To be the sexy one on a show in my 40s is fantastic, says House star

Lisa Edelstein
PICTURE: David Johnson/FOX

TV star Lisa Edelstein sends Mike Cohen's temperature racing

HOUSE has been a global phenomenon since it first hit television screens in 2004.

Seen in almost 70 countries, the medical drama has made British actor Hugh Laurie one of the most famous faces on the small screen.

One of the most compelling storylines throughout the first six series has been the 'will they, won't they' plot involving Gregory House and hospital administrator Lisa Cuddy, played by Lisa Edelstein.

Viewers of the Sky One programme finally saw them get together at the end of series six.

The seventh season started last month with the romance the theme of the opening episode.

Lisa only discovered this year that House producer Bryan Singer always had her in mind for the role of Cuddy.

"I didn't know it was predetermined," she told me from Los Angeles. "I was as nervewracked as ever when I auditioned."

Lisa was born in Boston on May 21, 1967 - although she is a year older if you believe her Wikipedia entry.

When she was still a baby, her family moved to Brooklyn. She also lived in New Jersey and then New York.

"My grandparents lived in Brighton Beach, where there was a large Jewish community," she said.

Lisa grew up in a 'traditional' Jewish family, attending cheder three times a week. She says that her grandparents were Orthodox, but describes her parents Alvin and Bonnie Edelstein as "modern Orthodox".

She claims to have had the acting bug all her life. She told me: "From the minute I could speak, I announced that I would be an actor.

"I would get on stage for any reason. I always knew what I wanted to do. While growing up I performed in a number of community things, then I tried to learn about the business side of it."

She added: "My family didn't have a showbusiness background. I think they were hoping I would grow out of it. My mother always wanted me to be a lawyer."

She moved to New York City at the age of 18 to study theatre at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

As Lisa E, she also became a celebrated member of the city's nightlife scene and became dubbed by the New York press as a "top celebutante" in 1986.

She hated her time at NYU, although one teacher did encourage her to write songs.

"I started writing songs about AIDS," Lisa said. "I dropped out of school and co-wrote and produced a musical. It was an extraordinary experience."

The musical, Positive Me, debuted at La Mama in 1989 and brought her to the attention of the movers and shakers of the entertainment industry.

"My career path has been a slow, steady build," she said. "I became known as a sitcom guest star. People only know you for the job you just did."

Her first TV role was as co-host of MTV's ill-fated morning programme Awake on the Wild Side in 1990.

Within a year she had landed a role in the Oliver Stone directed film The Doors.

In 1993, she starred in two episodes of the world's most successful sitcom Seinfeld, played George Constanza's risotto-loving girlfriend.

She appeared in nine episodes of the comedy Almost Perfect in 1995-96.

She describes the programme as "forgettable", but it did introduce her to TV producer Thomas Schlamme, with whom she would work on several subsequent shows.

Her appearance as a lesbian in the cult series Relativity in 1996 added to her growing popularity and she also starred in the 1997 live episode of ER.

Other film roles followed in As Good As It Gets (1997) and 30 Days (1999) before reuniting with Schlamme for the comedy series Sports Night.

Despite appearing just twice in the programme, she made such an impression on writer Aaron Sorkin that he cast her in the critically-acclaimed The West Wing as Rob Lowe's prostitute girlfriend.

Her next role was even more challenging - playing a transsexual on Ally McBeal in 2000. She also had roles in Felicity, The Practice and film Daddy Day Care before landing her biggest role in House.

"I didn't really care about not having a lead role as I was always working," Lisa said. " I always wanted to be a series regular but in a lead role you have to work 14 hours a day - every day.

"Did I want that? Not necessarily. It's hard to have a life. With House it was a perfect situation.

"There are episodes when I'm really busy and other when I'm barely there. I never know when I'm working. I'm at the beck and call of the production company."

BED MATES: The cast of top hospital drama House. Lisa Edelstein is pictured cuddling up to Hugh Laurie who plays her fictional boyfriend in the seventh series of the Sky One programme

She added: "House has been great. Characters don't evolve, they get fleshed out. It's been great to make Cuddy human.

"The actor and the character meld. The actor's imagination gets in there and a new creature begins to emerge."

Lisa, who practices Ashtanga yoga six days a week, describes acting as a gamble. She explained: "You get one episode of the show to read and have to decide if the writing is good, if the part is interesting and if like people you work with.

"You get good at recognising things in script. Cuddy had a great part in the pilot episode but then disappeared for the first half of the first season.

The latest addition to the House cast for season seven is Candice Bergen as Cuddy's mother in two episodes.

When I suggest that it must be Lisa's performances which have attracted a star of the calibre of Bergen, the modest actress laughed: "It's the show that attracted her. I can't give myself that much credit - but you can."

Many fans were worried that the romance between Cuddy and House could work against the show. The on-screen tension between the pair held viewers in raptures, but Lisa said they had to get together.

"You can't avoid if forever," she said. "The show is not reliant on House and Cuddy not being together. It's about him and how he ricochets off the world.

"Our characters are meant to be there for House to react to. It's not our stories, although some episodes fill in the blanks about other characters.

"It is a wonderful ensemble with fantastic writing."

While House does feature younger female actresses like Jennifer Morrison and Olivia Wilde, it is Lisa who is portrayed as the sex symbol.

She told me: "I feel amazed by the sexiness. I've always played sassy best friends, but to be the sexy one on a show in my 40s is pretty fantastic.

"An older character is allowed to be sexual. Celebrating that is a very exciting thing to do."

As well as her sexiness, Cuddy also holds all the power at the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey.

The dean of medicine and hospital administrator is 38 and Jewish. In the sixth season, she became a mother after adopting a child.

"No matter what role I play, I always end up being Jewish," she laughed. "I like representing the Jewish people."

Her most Jewish role was as a rabbi in the 1998 series Nothing Sacred.

Lisa - whose parents, aunt and uncle have all appeared as extras in the show - doesn't know how long House can continue but she did reveal that she has yet to be signed up for an eighth season.

For the past six years, Lisa has been concentrating on House.

She said: "It's hard to film other things. I use my time off to see the world.

"Before House, I never really knew when a job would come around so I couldn't leave time to do other things.

"So I would leave a week a year for that and even then miss out on something. When I got this job, it meant I could go everywhere and do things I didn't do before. And I can now fly business class."

One of the places she likes to visit is Israel. She first visited the Jewish state in 1976 and returned in 1982 and then three years ago.

"I have family there," she said. "They are not so close because they are so far away.

"My great aunt moved to then-Palestine in 1910 and founded Kibbutz Dalia in the Galilee. She helped turn it into a fertile, beautiful area.

"It's amazing to see pictures of this band of 10 Jews and what they did."

She added: "Before the Second World War, a number of relatives moved from Europe to Argentina. Then some of them moved to Israel."

Lisa, a vegetarian for 28 years, says Israel is a very difficult place to follow this.

"Obviously there is hummus, but it's not so good if you are there for several weeks."

Lisa recalls eating at a cafe in 1982 and then walking to a nearby river to swim, but on her last visit to Israel, she had to get a bus from the cafe to the water because it had evaporated.

Another of Lisa's passions is rescuing animals. At the moment she has two dogs who were both rescued and she has had many others over the years.

She also volunteers at the animal sanctuary Best Friends.

Despite her vegetarianism, she does admit that she has "leather in her closet" adding "I try to do my best to be as guilt-free as possible".

Lisa takes her own food with her when filming as she describes the on-set food as "awful".

House is on Sky One HD on Sundays (9pm).

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph