Lisa Edelstein on House, Huddy and the Horrors of High-Definition
As television legend has it, the role of Dr. Lisa Cuddy was custom-designed for Lisa Edelstein in 2004 after the Boston-born actress impressed House executive producer Bryan Singer with her performance as a high-priced call girl The West Wing. Seven seasons later, Edelstein is still at Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital as Dean of Medicine, long-suffering House colleague and one half of television's most beloved couples on TV today.
Recently, Edelstein dialed Movieline to discuss her character's undying devotion to House, the one television rape that blossomed into a beautiful relationship and the possibility of an all-female episode of House.
Hi Lisa. What do you and the cast of House have planned for the holidays? Is there an office party?
We're going to be off. We stop taping at the beginning of December and we've had holiday parties in the past but I don't think we're having one this year.
I was envisioning Hugh Laurie dressed as Santa handing out presents to the crew.
Definitely not. That would never happen but you hold onto that fantasy.
I will always. After teasing Cuddy and House's romance for seven seasons, your characters finally consummated their relationship. The consummation of several longstanding television flirtations has marked the point where certain series jump the shark but House has avoided that. Why do you think that is?
Well, why do you think that is?
Cuddy and House always have that push and pull, cat and mouse dynamic to their relationship. Even when they are "together," there is tension. What is most interesting to me though is that House fans are so loyal that they did not seem to get annoyed with that long waiting period.
[Laughs] Well first of all, I think the phrase "jump the shark" has jumped the shark. I read it in every article and I think that when Fonzie actually jumped the shark, Happy Days was on the air for another five years. But I will say this. I don't think our show is about House and Cuddy. It is about House and his trials and tribulations and his inability to cope while having an incredible ability to solve problems. Giving him a relationship is an important part of that journey and this one has been building for many years and it was time to explore it. To me, since it is not the centerpiece of the show, it's OK to explore because it is just another aspect of House as he goes through life.
Even though it is not the centerpiece of the show though, there is so much critical analysis of every twist and turn in their relationship. It's almost like people are documenting a royal couple or something. Do you feel like people are unhealthily attached to this fictional relationship?
A royal couple! That's funny. I do think that people get really emotionally involved in the TV shows that they love and I think that is fantastic. Of course they are going to have opinions. The other thing is that people project onto their television shows. They see a character and layer on many traits that are actually their own or their idea of what that character is. They get insulted if they see the character do or say something that they don't agree with. It's interesting but I'm just happy that people are involved. I don't care if they love it or hate it, I'm glad that they care one way or the other.
Do you ever get creeped out looking at homemade "Huddy" tribute videos on YouTube?
[Laughs] I haven't spent too much time looking at them but there are some very talented editors out there!
Has there been a long-term television romance that you found yourself becoming emotionally involved in as a viewer?
I don't think I did that as a grown-up. When Luke and Laura dated in General Hospital when I was a kid, I was very excited. And that was a rather pathetic relationship if you break it down because let's face it: he raped her...and then they got married. There's all kinds of things that TV does to relationships.
Right. Well House and Cuddy never dealt with sexual assault but they still have an interesting dynamic. Why do you think that Cuddy still chooses to accept House in spite of all of his eccentricities and difficulty?
I think she made a conscious decision to embrace her feelings for this man. She needs to live it out and find out what it is. There are some things in life that you can just dance around but ultimately you're going to have to go through it to get to the other side. And on the other side, that relationship becomes a permanent part of your life or it is a growing experience that helped you move in a new direction.
How does the dynamic on set change when House brings in a new actor for a recurring role, like it did this season with Amber Tamblyn?
Well, Amber is amazing and has been acting since she was about an inch old. She is very confident and witty and intelligent. She is a blast to be around and a perfect addition to the cast. I really hope that she stays but I have no idea what is in store for her. Unfortunately I don't have many scenes with her. The women of House never get to spend that much time together.
Why is that?
I don't know but I've had very few scenes with Jennifer [Morrison]. Very few scenes with Olivia [Wilde] and now very few scenes with Amber.
They should have an all-female House special, like on Saturday Night Live. The ladies could all duck out of Princeton‑Plainsboro to go to a bachelorette party or on a Thelma & Louse-type road trip.
[Laughs] That would be amazing!
People complain about being tired of their careers but as an actor, you are in an interesting position of making a career out of infiltrating other careers on-screen. Are you tired of posing as a doctor after seven seasons of House?
I love my job. I have been working professionally since 1990 and I worked even before that in the late 80s. But this job is a true blessing. It's incredible writing, incredible people. I would never for one second speak badly about it or take it for granted.
Do you still find yourself learning as an actress on House even this deep into the show?
Definitely. It never stops. On this show, I really feel like I got the opportunity to mature in what I do. I still can't really watch myself but I feel more confident.
Why can't you watch yourself?
Sometimes I'll try to watch a little and just watch the episode quickly but it's hard to be kind to yourself. You can't control that criticism either. If you don't like the lighting or you don't like your outfit or you don't like your performance, there is no changing it. It is there forever.
Has this been the case your entire career?
Well, I had one bad experience this year watching myself so I have kind of laid off.
Do you remember the scene?
Oh it doesn't matter. Aging on camera is just very hard. I love my age. I feel good about myself but high definition television is not kind. You don't even look like yourself in high-def. It just makes every little line on your face more exaggerated so it ends up aging you. It's like you're watching yourself seven years older. It's really cruel to women in particular and if seeing that is going to make me insecure, I am just going to stop watching. I love what I do and I don't want to make myself feel like I shouldn't be doing it.
Are you worrying about that while shooting a scene?
No, you can't afford to do that. I like how I look in person but it's sometimes harder to see yourself in a different medium like high def, especially if you are in a sensitive place like you're pre-menstrual that day. Just don't watch.
It's like that 30 Rock episode --
Wait! I didn't see it. What happened?
Liz Lemon steps in front of a high definition camera and is all of a sudden covered in warts and wrinkles.
That's what it is really like! I got so sad watching myself that day, it is not worth it. I just have to do my job and let it go.