Actress Lisa Kudrow

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Actress discusses what’s surprised her about her new series, Who Do You Think You Are?, and talks about her latest film project.

Lisa Kudrow appeared on two of TV's most popular series: Mad About You and a 10-year Emmy-winning stint on Friends. She segued to film, with credits that include Analyze This, Wonderland and, her latest, Paper Man. Kudrow planned to become a medical researcher and has a biology degree from Vassar. She also found success behind the camera, co-creating, writing and exec-producing HBO's The Comeback, winning a Webby for her online show, Web Therapy, and producing the U.S. version of the hit UK series Who Do You Think You Are? for NBC.



Tavis: Pleased to welcome Lisa Kudrow back tot his program. The Emmy-winning actress serves as producer of the NBC genealogy series “Who Do You Think You Are?” More on that in a moment.
Starting April 23rd, though, here in New York and L.A., you can catch her in the film “Paper Man.” Here now, a scene from “Paper Man.”
Tavis: So I told you we had a clip, and you said, “Hopefully I’ll remember the clip.” (Laughter) Do you remember this scene?
Lisa Kudrow: Yes.
Tavis: You want to explain that scene to me?
Kudrow: That scene is early on in the movie and I think it’s sort of establishing that she’s big part caretaker and also wife, but there’s something a little helpless about him.
Tavis: Why is she in the position of having to be such a caretaker for her grown husband?
Kudrow: For her grown husband. Well, he is an author and he has writer’s block. He’s only written one novel and it didn’t do well, and years and years and years have passed and he’s still working on the next one. (Laughter) So yeah, I think she’s also disappointed, because she’s a vascular surgeon, you see.
So I think she was really imagining this fabulous life where she’s this great surgeon, he’s a successful novelist, and it didn’t work out that way.
Tavis: So if she is that accomplished, then why baby-sit this grown man who she’s disappointed in?
Kudrow: Well, I decided that it’s a few things. (Laughter) I think she’s –
Tavis: Yeah, what do you think about this, Lisa Kudrow?
Kudrow: Here’s what I think. I think that there’s still that potential – he could be that person, and then it wasn’t all for nothing. And then on I think a more decent side is that she does love him and she’s married to him and committed, and so she’s going to do what she can to, in her mind, support him. I think he feels it’s more – her version of support sounds more like disappointment, so.
Tavis: Since we’re in this vein now of hearing Lisa Kudrow’s opinion about the character, let me stay in that vein. So what did Lisa see when she saw this script that made her want to even consider playing this part?
Kudrow: Well, I like when there are complicated relationships, that there’s a little bit of self-serving parts of it as well as a devotion to a person, and that there’s a mixture of both in there. It’s just I think that’s a little more true to life. It’s not always purely one way or the other.
Tavis: Has the stuff you have done in the past convinced you to go in a different direction in terms of what you’re looking for in the future, or does the past not impact your future choices in that way?
Kudrow: It doesn’t seem to impact my choices. I look for a few things and one of them, of course, the first priority is do I like the script, the story and the character, and then when you throw in, “Oh, and you’d be Jeff Daniels’ wife,” that was very attractive to me, and Ryan Reynolds, who’s so great, and Emma Stone, and I liked the cast, too.
I wanted to get to meet them, which is kind of how I see things sometimes, like, “Hey, I got to meet Jeff Daniels for a couple of months in New York.” (Laughter) So there’s that, and also independent films, those are short shoots, and nothing shoots in L.A., so you have to leave town.
Tavis: Who is this guy in this cape?
Kudrow: That’s Ryan Reynolds.
Tavis: I know who he is, but who’s –
Kudrow: Oh, oh, oh. (Laughter)
Tavis: I know it’s Ryan Reynolds.
Kudrow: Sorry.
Tavis: What’s he doing in that – yeah, falling into the water with a cape on?
Kudrow: He’s Richard’s imaginary friend, Jeff Daniels. That’s the other aspect of it, that character still has an imaginary friend.
Tavis: Your husband has issues.
Kudrow: He has issues.
Tavis: Yeah. He’s got writer’s block for 20 years, he has imaginary friends, you have to feed him at dinner. Yeah.
Kudrow: That’s right. He’s supposed to be this, like, charming artist, but I think to a certain type of wife, it’s a burden.
Tavis: Yeah, I would think so. (Laughter)
Kudrow: Yeah. I saw it that way.
Tavis: Having to do all of that. Let me shift gears to your genealogy project. Somebody was on this program not long ago, like a real geneticist, and we were talking about the burgeoning growth of people who are getting more and more interested in their genealogy and to digging into their past.
Obviously, you’re producing a TV show that does this. How did it become of interest to you, specifically?
Kudrow: Well, I saw the show on the BBC. I was working in Ireland and it was on BBC 1 and I just thought it was the most riveting, compelling show I’d ever seen, and just felt like we could have that in the U.S. We don’t have anything like that, and it’s – I didn’t know who those people were, either, because they’re household names over there, but that didn’t mean I knew who they were.
But it was still really compelling and emotional and informative. There are these details of history that we don’t really get to learn in school because it’s all going so fast, and it’s really interesting how that impacts people’s lives. They’re not strangers anymore when you can see a personal story.
Tavis: Is there a challenge to getting people, convincing people to subject themselves to the process, or does that happen with more ease than I think?
Kudrow: It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, and I think we purposefully looked for people who seemed to be intellectually curious. I have to say another selling point was Alex Graham, who created the show in the UK, he also produced a show that’s been on PBS, a series, “Colonial House” and “Pioneer House,” and those were so well done and really interesting. I think that sold a lot of these people.
Tavis: What has – I could ask it a couple of different ways.
Kudrow: Okay.
Tavis: What has surprised you or what has moved you, what’s just really taken your breath away about seeing people come into the light of who they are?
Kudrow: Oh, a lot of things. There’s so many levels to this show and the way it impacts the person who’s investigating their ancestry that they learn details from history that they didn’t know before, like me, for example, I thought I really had studied the Holocaust and Jewish history, and I really had no – I really didn’t know, or I forgot, that Jews had been in that part of Eastern Europe for hundreds of years.
I forgot that yeah, the Nazis came in 1941 and subjected them to horrible cruelties before, for a year, until that one day they decided to massacre the men, women and children so brutally in the village.
It was the details I really – I didn’t pay attention to for my own family’s experience. I didn’t pay attention to that. It’s easier to keep it at an emotional distance, something that happened a long time ago to other people.
Tavis: I think there are two sides to this. You’re talking about one side now, which is the historical memory that it awakens in you when you connect to your genealogical past. I get that part. How does that knowledge, how does that awareness empower you for your future? Does that make sense?
Kudrow: It does. There are things that are already there that sort of got affirmed for better or worse. You can’t help but just be aware that things might not always be as good as they are right now, because people’s feelings about others can turn on a dime.
So for better or worse, that’s still – it’s still there in me. It’s been there for a while. So there’s that. Then there’s also that aspect of oh, now I know why my grandmother was the way she was, which was just a little bit bitter. That there had just been so much tragedy in so many areas of her life, not to mention this really terrifying, this horror that her entire family was just wiped out like that.
That’s who raised my father and his response to that, and you can see how all these events, however far you go back, it really informed how the next generation behaved or experienced the world.
Tavis: Yeah. We’re all the sum total of our experiences, I think.
Kudrow: Yeah.
Tavis: Finally here, it occurs to me as you talk about this genealogy project so passionately, it occurs to me that there – I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it would seem that there is an interesting balance in your life now, and by balance I mean on the one hand you get a chance to entertain us through reruns of “Friends” everywhere, every day, through the project with Mr. Daniels.
So you get a chance to entertain us, but on the other side this particular project, the genealogy project, is not just entertaining, it’s also empowering for people when they get a chance to see. I would think that’s a pretty cool balance in one’s life, to not just do one, but at this point in your life to be able to do both of those simultaneously. Maybe I’m over-reading this, but.
Kudrow: No, you’re not. In fact, it’s something I’ve been afraid to sort of say out loud, but part of it was this secret fantasy that if it’s possible to bring this kind of show to network television, which seemed, I have to say, almost like an impossibility, then it would be such a huge – to me, just a huge accomplishment because it’s really – I think it’s enriching.
It can’t go all the way over to documentary series like it is in the UK, because after all, it is on a network during primetime. But boy, I think it’s taken what that is on network television a little further along, and it makes me proud.
Tavis: I agree, you should be proud about that.
Kudrow: Thank you.
Tavis: The movie is “Paper Man” in New York and L.A. at the moment, and the TV series, “Who Do You Think You Are?” everywhere, both starting Lisa Kudrow. Lisa, good to see you.
Kudrow: Good to see you, thanks.

Tavis: Glad to have you back. Thank you so much.

Last modified: November 10, 2014 at 2:42 pm