The Tab Meets: Lisa Kudrow

BETH SWORDS and EMILIE DELACAVE chat to Lisa Kudrow after a special appearance at the Union.

emmy friends holocaust lisa kudrow matt leblanc sean penn Union who do you think you are wonderland

Saturday, for most of you, signified the start of May Week, a post-Hawks Event hangover and the beginnings of over-indulgence on Pimms. However, for attendees to the Union, it was a chance to hear Lisa Kudrow of Friends, P.S. I Love You and more recently Who do you think you are fame, to name but a few achievements.

Credit: Thurstan Redding

How did you get into acting?

I was coming to the end of my degree at Vassar College. I had got my BA in Biology and had gained a research credit for looking into headaches but I always had this nagging love for acting. Then it occurred to me – I was in my mid-twenties, had no responsibilities, no children, nothing holding me back. This was the time to make a go of acting before such ties began to restrain me. And so, I went for it.

Predominantly, your roles involve comedy. However, your character in Wonderland is a lot darker. What do you prefer to play?

More serious stuff is a lot easier, definitely. You expect comedy to be fairly one-dimensional – you turn up, crack a joke and everyone’s laughing. Initially, I thought, “Let’s try to do comedy because that should be a lot lighter”. Not realising that comedians are a much bigger mess. There are a lot more layers to comedy than you think. You can interpret a script in one way and then, it’s clear the director wanted to take it in a completely different direction. There’s a lot of pressure on you, in that sense. With drama, there is very little ambiguity.

You’re currently working on Who do you think you are, what attracted you to this and how much have you learnt through the process?

I never really enjoyed History at school, didn’t really listen. I know there was a lot of history within my own family that I wanted to look into and I guess that drove that interest. The first episode, we looked into my own genealogy and this was really fascinating and moving actually. We travelled to Poland and Belarus as part of the programme and just being there, knowing you have links was really quite overwhelming. I knew, beforehand, my great-grandmother died in the Holocaust but this made it all really real.

You seem to keep well out of the public eye? How do you manage this?

I don’t go out. I shut the curtains so they can’t see me. Seems to work. And also, happily married for 18 years. My husband is not an actor and therefore, the press does not seem to care. He’s French and an advertising executive – far less interesting than “which actor is she dating next…?”.

Do you ever regret devoting ten years of your life to the series? Have you found it a restraint on other acting paths you could have pursued?

No, not at all. I never think regret is a useful emotion. I don’t work like that. I see Friends as bringing nothing but opportunity. Thankfully, I met some quite sane people. It was ten years of good writing and working with people that I’ve genuinely loved. I had the most hilarious time. I would never see those ten years as a waste.

And I wouldn’t say it has restrained me – in more independent films, I haven’t been asked to do anything Phoebe-like. If anything, because of Friends, I can afford to do more niche shows.

Credit: Thurstan Redding

How much Lisa came into playing Phoebe and how much Phoebe comes into Lisa?

I’m really very different to Phoebe. I’m quite boring all the time, actually. In fact, during auditions, I thought I would be much more suited to the role of Rachel since I was such a JAP (JAP being Jewish, American Princess). But, of course, yes, I do see Phoebe mannerisms at times.

Why do you think Friends was so successful?

I think because it was about relationships and characters more than situations or current events. That allows it to live on. 

How do you feel about the Friends humour pretty much inspiring a whole generation’s humour?

Oh, I call it the ‘Matthew Perry humour’. Things like “Kidding…are you kidding?” or “seriously now?”. I can’t take the credit for that.

How often did you get the giggles on set?

All the time. Every single day. Matt LeBlanc and I would always tickle each other. [Insert lengthy anecdote about tickling Sean Penn – really all you need to know is that such an absurdity occurred].

Who did you prefer playing – Phoebe or Ursula?

I preferred playing Ursula on Mad About You. She was not a bad person on that. 

That shameless question that was always going to be asked – will there be a Friends reunion?

Simply, no.

Don’t be deceived by our seemingly calm exterior

For someone who has gained a Golden Globe Award nomination, nine Emmy Award nominations and twelve Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, Lisa Kudrow was an incredibly down-to-earth, witty individual. No diva-ing about whatsoever – she even was compliant enough to perform an acoustic version of ‘Smelly Cat’ to the bemused Union audience.