House Call With Lisa Edelstein
I'M NOT FEELING WELL WHEN I ANSWER THE PHONE. It's that season, I suppose. The one that can leave you talking through your nose-freezing with unexplained shivers in one stuffed breath, and sweating like a UFC fighter in the next. Basically, it's a day that reminds me how grateful I am to have a work-fromhome gig that sees mismatched Old Navy pajamas and a Lululemon headband as formalwear. When I answer, however, it's Lisa Edelstein-better known as Dean of Medicine Dr. Lisa Cuddy, on David Shore's award winning medical drama House, M.D. And while I am tempted to ask this endocrinologist-posing thespian what she suggests I do for my cold, I have to remind myself that her convincing portrayal of the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital administrator is just that: a portrayal. Because, turns out, there's a whole lot more to Lisa Edelstein than serving as foil to the he-said-what?! Dr. Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie.
From her introduction to television in the early 1990s as the nightlife-savvy Lisa E on MTV's Awake on the Wild Side and early appearances in comedy classics like Seinfeld, to bigger roles in programs like The West Wing, Ally McBeal, and The Practice, Edelstein's career has been climbing in the right direction for the last decade and a half. But as she talks to me from her century-old home in Los Angeles, I learn that intelligently written scripts aren't the only things sprawled around her house. There is also a dog and cat. And more than a fair share of yoga mats.
MD: Congratulations on your huge success on House as Dr. Lisa Cuddy. What's it like for you as an actor to land a regular role on such a well-respected show?
LE: Well, it's a dream of course. It's what every actor yearns for. And I am so aware of that.
MD: What is it about House that makes it such a crowd-pleaser?
LE: It's so smart. So many shows dumb things down, and House just isn't like that.
MD: How would you describe the relationship between your character and Dr. Gregory House?
LE: It's a very adult relationship. They have a history. And they have a future. And there's this romantic tension between them....
MD: What's the dynamic of the cast when the cameras are not rolling? And what's it like to work with Hugh Laurie?
LE: Hugh is a really hard worker. Sooo focused. So when he's on set, he's working. But every once in a while he'll say or do something that's just so silly I laugh until I cry. And Robert Sean Leonard [playing James Wilson] ... oh, he's so droll... I don't get to do as many scenes with Jennifer, Jesse, and Omar [Jennifer Morrison, Jesse Spencer, and Omar Epps who play Allison Cameron, Robert Chase, and Eric Foreman, respectively], but they're great.
MD: The writing is so crazy intelligent. How far in advance of taping do you receive a script?
LE: We get scripts the day before.
MD: And does it feel like Christmas?
LE: It does. But sometimes not a good Christmas....I'm like a 12-year-old kid, I want to be on every page!
MD: Can you tell me about the pets you have at home right now?
LE: Right now I have two. Bug, the cat, and Wolf E. I had two others, Sandwich and Bumpa, but they both passed away within the last two years.
MD: That must've been such a rough time.
LE: Yes, it was. You know, a dog is such a good friend. We spend so much time trying to protect them from death, and ultimately, we will fail. It's the way it goes. And yet, I am always so afraid I am going to die before my dogs. Like, who would take care of them?
MD: But you still have Bug and Wolf E.
LE: Yes. And the funny thing is, Wolf E is the one who has had the most problems and yet he's still around. He's got Alzheimer's, brain damage, you name it....I've got yoga mats all over my house because he can't walk on the hardwoods any more. They're like shredded all over the place and people think it's some kind of interior design statement.
MD: How old is he?
LE: He's 17 now.
MD: Even though you're a busy actress on a hit series, you still have time to be actively involved in animal rescue. What got you into rescue to begin with?
LE: I had adopted a cat from the pound and eventually another cat came my way... And then, I was living with some roommates and one of the girls had a four-month-old puppy. This one day, I was out in the yard with the dog, trying to cool her off with the sprinkler and she ran out on the road and got hit by a car. I rushed her to the vet's. That created this incredible relationship between the two of us. I just felt so responsible. When the dog came home, she was a mess. The vet wanted me to leave her in the cage all the time and even let her pee on herself, like never to move her. But she would let me know that she needed to pee, and I would reach down and lift her up, like by making an L-shape with my arms and carrying her like a tray outside, holding her under her ribs. My roommate just didn't have the tools to handle the dog's situation. So when my roommate left, I kept the dog. That was Sandwich. She lived to be 13.
MD: I understand you volunteer with Best Friends Animal Society. What is it about Best Friends that you respect so much?
LE: Well, I've been to the Sanctuary [Best Friends Sanctuary, Utah]. It's a beautiful place. Incredibly well organized. Extraordinary. Everything is for the animals.
MD: How do you stomach the recent trend we are seeing of pet store dogs being toted around like accessories?
LE: Oh, it's so bad for the dogs. And just the whole idea of buying dogs at all. There are so many dogs in need of being rescued.
MD: If you knew someone-say one of our readers-in the market for a dog, what reasons would you give them to go the route of rescue?
LE: You can get exactly what it is you're looking for at a shelter as you would at a pet store. People think that they're going to know more about the history of the dog if they get it from a dog store, but that is often not the case. They think they're going to get a problem dog from a shelter. You know, Cesar Milan trained my dogs for me ten years ago... but he actually trained me. It's often not the dog that's the problem, but the owner. It's the people who need to be trained. ■
Lisa Edelstein volunteers with Best Friends Animal Society, which helps thousands of special needs animals. For more information, visit bestfriends.org.