Kudrow's most noteable TV appearance was in the role as "Phoebe Buffay" on the popular comedy hit series "Friends". After she estabslihed a star status on "Friends", she has bridged the gap between television and film with undeniable success, winning particular acclaim for her role as an uptight school teacher in Don Roos' The Opposite of Sex (1998). Kudrow earned a degree in biology from Vassar College before beginning her acting career. After college, she joined the Los Angeles improvisational group, The Groundlings, at the urging of family friend Jon Lovitz. Improv paved the way for more work, and Kudrow was soon appearing in bit roles in a number of films. Her first real break didn't come until 1993, when she began appearing on the TV sitcom Mad About You as Ursula, the waitress from hell. Real fame came in 1994, when the actress was cast as Phoebe on Friends; the enormous success of the show gave her both wide recognition and a steady day job. Kudrow's first leading role on the big screen was as one of the titular heroines (alongside Mira Sorvino) of the 1997 comedy Romy and Michele's High School Reunion; unfortunately, her character was little more than a film version of Phoebe. Fortunately, Kudrow got to widen her range a little further that same year with a starring role in the independent drama Clockwatchers, portraying a struggling actress alongside the likes of Toni Collette and Parker Posey. The following year, Kudrow won raves and critical respect for her turn in The Opposite of a scathing black comedy in which she gave a comic and poignant performance as an embittered woman coping with the death of her brother, the presence of her best friend's malicious little sister (Christina Ricci), and the romantic attentions of Lyle Lovett. The acclaim she received for her portrayal was complemented the same year with an Emmy Award for her work on Friends. In 1999, Kudrow shared the screen with Robert DeNiro in the comedy Analyze This, and later that year she starred with Diane Keaton and Meg Ryan as three sisters dealing with the imminent death of their irritating father (Walter Matthau) in the comedy Hanging Up, directed by Keaton and written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron. Lisa Kudrow was born on July 30, 1963, in Encino, California.
Lisa Kudrow Gets Real In ''Comeback''
Friends star Lisa Kudrow has caught the pseudo-reality show bug. In The Comeback, an HBO series launching in June, Kudrow plays a 40-year-old sitcom star who's so desperate for work that she agrees to star in a reality show called The Comeback. In the show, she's surrounded by good-looking young actresses who make her feel like she's over the hill. If it sounds familiar, Kudrow, 41, insists it's not based on her life. As further proof it's fiction, Kudrow, who has short blonde hair in real life, dons a long red wig for the part, which she says "looked OK, because I have some freckles." But don't expect her Friends co-stars to drop by for guest appearances. Kudrow says, it's "not part of the plan."
DeNiro, Crystal, Ramis, Kudrow in 'Analyze That'
It seems an eternity ago when Analyze This hit our screens, followed by the huge success of The Sopranos. In the sequel to Analyze This, Analyze That, it would appear that art imitates art. In the sequel, Paul Vitti (Robert De Niro) is re-leased from prison into the custody of Ben Sobel (Billy Crystal), a psychiatrist who needs to find Vitti a job. Ultimately, Vitti ends up as a consultant on Little Caesar, a cable show about a mob boss, starring an Australian actor [Anthony LaPaglia - TV's Without A Trace, Lantana] determined to get it right. In a New York hotel room, director Harold Ramis, who also directed the first film, goes out of his way to dispel the myth that there is somehow a correlation between Analyze That and its more dramatic counterpart. "This is not a parody of The Sopranos or a slap at them. We knew they were getting made when we made the first movie and they knew about us. We don't attempt to do what they do and they don't attempt to do what we do." Crystal jokingly says that the series managed to take a poke at the movies long before the sequel was written. "In the first season, Tony Soprano said [of Analyze This], 'It's just a f*cking comedy'".
Laughs or not, both the movies and TV's The Sopranos have attained the wrath of Italian-Americans. Recently, for instance, the organizers of New York's Columbus Day Parade refused to allow cast members of The Sopranos to march. Ramis says that before the first movie started production, he received letters from Italian-Americans protesting the depiction of Italians as mobsters."I got an injunctive letter from an Italian-American anti-defamation organization that made a good point. It said that there are over 16 million Italian-Americans in this country and about 3,000 have been involved in organized crime at any point. The letter went on to say that if Jews or African-Americans were treated that way in the media there would be tremendous pro-test. There would be a Congressional hearing, but for some reason Italian-Americans are fair game. However, we went ahead and made our movie anyway," he concludes laughingly. Meanwhile Oscar winner De Niro, clearly uncomfortable at meeting the press, was surprisingly vocal on this subject. After all, De Niro has played Italian-American mobsters in several movies, and says that he has never had much sympathy with offended Italian-Americans and was clearly annoyed at the recent Columbus Day protest against The Sopranos. New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, decided to boycott the parade and instead had lunch with two cast members, Lorraine Bracco and Dominic Chianese. "I thought Bloomberg did what he had to do," says De Niro. "I just felt that it wasn't a good idea to make such a big issue of something like that. I don't know why they took such a hard position. They [the Mafia] are just part of our [Italian] culture and you just have to accept that. We all know what it [the Mafia] is and so you don't have to take a stance like that and make an issue of it. I think it is just foolhardy and not necessary."
Analyze That of course is just a movie, a comedy designed to generate laughs, not controversy. For De Niro, it remains a chance to show audiences that he has a sense of humour. The actor says that it was a risk doing a sequel, but one he was willing to take. "With this, there was hesitation but I think from my standpoint, I thought there's nothing to lose and we could have some fun and why not?" Crystal agreed. "It's hard with a second one after the first one is so successful and such a good and well-liked movie, to make the story good and the characters good. Why would people come and why would they care again about us? So, it took a long time until we all felt comfortable with what it was and it actually kept being developed as we were shooting sometimes. We'd change and keep making it funnier, making it more on story until we all felt satisfied with it."
Preparing for both films, DeNiro went back to therapy describing the experience as "really interesting because the people there were just interesting to watch." Being the actor's first sequel, DeNiro had to try and inject new blood into him. Unwilling to elaborate, Ramis steps in. "When we thought about doing the sequel, we didn't want to just send them to Hawaii or something, or go on a cruise. But we wanted to continue the story where we left off, so I think for an actor it's interesting because it's a continuation, it's developing his growing insight into the same problem which is how therapy works. In therapy you don't finish with one problem and then move on to the next. You keep recycling the same material your whole life and I think that's why it was an interesting sequel from an acting point of view."
But DeNiro does manage to engage in far more physical comedy this time around, which was fun for the actor. "Again, the point was to have fun doing it and you're never sure if it's going to work. You just try your best, so the physical stuff, sometimes I would not be comfortable or not sure, but I would do it anyway. If you don't try it, you're never going to know, so go ahead and do it. And some of it I thought was funny on paper. I wasn't sure if I could execute it or not." Crystal, who has his share of physicality, agrees. "I have much more physical stuff than I did in the first movie and I had a lot of fun with beating up the guy at the bus and other things at the restaurant, so I felt great about getting a chance to fly a little bit more in this piece so we could take Ben out of the office and see what his life is like more as it's falling apart."
Asked about parallels between Crystal and his shrink character, the actor laughs slightly before responding. "There are pieces of you in everything you do hopefully. You just find a place where we can be humorous and funny and then are able to be honest about things, so it just happens. Working with Lisa [Kudrow], we have a lot of laughs and just fun. Of course, we're always at a tough part of our marriage, which is not a part of me. But hopefully you can find the honesty in what you say and Harold is such a good guide for us that we very rarely are out of character at all, and the characters fit us very well."
Returning to the Analyze fold is Friends' Lisa Kudrow. Sounding very Phoebe-like when we meet, the actress believes that "I'm not that conscious of how much a character is like Phoebe or isn't like Phoebe. However it comes out, I decide they're all different." She did have a blast working on the film and says that she uses humour in her own life, "sometimes as a device just to crack myself up or the imaginary audience in my head. That's okay, right? That's normal. But most of the time, I'm thinking of things and I just squelch it because there are certain things that aren't appropriate in normal society," Kudrow says with a laugh.
As to future projects, most of the cast have a busy slate. DeNiro never stops working, and is about to shoot another comedy sequel, Meet the Fockers. But it's his next directing stint that generates the most interest, The Good Shepherd, a history of the CIA which is due to star Leonardo Di Caprio. "I've always been interested in the subject and finally I'm going to get it done and if I'm lucky, I'll do it as a two part thing. I'll do the first part, The Good Shepherd and there's a second part, but you have to do the first one first." The actor has always been fascinated with the CIA, he adds. "Just the whole intelligence, it's so psychological. It's fascinating, that whole world is, fascinating stuff. That's about it. Even the technical stuff that they do. What's called human intelligence, the interaction you can't get from satellites and stuff like that is all great stuff. All of it is just fascinating to me."
Following Crystal's last directing stint, '61, the actor hopes to direct again soon. "I'm looking for anything that makes me feel the way I did about doing '61. If you're going to spend a year and a half on a project, you really want to love it as much as I did that, so I'm looking to feel the same way about something. I have a few things I like but nothing that makes me want to spend that much of my life and my energy and my talent on yet, but I'm hoping to find that same feeling again." He is also not ruling out a sequel to the Disney hit Monsters Inc, "Because I hear they pay on those," says Crystal, laughingly. "I had a great time doing that and obviously people liked the movie and it was a big success, but I really had a good time doing it, so I'd look forward to that."A sequel that won't be coming to a cinema near you, however, is Ghostbusters, says Ramis. "We're going to combine them. Paul Vitti thinks he's seeing ghosts, goes to Billy, Billy calls the Ghostbusters and these three very aging fat guys come in, in really tight jumpsuits." That would be a no.
"Friends" Stars Go for Emmy Lead
As the saying goes: A friend in need is a friend that needs to change his strategy.
Just ask the stars of Friends, who, despite nabbing $1 million per episode and scoring the top-rated show on television, haven't gotten much love in the Emmy department.
Now, for the first time ever, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer have decided to submit their names for lead-acting nominations at this year's Emmy Awards, Variety reports. The tight-knit sextet previously only submitted their names for consideration in the best supporting actor and actress categories.
"Up until this point, they've submitted themselves in the supporting roles; the reason being they're all equal," Friends executive producer Kevin Bright explained to Variety. "There's no real star of the show."
The lone exception came in 2000, when Perry's publicist accidentally submitted his name for the Emmys' lead acting category. The goof led him to withdraw from Emmy consideration altogether that year.
But considering the Friends stars' luck with scoring trophies, the odds weren't in his favor anyway. Over its eight-season run, Emmy voters have been notoriously stingy in giving kudos to the NBC sitcom. Kudrow remains the only one to pick up a trophy, scoring the Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy in 1998. Kudrow and Aniston scored nominations last year, but came away empty-handed, as the honor went to Everybody Loves Raymond's Doris Roberts.
Perhaps their luck will now change. After all, Friends has just come off its highest-rated and most critically hailed season in years. And with the show making its exit next year, the stars may be betting that Emmy voters will finally want to give at least one of them their due.
Meantime, nominations for the 54th Emmy Awards will be announced July 18, with the big show airing on NBC September 22 from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The Television Academy also announced this week that last year's producer, Gary Smith, will be back for this year's show.
Lisa Kudrow: Beginning of the "Friends"
An internal NBC research report created before the 1994 debut of Friends gave the sitcom a failing grade, describing the pilot as "not very entertaining, clever, or original."
Of course the Peacock show went on to become a Thursday night mainstay over the next decade, consistently ranking among Nielsen's top 10 and pulling in over 52 million viewers for its two-hour finale last week.
But test audiences in May 1994 found the program and its then unknown stars "not very favorable," according to the document published online at The Smoking Gun. The show got a "weak" review and was graded a measly 41 out of 100. By comparison, ER earned a 91, though it's only fair to point out that Seinfeld also scored a "weak" rating.
Most critical of the laffer was the over-35 set who described the characters as smug, superficial and self-absorbed. "They were not really like people they would want to know." The show did best among 18-34-year-olds (no big surprise) and men showed more interest than women in both the story and premise of the show (how things change).
Courteney Cox, best known as Alex Keaton's girlfriend on Family Ties at the time, was the test-audience fave, though her appeal was "well below desirable levels for a lead." Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Perry had "marginal appeal" while "Rachel, Ross and Joey scored even lower."
To be more specific: Men thought Monica was sexy, women enjoyed her sense of humor, and both found her the most stable and together of the group. Big bro Ross received a lukewarm response, slightly more favorable among women. But the "slacker" came across as "weak and insecure." Ouch.
Phoebe was kooky from the get-go, described by the test audience as an "airhead" and "'60s personality" who contributed a left-field perspective. "Snappy and funny" was Chandler's review, appealing to adult viewers as "more intelligent and more professional looking than the rest of the group."
As for Rachel, the 'do had yet to catch on. She was described as a "spoiled brat" and the "most sheltered" who had "the most growing up to do." Joey scored best with teens as a wise-cracking, macho character with a big ego (ah, but will they tune in to his spinoff?).
The report even provided some recommendations for improving the Friends format, which execs luckily ignored, including the addition of older characters, fewer sexual situations and using Chandler's dreams as a running bit on the show. Smarter suggestions included a larger role for Phoebe, more humor and a deeper emotional involvement among the characters.
And a potential test-audience victim saved from the screening scrap heap? The Central Perk, which confused viewers who found it too funky and too similar to the apartment setting.
Imagine, a world without Gunther...
Lisa Kudrow makes 'Comeback'
What happens when you mix HBO with the creator of Sex and the City and an Emmy-winning performer from Friends?
The pay-cable network, Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow hope this mix produces a resounding comedy hit. The Comeback, scheduled to premiere in the spring, stars Kudrow as Valerie Cherish, a former "B-level" situation comedy star so desperate for a TV comeback that she allows her life to be ground up before the "reality" cameras.
The overall result is a new TV category - a "fictional reality" show.
And the idea was Kudrow's.
The totally scripted series follows Valerie's treacherous - and it's hoped, humorous - journey that will explore the madness of the television reality genre and show how it affects the life of a 40-year-old actress whose professional life is slowly sinking into the Hollywood sunset.
Responding to a question about her own career, Kudrow smiles and says The Comeback is not a nightmarish vision of her own future.
"The premise is just something that made me laugh," Kudrow says.
"You hang around in this business and you meet people like Valerie.
"But if you're wondering if I'm seeing myself in the mirror, the answer is no."
Kudrow, whose work in Mad About You as Ursula, the ditsy waitress, led to her starring role as Phoebe in Friends, said the idea for this series evolved when Friends was in its final season.
She called King. They had lunch. And the project was launched. Kudrow also will be heavily involved as a writer.
"We wrote the pilot together and created the series together, so Lisa decided right away she wanted to be involved in scripts," says King, who wrote many of the award-winning episodes on Sex and the City.
"Lisa is digging into the scripts. It's her original thrust that we're all following. So it's going to be quite a challenge because Lisa will be on-camera nearly all the time during production of 14 episodes."
Viewers might have trouble recognizing Kudrow onscreen because she'll be have a Lucille Ball look with bright red hair.
Kudrow and King came to an agreement early on that Valerie Cherish is not a stupid, klutzy woman.
She was the "It" girl in Hollywood in the early '90s, starring in a show, I'm It, which ran 97 episodes - just three short of the 100 needed for profitable syndication revenue for the star. So Valerie is on the comeback trail.
"We've defined the character pretty well," Kudrow says. "She's married - for the second time - and lives in Beverly Hills.
"We want the series to be sort of tragicomedy in some ways. Having the reality show as backdrop explains the personality of this woman who has such high expectations."
Kudrow is not worried viewers will identify her with Phoebe. And she insists Phoebe's traits won't creep into the character when she's writing episodes.
"This character has been in my head for a long time. She's a totally different person.
"Before Friends, when I was doing sketch comedy, this character popped up regularly."
Kudrow laughs and adds: "Onstage I would like to make fun of actors on talk shows who are so self-serving and who try to pass themselves off as real human beings."
Kudrow recalls how she and her five Friends costars leaned on one another emotionally during the final days of filming.
"We spent a lot of time together that last week. In fact we had almost every meal together.
"Spontaneously, after we were done with work, someone would say: 'We're going to go out to dinner.' "
The rest of the castmates would each quickly pipe up, "I'll come!," Kudrow said.
"So it kind of went back to where we started, which was nice. It was a great way to leave."
Lisa Kudrow's ''Happy Endings''
Call this one "sex, lines and DVDs." The subject here, more or less, is sex -- "a really incredible, big part of a person's life," says writer-director Don Roos. Nearly everyone in the movie lies or distorts the truth. And a DV film figures prominently in this witty, convoluted and most ironic comedy. "Happy Endings" is a real audience pleaser, so long as that audience is mentally agile and adult, for it comes at you from odd angles and features three distinct story lines and 10 main characters.
The film bears a resemblance to Roos' first outing as a writer-director, "The Opposite of" a wisecrack comedy with dysfunctional characters and an idiosyncratic take on where comic detonations were neatly buried in often biting dialogue. The Lions Gate film, which could benefit from more festival exposure leading up to its July release, should draw well enough from college crowds and young adults to achieve modest box office success.
The irony in Roos' narrative design is that every character seeks intimate contact and love, yet goes about this pursuit in the least truthful way. An episode years before the main action establishes the theme as well as two characters who will link two story lines. What happens is that Mamiee (Lisa Kudrow) and Charley (Steve Coogan), a sexually precocious young woman in Los Angeles and her British step-brother, quickly fall into a sexual relationship behind their newly married parents' backs. Result: Mamiee becomes pregnant. Solution: Mamiee is hustled off to Phoenix for an abortion and Charley (you learn much later) gets a vasectomy. They never speak of the incident again.
Now, in present day, the movie's first lie is exposed: Mamiee never had an abortion. She gave birth and put the boy up for adoption. A smarmy would-be filmmaker, Nicky (Jesse Bradford (news)), says he knows Mamiee's son and tries to blackmail her into letting him film a tearful reunion. Seems he wants to make a "killer film" so he will be accepted into AFI.
Mamiee and her illegal Mexican immigrant boyfriend Javier (Bobby Cannavale (news)), a massage therapist, convince a reluctant Nicky to make a film instead about Javier, who claims he is really a sex worker. So now the film has established two major lies and one DV film.
Next Roos catches up with Charley, who has taken over the family restaurant business and turned gay -- not necessarily in that order. His longtime significant other, Gil (David Sutcliffe), served as sperm donor for the lads' lesbian pals, Pam (Laura Dern (news)) and Diane (Sarah Clarke). The gals say the sperm didn't take. Yet Charley fervently believes their 2-year-old son looks suspiciously like Gil and will go to any length to establish Gil's parenthood.
In the third story line, Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a manipulative and sexually provocative woman, first shacks up with Otis (Jason Ritter), who goes along because he wants to prove to his dad he is straight. Then she stages a breakup with the son, who really is gay, so she can zero in romantically on the wealthy dad (Tom Arnold (news)).
All these damaging stratagems unfold in a jaunty style that includes title cards on half screens, which explore character motivations, relationships and backgrounds with an eye to potential happy endings (or not). People fall in and out of love, discover hurtful truths about these relationships, and nothing ever turns out as you might expect. Which is what's fun about the Don Roos Experience.
This also is ensemble acting at its finest. The actors hit the most vulnerable points in each of their forlorn yet oddly endearing characters with the accuracy of smart bombs. Clark Mathis' hand-held camera tracks these characters relentlessly, through good light and bad, meandering about Richard Sherman's production design that captures the faux casual L.A. of today, all in pursuit of a documentary-like truth. The result is a killer film.