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Book Review: 'Gellhorn'

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the new biography, Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorehead. It's about journalist Martha Gellhorn, a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War. She was also Ernest Hemingway's third wife.

05:20

Other segments from the episode on October 20, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 20, 2003: Interview with Lisa Kudrow; Review of Caroline Moorehead's novel, “Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life.”

Transcript

DATE October 20, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Lisa Kudrow talks about her roles in "Wonderland" and
"Friends"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Maybe you already know this. Lisa Kudrow is not like Phoebe, the quirky
character she plays on "Friends." And she certainly wasn't like Phoebe in the
film she's best known for, "The Opposite of Sex," in which she played a very
smart, hyper, verbal and neurotic single woman. What that film and "Friends"
do have in common is that Kudrow is very funny in both. She's also been in
the comedies, "Analyze This," and "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion."

Now she's in the middle of the final season of "Friends," and she's starring
in the dramatic film "Wonderland," which is based on the story of the porn
star Johnny Wad, who was considered to be one of the most well-endowed men in
the business. The movie begins after his film career has ended, when he's
addicted to drugs and implicated in a multiple murder. Lisa Kudrow plays his
estranged wife. In this scene, he shows up at her door and tells her that he
plans to enter the witness protection program, but he wants to take her and
his teen-aged girlfriend with him.

(Soundbite of "Wonderland")

Mr. VAL KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) OK, they've offered me a deal, and I think
I'm going to take it.

Ms. LISA KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) OK.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) They're going to put me in the Witness
Protection Program if I tell them everything, everything I told you, except I
told them I'm not saying anything about anything unless all three of us can
go.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) All three of us?

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) And they agreed.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) Wait a minute. Who's all three of us?

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) You, me and Dawn. We can go tomorrow.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) No. No, no. I'm not going anywhere tomorrow.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) No, Sharon, it's OK. They can make--they've got
people that can come and pack you.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) No, no, no. John, no. I am not going into
the Witness Protection Program with you. That's that.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) Yes.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) No.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) Yes.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) No.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) Sharon, this is a new start....

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) I'm not going anywhere.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) No, listen.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) ...(Unintelligible).

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) This is the new start we've been planning for,
Sharon. Everything that we planned could happen now, OK?

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) I don't want a fresh start with you, John.
Wake up, OK?

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) Oh, listen.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) No, you listen. I am through supporting you.
What do you think, I would just leave and never see my family again.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) Sharon.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) You've gone too far this time, pal.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) No, hang on. If you don't help me with this, I
am dead.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) You're already dead.

Mr. KILMER: (As Johnny Wad) Listen, this one last thing is all I'm asking
for. You've got--you've got to do it!

Ms. KUDROW: (As Sharon Holmes) Stop it, John.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow and Val Kilmer in a scene from "Wonderland." Lisa Kudrow,
welcome to FRESH AIR. Did you have any awareness of who Johnny Wad was back
when he was a porn star?

Ms. KUDROW: You know, yeah, I have an older brother and an older sister,
and...

GROSS: Yeah?

Ms. KUDROW: But I had, yeah, definitely heard about Johnny Wad from
especially my older brother.

GROSS: Is he going to be sorry that you said that?

Ms. KUDROW: I don't know. You know, at the premiere, I don't remember his
name, but there was some porn star, and all the men knew who he was.

GROSS: Did you feel like now you have to watch his movies, you know, in
preparation?

Ms. KUDROW: No, not at all. I do not feel that I have to watch any movies,
and I didn't, for the movie.

GROSS: Do you know if his wife did, 'cause, you know, you're playing his
wife, and I know you met her before, before making the film?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

GROSS: And that's about the time she left him.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, shortly after this movie, I think. You know, I don't know
if she ever divorced him. I can't remember now. She may not of. But I don't
think she saw the movies. I don't know that she did. And you know, she
didn't know that he was even in that industry for two years into his career.
She didn't know what he was doing.

GROSS: What does that tell you about the character?

Ms. KUDROW: Hers or his?

GROSS: Hers?

Ms. KUDROW: Hers.

GROSS: The one you're playing.

Ms. KUDROW: Well, it told me a lot about her. Mostly there were just a lot
of questions about her for me.

GROSS: What kind of questions?

Ms. KUDROW: How does a woman stay with a man who's in an industry that
repulses you? And then how you do you stay with a man who has a 15-year-old
girlfriend? There were a lot of questions for me for her. But in reading the
script, I felt like they were being answered anyway, but that's just what made
it interesting to me. Not that I had questions. It's just that's what made
it complicated to me. And the truth is, I did understand the justifications a
person can, you know, create for themselves to be in that situation.

GROSS: Excuse me if this is in bad taste, but I feel like I just have to ask.
Did you ask his wife what it was like to be married with--you know, to be
married to the person who might be the most endowed man in America?

Ms. KUDROW: No, I never asked. I didn't bring it up.

GROSS: Bad taste?

Ms. KUDROW: I felt like it was, yeah. I'm not judging you. I just felt like
it wasn't part of this story, and it wasn't what I needed to know.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: You know, then I would just be indulging some curiosity that was,
you know, none of my business really.

GROSS: You know, another interesting thing about the character you play, at
least the way you play her, is that it's on the one hand somebody who's had to
really live a life in denial in some ways.

Ms. KUDROW: Yes.

GROSS: And at the same time, she seems to be a very much, like, in control
kind of person who's really into, like, drawing the line and saying no. But
at the same time, when he shows up at the door all bloodied, you know, she
lets him in and tries to take care of him.

Ms. KUDROW: Yes.

GROSS: And then throws him out.

Ms. KUDROW: Yes. Actually, he stayed over that night. They didn't show
that, but yeah, he even slept over that night.

GROSS: So it's a really complicated character.

Ms. KUDROW: It's a very complicated character, very, but I understand denial,
and I'm a fan of denial. So I understood that, and I also understood--and
also after I met with her, it was very clear that, you know, Sharon had rules.
She had a code that she lived by, and one of them was you don't abandon
someone that you're married to. And you made a commitment to someone, and you
stay with it. And I think that was sort of the bottom line for her. And that
also was what made her so angry about, you know, his behavior just put her in
situations that went against her grain totally, deeply. And that's what made
her so angry at him, but she stayed with him.

GROSS: Tell me what you liked about the script and why you decided to do it.
It's a script that has, you know--the story is about, you know, pornography,
drugs, murder, you know, people who are very damaged in one way or another. A
lot of people know you from, like, comedy, you know, from "Friends." What did
you like about the script when you read it?

Ms. KUDROW: I liked the way they were telling the story about these murders,
and no one was convicted of these murders. And you had two versions of what
happened that night, and they were both unreliable. And that was interesting
to me. And I also loved how much the script--and I think they did it in the
movie--was really underscoring how desperate and pathetic all these people
were, especially the people who were just so far gone into their addictions
that they weren't even human beings anymore, you know. That's what fascinated
me, and just that it's all a little more complicated. It wasn't so black and
white, cut and dry and good and evil, you know.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow is my guest, and she's starring in the new film
"Wonderland."

Let's talk about "Friends" a little bit and your character, Phoebe. What was
the character like at the very, very start, when you were given the script,
you were told about the character?

Ms. KUDROW: Well, what I liked about the character and what was written was
they had this monologue in the pilot where she talks about how she left home
when she was 14. Her mother had killed herself. Her stepfather was in
prison. She lived in an abandoned car. All these things that were not even a
little bit funny. And I just thought, `Wow, the only way this works is if
this girl doesn't think any of these are a problem or, you know, they weren't
traumatic to her.' It's that, you know, other side of denial where
everything's OK. It's all just OK. And if you sell it as OK, everybody will,
you know--no one will feel sad about it. And that was interesting to me. I
loved that, that there was this person who had these horrible things, and
that's not the part of reality she's living in, you know, the horror of it.

GROSS: I think the word probably most often used to describe her is ditsy.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, that came up a lot.

GROSS: Does that word work for you?

Ms. KUDROW: Sure. Sure. Not so much now. I don't know why. Now I feel
like there's just so many more times that she's being sarcastic and calling
people on their stuff, making fun of them, whereas before, she took everything
at face value, and that's where some of the comedy came from, you know.

GROSS: So she's gotten smarter in that sense?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, and it makes sense to me, because since the beginning of
the show, she's met her real mother, dealt with her father, done a lot of
things.

GROSS: Now "Friends" has been TV's most watched sitcom. How does that
translate to how viewers respond to you, because, you know, let's face it,
lots of people watch it. It's really easy to be on TV now and feel like
nobody's watching, 'cause there's so many stations, but I mean, that's
certainly not true of "Friends."

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, you know, in the beginning, people would meet me and just
treat me like I was this--like a performer at their kid's birthday party sort
of. You know what I mean? Just, `Oh, hey,' and `I know you'll want to do
this,' like, dying to perform any opportunity I can. `Hey, do that
smelly--the smelly kitty song,' you know, every time I met someone. That was
always funny to me, just thinking that I would love to, I can't wait to.

GROSS: So, what's a nice way of diplomatically telling them, `Not a chance?'

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, just giggling and say, `Oh, no, I can't do that.' And
sometimes, when they'd get really persistent, I'd make up something about,
`You know, I'm really not allowed, because that's property of Warner Brothers,
and I'm not allowed. I'll look into it, you know what, 'cause people, this
comes up a lot. I need to find out if I can do this or not.' I don't know.
I go to great lengths.

GROSS: That's very clever. On the season opener of "Friends," this season,
you've just reunited with her old boyfriend played by Paul Rudd while
vacationing in the Caribbean. And on the flight home, you find out that he
actually has a girlfriend. And I want to play that scene on the flight home.

Ms. KUDROW: OK.

(Soundbite of "Friends")

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) You know, once we're in the air and the
captain turns off the seat belt sign, you can feel free to roam about my
cabin.

Mr. PAUL RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) And you should be careful when checking
your overhead bins 'cause items may shift during the takeoff.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) Oh, you're not good at this
(unintelligible).

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) You don't have to go home tonight, do you?

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) No, I think I could come over. It's Saturday,
right?

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) Oh.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) What?

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) I can't do anything tonight.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) Why not?

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) I have a date.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) You have a date? With who?

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) Oh, it's my girlfriend.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) You happen to have a girlfriend?

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) Yeah. Well, when you and I broke up, I started
seeing someone.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) Well, for how long?

Mr. RUDD: (As Mike Hannigan) Three months.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) Three months? OK. This is probably none of
my business, but how long do you think you're going to keep seeing her?

Ms. HANNIGAN: (As Mike Hannigan) I'll tell her that it's over tonight at
dinner, I promise.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Phoebe Buffay) Oh, OK, good. You do that. And then when you
get home, maybe there'll be a special delivery package waiting for you.

Ms. HANNIGAN: (As Mike Hannigan) Maybe I'll sign for it, tear it open, pull
out the packing material.

Ms. KUDROW: You know what? We're going to have sex. Let's just leave it
there.

GROSS: That's Lisa Kudrow and Paul Rudd in a scene from this season's opening
episode of "Friends."

Your timing, your comic timing, is so good. And I'm just wondering, you know,
talk about intuitive, is that something that's intuitive, or something that
you worked on, that you were trained in.

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, I think it's intuitive. I go back and forth on it, because
I think everybody has the capacity for comedy, and everybody has the capacity
for acting, but I don't know. I think this is interesting to me. You know, I
was involved with The Groundlings, which is an improvisational sketch comedy
group in LA. And in one of the classes, there was this actor who had worked a
lot, and a really good actor. And he was having a little trouble with the
comedy, he felt. That's why he was taking this class. And he asked me at one
point, you know, `I don't know how to do it, and you're dong it, and you're
funny, and I want to do that.' And I don't know why, but somehow, I knew. I
said, `Yeah, but you're an actor. Just be in the scene and listen and then
just respond, and I think it will be funny.' And he did, and it got funny. He
stopped trying. He relaxed into the comedy, and it feels like that's all it
is. You got to just relax into--the more you relax, the funnier it can be,
the more open you are. I don't know. I tell you, I'm really an articulate
about this stuff.

GROSS: Right, yeah. Well, I'm not agreeing with you that you're articulate,
but...

Ms. KUDROW: Right, yeah, you are. Yeah, you are. I heard it. Yeah.

GROSS: My guest is Lisa Kudrow, one of the stars of "Friends." She's
starring in the new movie "Wonderland." We'll talk more after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Lisa Kudrow, is one of the stars of "Friends", which is in
its final season, and she's starring in the new film "Wonderland."

How do you feel about this being the last season of "Friends"? Is that a good
thing for you?

Ms. KUDROW: It's a mixed bag of emotions, you know, I love TV. I like a TV
schedule a lot, and I love everybody I'm working with, and it's a good show.
People like it. People watch it. That's all good. But it's fine that it's
time to move on. I mean, honestly, I can't see doing this for another 10
years, you know. It has to end at some point. This is as good a time as any.

GROSS: What are some of the things that you think you'll miss and some of the
things you won't?

Ms. KUDROW: I'll really miss, you know, those five actors and, you know, the
executive producers I've become, you know, friendly with. I don't know that
I'll miss--and I think I'll even miss Phoebe, being her, you know, like
putting on that person.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KUDROW: 'Cause that's what it feels like, you know. I'd want to say
putting on those clothes, but I'm not--literally 'cause I actually hate the
clothes. But just putting on that skin of Phoebe, I'll miss that.

GROSS: What do you hate about the clothes?

Ms. KUDROW: How unflattering they are maybe, number one. It's not my style
at all. But--and it's always tights, you know. I hate pulling up tights.
It's very silly, little things, but I don't know. I'll miss it. And in a way
I've missed the Phoebe that she started off being, to be honest. Anyway, I
miss being so, you know, unreasonably optimistic and cheerful about absolutely
everything 'cause that was nice. That was a nice thing to do every day.

GROSS: This is kind of a relief from yourself to do that?

Ms. KUDROW: Yes. And a little of it seeps in, and I think it helps you cope
with other things in your life better.

GROSS: Really?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. Yeah. That's why I actually have a hard time, you know,
defining anyone as stupid or, you know, ditsy or any of that because it's an
easier life, and it may be isn't so stupid.

GROSS: Is there anything in your life that you feel really connects to the
lives of the characters on "Friends"? You know, like did you ever have, like,
friends walking in and out of your house all the time? A small group of
people that knew everything about each other and that were lovers with each
other and all that stuff?

Ms. KUDROW: No, not even in college. That was never part of my experience.
To be honest, no.

GROSS: Did you have lots of friends or were you more on your own?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. Not on my own. I've always had like a few good friends at
a time and then some acquaintances, you know. But, no, I never really had
that core group of men and women, you know, that were just friends because I
actually never really believed that--I honestly don't know that men actually
like to be friends with women. Maybe they do now, maybe they're different,
but, you know, back when I was in college, it seemed like men were really only
friends with women if they was a chance of, you know, some sex.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KUDROW: But, so, no, it really was never my experience.

GROSS: Do you know how the series is going to end?

Ms. KUDROW: No, I don't. But I just read something where Marta Kauffman,
one of the creators, said she hopes--I think that she hopes everyone's going
to be happy, the cast. I mean--the cast--the characters where all these
people that we've known for 10 years are going to be happy. So it won't be
like everyone dies or, you know, one of those `it was a dream.' No, I think
everyone's going to end up being happy.

GROSS: You know, there's been like a whole industry of shows inspired by
"Friends". And, I mean, there are times--it's been like this for years--when
you put on the TV and you feel like every half hour there's a new group of
people in their 20s or 30s sitting on a couch talking to each other and
having affairs with each other.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

GROSS: Is that bizarre for you to watch?

Ms. KUDROW: In the beginning it was. Not bizarre, I just thought, `Wow.' It
was flattering; to be honest, it was flattering and then a little sad because
I think TV does this all the time. I just read something the creator of
"Everyone Loves Raymond" said, that they think that you're establishing a new
formula for a TV success. And you're not. You've just hit on something with,
you know, the casting and they click with the writer's sensibilities and
you've created people and lots of back story for these people so they feel
flushed out. And that's what it is. It's not just, `Oh, let's just put six,
you know, young people in a room, see what happens.'

GROSS: Right. Right. Now you got the role of Phoebe on "Friends" after
initially getting the role of Roz on the show, "Frasier. She's the
producer of Frasier's radio show, the role now played by Peri Gilpin. And
then you lost the role before the series actually started. What happened?

Ms. KUDROW: Hm, I'm still not sure. I'm still not sure what happened. I
got fired before they even--we shot the pilot, before we shot the pilot. And
I was really devastated because I loved that part of Roz. I think that's a
great part. And I was excited to do something that wasn't, you know, an idiot
girl 'cause I had been playing a lot of idiot girls in, you know, guest spots
here and there. So, no, that really hurt. But Peri Gilpin is so great. I
knew her. We auditioned together, so I actually was happy that she was doing
it.

GROSS: Boy, how do you end up being happy that she's doing it when she took
the role that you wanted? I mean, that's a hard...

Ms. KUDROW: Well, I...

GROSS: ...posture to maintain, I think.

Ms. KUDROW: Well, you know what? She knew all those producers. She had
worked with them before when we were both auditioning for it. And I took the
role she wanted and that was really due her, to be honest...

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: ...you know. And it was nice to see it go back to her. And it
was hard, but at the same time, I am a firm believer and I have a lot of
friends telling me, `You know, the truth is when something like this happens
it's because it wasn't meant to be and it's saving you for something else that
you're supposed to be doing.'

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow is the star of "Friends" and the new movie "Wonderland."
She'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is
FRESH AIR.

This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Let's get back to our interview with Lisa Kudrow. She's in the middle of the
final season of "Friends," and she's starring with Val Kilmer in the new
movie, "Wonderland."

If we can talk a little bit about your formative years. Your father was a
neurologist, and he studied migraines. Did you ever have migraines?

Ms. KUDROW: Well, first, my father is an internist who...

GROSS: Oh, OK.

Ms. KUDROW: ...then specialized in headache and did research in headache,
important research. And my brother is a neurologist...

GROSS: Oh, I see. OK.

Ms. KUDROW: ...who treats headache--yeah.

GROSS: Thank you.

Ms. KUDROW: Sure. And, yeah, once in a while, nothing--I didn't have chronic
headaches growing up. But I've experienced what a migraine is, yeah.

GROSS: No, I think I read that you had worked with your father doing research
on migraines? Do I have that right?

Ms. KUDROW: Yes, you have that right. When I was in college, you know, I
was a biology major, and my plan was to do research, not in the area of
headache, but that was part of my plan. So after college, I worked with my
father helping him with research, 'cause I hadn't decided to be an actress
yet, but it was creeping in at that point. And we actually did do a study.
We looked at hemisphere dominance and was it related to the various headache
types.

GROSS: So did you consider medicine instead of acting?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, medicine was brief, you know, in the beginning of college,
but then I was really looking into doing--to studying evolutionary theory and
more specifically, areas of sociobiology. And the bottom line for me, I was
really interested in the evolution of human psychology, seeing how environment
and biology work together to inform the changes over time in our--my God--in
our psychology.

GROSS: So how did acting win over that?

Ms. KUDROW: You know, I had always--when I was little, I wanted to be an
actress. It's so weird. I always wanted to be an actress, and I've sort
of--I just put it on a shelf when I was in high school, in college, really
squelched any of those desires. And whenever I'd come back from college on a
break, I'd get these little, like, whispers or feelings about, `Yeah, I want
to--I could do this. I think you could do this.' Like, `Yeah, but you can't,
you know, be an actual person that you'd respect and do this, so just put it
away again and go back to school, do something honorable.' And when I moved
back, it just overtook me. I don't know how else to say it. It just overtook
me that I had to pursue acting. I could do it and I wanted to do it.

GROSS: Where did you start?

Ms. KUDROW: I started with Jon Lovitz, who I grew up with. That's my
brother's best friend and like a brother to me. And I'd seen him struggle,
you know, for a long time. And finally he was working, he got on "Saturday
Night Live," and I just finally let him know, I think I'm going to pursue this
now. And he said, `Great. Go to the groundlings.' So I've taken a lot of
acting classes. I studied it in college. I've never learned more than I
learned from the groundlings and doing improvisation.

GROSS: When he told you to go there, did they just, like, let you in?

Ms. KUDROW: No. Absolutely not. No, they called up and said, `What's--when
I called them, they said, `What's your experience?' I said, `Well, I'm junior
high.' Aye. And so they said, `Yeah, we're going to refer you to this teacher
who we work with a lot.' And she was a godsend. Her name is Cynthia Szigeti.
And she was the best thing that could have happened to me.

GROSS: How come?

Ms. KUDROW: Because she didn't take no for an answer, and embarrassment was
not an option. You just had to do it. And it was the best thing that ever
happened to me. And you know, it's improvisation, and that could be scary and
some of the exercises look really silly, like lifting a disc, you know. And I
thought, `That's so actory and embarrassing. I just can't.' And the second
class, I came in late, and she was just, you know, talking everyone through
it. She wasn't, like, warm and nurturing, although she was warm, but she was,
`Come on, do it. You can do it. Stop laughing. We'll laugh. We'll tell you
when it's funny.' You know, just how to stay committed. She just forced you
with sort of like a gun to your head, you know...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KUDROW: ...on being louder and staying committed. And I'm watching
these people lift a disc, and I'm so embarrassed for them except for one guy
who's doing it and now I understand what being committed is. He was so
committed that it wasn't embarrassing. He looked like he was lifting a disc.
He wasn't overdoing it. He wasn't embarrassed. He wasn't commenting on it.
He was just there acting like he's lifting a disc, and I understood what
commitment was from that, you know.

GROSS: Isn't a disc like a discus thrower?

Ms. KUDROW: It's--there's nothing there.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: You're pretending, like--no, everyone's standing around in a
circle, and you're all working together to lift a disc.

GROSS: Oh, I see. I see. So it's a group exercise.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. But there's this one guy who's doing it and he's not
embarrassing to me. And I thought, `All right, well, I've got to be friends
with that guy, that's for sure.' And it was Conan O'Brien.

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. So we became friends, you know, from that class on. We're
very close friends.

GROSS: Oh, that's interesting.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, and so I just kind of stuck with him, 'cause I thought,
`OK, he's got a handle on this.'

GROSS: So how come you started yourself as comic actor? How did you know
that at least at the beginning it was going to be about comedy for you?

Ms. KUDROW: Because I thought, `Wow, you know, the people in comedy don't
seem to take themselves as seriously. I could handle that. I think I could
handle that being around those people.' A lot of it was just about who would I
have to deal with if I'm going to do this career? And you know, that was also
a big deterrent for so many years before I decided to do it.

GROSS: What were you afraid of in terms of the people?

Ms. KUDROW: Just, oh...

GROSS: Pretentiousness?

Ms. KUDROW: Not so much a pretentiousness as too other-worldly, too--you
know, 'cause I feel like they're genuine in their erroneous beliefs. That's
how I felt about it, you know.

GROSS: What were the erroneous beliefs?

Ms. KUDROW: Just--I don't know, a little too `anything goes.' 'Cause I was a
really rigid kid and, you know, young adult, really rigid. And I'm not saying
I was right back then, but that's just how I felt, like, you know, these
people are idiots, and I don't want to be one of them. And I don't want to be
associated with them. What I came to find out was that they're not idiots,
and everybody--I, more than anyone else, could use a little lightening up, you
know.

GROSS: Was one of your fears about actors was that sense of elevating craft
to an almost, like, religious level?

Ms. KUDROW: Yes, thank you. That's exactly--that was exactly what it was,
yeah.

GROSS: And what was your problem with that?

Ms. KUDROW: It didn't ring true to me at the time. It just felt like
somebody trying--yeah, I mean, I think you were right when you said
pretentious. I don't know why I rejected it so quickly. That was unfair.

GROSS: Hostility.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, I don't know what made me so angry at you. No, maybe that
was part of it. It just didn't ring true. It was something that I just
always rejected, and you know, I just lumped--I'm very black and white, and
especially then. So I'd see an actor or an actress on a talk show and hate
them, you know, and hate all their divorces and hate, you know, just how
messed up they were and not seeing it, you know, behaving as if--and, of
course, everyone would aspire to be me, you know. It really bothered me a
lot.

GROSS: My guest is Lisa Kudrow. We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Lisa Kudrow, is one of the stars of "Friends," which is in
its final season, and she's starring in the new movie "Wonderland."

You became really famous for your role on "Friends." I want to ask you about a
movie role that you had a few years ago in "The Opposite of Sex," and it--you
did such a great performance in this movie.

Ms. KUDROW: Thank you.

GROSS: And it's a terrific film in general. And it's an interesting
character for you because it's a comedic character. It's comedy, but your
character is really smart. What she isn't is very kind of emotionally
intelligent.

Ms. KUDROW: Right.

GROSS: She's got a lot of, like, emotional problems, but she's very
perceptive and very smart and very articulate.

Ms. KUDROW: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about that character?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. Oh, I loved playing Lucia. You know, I recognized so
much of myself in her because of that rigidity, you know, I was talking about
in myself as a teen-ager and young adult, just I had all these rules and just
sort of like an emotional disconnect, you know. And I don't know where in
hell Don Roos saw that in me, but you know, he just offered me that role based
on I don't know what, "Romy and Michele"? How? "Friends"? How?

GROSS: Huh.

Ms. KUDROW: But somehow he just thought, `Yeah, you could be her.' And I
still am not sure why.

GROSS: And you know, in the movie, she's in love with a guy who turns out to
be gay and falls in love with her brother. And before the movie opens, her
brother has died of AIDS, so she thinks maybe there's still a chance with this
other guy, which, of course, there isn't because he really is gay. And then
his sister, played by Christina Ricci, comes to town, and she's really nuts.
Anyway, so you think of yourself in the movie as the real, like, sane person,
not realizing, like, what your own craziness is.

Ms. KUDROW: Right.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite scene from the film?

Ms. KUDROW: In terms of the script, there's a lot of them I like. I really
like that moment where she's kind of fed up with Bill when they're in Palm
Springs and talking about how her mother was so sad for her gay brother
because how alone he must be, what a lonely life it is to be gay, which she's
saying to her single daughter who's more alone than he is.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: I don't know, you know, but, oh, there's so much going on in
that scene. It's just chockful of stuff.

GROSS: Well, let's hear it. This is Lisa Kudrow and Martin Donovan in a
scene from "The Opposite of Sex."

(Soundbite of "The Opposite of Sex")

Ms. KUDROW: (As Lucia) I mean, I could, like, dance around you naked,
vagina, vagina, vagina. Does that word do anything for you?

Mr. MARTIN DONOVAN: (As Bill) I don't think it does much for anyone, gay or
straight. It's too clinical. It's like dentifrice for toothpaste.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Lucia) God, some (censored) you're ironic. Do you know what
my mom said when she found out Tom was gay? She said, `It's such a lonely
life.' She said that to the single, straight girl. Isn't that funny? I
don't know, I just don't--I don't get sex.

Mr. DONOVAN: (As Bill) You should get out more.

Ms. KUDROW: I mean I don't understand sex. I don't get it. Get it? It's
just it seems like a lot of trouble for not much. Am I the only one that
thinks this?

Mr. DONOVAN: (As Bill) I don't think you're the tip of an iceberg, frankly.

Ms. KUDROW: (As Lucia) No, I would rather have a back rub, you know. It
lasts longer and there's no fluids. You know, what's so great about that?
That's like, `Hi, I'd like to blow my nose on your face.' You know, you
wouldn't like that, would you?

Mr. DONOVAN: (As Bill) And after they do it, they never phone you.

GROSS: That's a scene from "The Opposite of Sex" with Martin Donovan and my
guest, Lisa Kudrow.

Now you've become a mother since working on "Friends," which means that, you
know, part of the time you were pregnant on...

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the set. Was that difficult to deal with, either from the
technical point of view or just, like, the physical aspect of it?

Ms. KUDROW: That was hard technically and physically. In those days, you
know, we were also shooting the show. We wouldn't be done until one or two in
the morning sometimes. And I was just exhausted the whole nine months. That
was, you know, my pregnancy ailment was exhaustion and, well, nausea. But
that part was really hard. And also no one seemed to understand that I really
had to sit down a lot, you know. I felt like I was always trying to remind
people, like, `But I need a chair.'

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: But it's hard for me to stay up this late, and sometimes feeling
like if I'd ask and it's asking a lot 'cause there's six of us, `Can't we
just--can I shoot out my scenes and then I can go home?' Sometimes yes, a lot
of the times no.

GROSS: So it's hard to draw the line between taking care of yourself and
feeling like you're acting spoiled in asking for special treatment.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah. Yeah. And so it was hard. It was really hard. And then
also just how you look and they didn't really play the Phoebe is pregnant
thing. I was still hiding it or trying to hide it for a while. And you know,
in the beginning, you just look like you've just gained a lot of weight.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. KUDROW: So that was hard.

GROSS: Do you think that the other women characters on "Friends" have been
more sexualized than your character has been?

Ms. KUDROW: Absolutely. Sure.

GROSS: And is that because yours is the more kind of comedic?

Ms. KUDROW: No. I think it's because I'm not as sexual as they are. I mean,
I'm not as--I don't project that as much as they do.

GROSS: So you think it's about you the actress, not about the character?

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, I really do. I really do. You know, there's no end to
the amount of dating and, you know, sexual experiences that Phoebe refers to.
So the opportunity was definitely there, but it's--I'm not comfortable doing
that. It's not any kind of, you know, like, moral belief or I'm against it;
it's not that at all. I'm personally not comfortable with that. So, you
know, I don't like photo shoots. We did one early on where this one
photographer who does stuff, and he did that famous shot of Jennifer on the
cover of Rolling Stone where you see, like, a fuzzy, blurry ver--you know,
part of her tushy.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Ms. KUDROW: And it's just about the sexiest thing I'd ever seen. And I
thought it was beautiful. And so we were all doing a shoot, the three girls,
and one of the--it was that same photographer--I think it was before, you
know, Jennifer's Rolling Stone cover. But he had us all doing different
things that were kind of sexy and asked me to unbutton my top and keep
unbuttoning it and opening it up just a little more, and as I was doing it, it
felt awful to me. I didn't like the way I felt at all. I felt, like, taken
advantage of.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KUDROW: I just did, and I thought, `What is this? All of a sudden, I'm
like a--I don't know, it didn't feel right, you know.' I'm like a sex
performer right now.

GROSS: Yes, right.

Ms. KUDROW: I have to be a sex performer for this photo shoot, and I wasn't
comfortable with it.

GROSS: So what'd you do? Did you say you're not comfortable and then button
your shirt back up? Or did you say, `Well, you know, they're asking me to do
this, and I'll be a good sport even though I don't feel comfortable'?

Ms. KUDROW: I was trying--it was more of `Get comfortable with this, Lisa.
Come on. Don't--you know, stop that prejudice you have against everything.
Maybe this is part of your old way of thinking, you know.' And I tried and I
unbuttoned it and opened it a little and I tried. And, you know, it just
didn't feel comfortable. And the kind of face you have to make to look sexy,
like...

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Ms. KUDROW: ...you know, opening your mouth a little and your eyes get
really big and you purse your lips; that's like a comedy bit to me. And I've
even done it as jokes in photo shoots or Polaroids. I always, as a joke, do
this. To me, it's a crazy face, and it looks OK. It doesn't look crazy.

GROSS: That sexual pout.

Ms. KUDROW: Yeah, and it doesn't look crazy. It looks like what all these
women look like when they look really sexy or doing these photographs. So now
when I see those, I think, `Wow, they--the amount of contortion it took me to
achieve that, I can't believe that's what you do without even thinking twice
about it.' Huh! You can't...

GROSS: That's really funny. Do you know people who do that naturally, or do
you think that whole style of sexual allure is almost always pure acting?

Ms. KUDROW: Oh, I think there are people who it's pretty natural for. I
mean, my husband has a pout to him, and he's sexy, and that's natural, can't
help it. Everyone in his family, they're all French, you know, they just are
sexy and it's no act. But, yes, so there are people like that, I know there
are. But then there are others who, `Come on, like, I know what you had to do
to achieve that face and that arch.' And it's just, like, com--so unnatural
to me unless you're in, you know, a bedroom.

GROSS: Well, good luck with the new movie and good luck with the final season
of "Friends." It's just been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you
very much.

Ms. KUDROW: Thank you.

GROSS: Lisa Kudrow is starring in "Friends" and the new movie "Wonderland."
This is FRESH AIR.

We never know what's next on FRESH AIR. One day, our guest is an actress,
whether it's--another, it's a journalist just back from Iraq. We try to
present a mix of entertainment and interviews with experts who can help
explain the complicated issues we face today. But whatever the subject of the
day is, one thing remains the same, FRESH AIR would not be possible without
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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