation was reversed and we were in Cuddy’s mind, House would strip?
I don’t know. I don’t think Cuddy’s like a Chippendale’s kind of gal. I think women have a different idea of what’s sexy in terms of what they want to see their men doing than in terms of—
There’d be like a fireplace and a beach and flowers?
Yes, maybe it would be some kind of like laying there quietly, caressing her belly, like tickling her belly while doing a diagnostic.
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