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KUDROW, LISA: Opposite of Sex

THE OPPOSITE OF PHOEBE
Lisa Kudrow – Phoebe Buffay to you (if you area fan of the tv sitcom, Freinds) – has a shining role in The Opposite of Sex, playing opposite Christina Ricci and opposite just about all the characters in the film – but it wasn’t planned, she tells PAUL FISCHER.

Not one to do a lot of interviews, Kudrow was all too willing to talk about her latest movie, The Opposite of Sex, in which she plays Lucia, a repressed woman who -surprisingly, even to herself - ends up in love with the shy sheriff (Lyle Lovett). Lucia is a character as different to Friends' Phoebe Buffay as you can get, Kudrow admits, on this first day of shooting the next season of Friends. But she wasn't actively seeking to play a character the opposite of the one in the popular sitcom.

"It was just a great script,"

"I didn't set out to find someone different from Phoebe, or set out to prove to the world that I can do something else. At the time, I didn't think it was that important, but after this good result, it's turning out to be a nice move."

Her attraction to it was the usual things: "It was just a great script, and the character was somebody I just got, thinking to myself: I could easily do this. After I had already decided to do it, I realised: Oh, and that really IS different from Phoebe, I can look different, and all these other things came into it that turned out to be a really good move. But it wasn't what I was initially thinking."

Kudrow is happily married with a new son, so one wouldn't think she'd have much in common with the insecure, somewhat repressed Lucia. "Certainly right now there's not a lot of her in me, but there've been times in my life when I've been insecure and just afraid of what people thought of me. Throughout most of high school and much of college, I was very much like her - very uptight. So you just control your world so you make it small, and don't let other things into it, if you can't deal with it."

"The parts are definitely there,"

Kudrow has reason to feel much better about herself these days; she's found considerable success. Yet, with her Friends fame as strong as ever, recent film roles in the likes of The Opposite of Sex and the as yet unreleased Clockwatchers (co-starring Toni Collette), have come from the independent filmmaking area. It's obvious that's where the roles are, if not the bucks, and the actress is happy with that arrangement. "The parts are definitely there, and the interesting scripts, where one is afforded the chance to play someone other than 'the girl'. But the industry puts out what people want to see, so if that's the way it is, then you simply have to work with what you get."

By all rights, Kudrow should never have been an actor, given her background and academic studies. Her father, Lee Kudrow, is a doctor and one of America's foremost experts on headaches, and her older brother David (one of Kudrow's three siblings) is a neurologist, while mother Nedra is a travel agent. Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, young Lisa seemed destined to follow in her father's footsteps. She was a bookworm in primary school, studied hard throughout high school, and then attended Vassar College in upstate New York to study biology.

She shared a research credit on one of her father's studies and graduated in 1985, fully intending to become a medical researcher. That same year, however, comic Jon Lovitz, a good friend of David Kudrow’s, landed a role on Saturday Night Live. Lovitz's new job impressed Kudrow, and stirred acting impulses buried deep within her. So she made the leap from biologist to performer.

"I was just too ashamed to say 'actress'"

"It was hard for me to go to a party and say that now I'm an actress. For a long time I didn't, but would say that I do research with my father in brain chemistry, which was what I was doing. I was just too ashamed to say 'actress', because EVERYBODY here was an actress, and you just saw people's eyes roll when you say that. I was simply uptight and afraid of saying that I'm an actress, instead of just being proud of it, letting them think whatever they want and in five years or however long it takes, they'll say: Oh yeah, look what happened."

Friend Jon Lovitz recommended that Kudrow audition for the Groundlings, the Los Angeles improvisational-comedy troupe that birthed his career as well as those of Phil Hartman and Paul Reubens. After some acting lessons and several auditions, Kudrow was welcomed into the Groundlings' notorious brood. Not surprisingly, among her Groundlings sketch characters was a geeky professor who lectured about incomprehensible medical theories. She learnt a lot during that frenetic period of her life. "I learnt some pretty important acting things. With improvisation, which this largely was, you really need to be present in the moment, not judge anything that's coming at you, as the actor, and be able to deal with whatever happens. So that's great preparation for an actor, for any kind of work, from theatre, to film and television."

"Iit just takes your breath away" on parenthood

By 1989, Kudrow had settled comfortably into the Los Angeles comedy scene, and began auditioning for non-Groundlings gigs. After winning a role in a local production called The Ladies Room, she got small parts in a few small movies, such as In the Heat of Passion, Dance with Death and The Unborn. This was pre-Friends, but she has no regrets. "I had very small parts in ALL of those movies; but the thing is, I just wanted experience, and so I don't look back on it as: Oh, what an awful time it was and how embarrassing it was. That was all for learning, and I did learn a lot. The other thing of course, is that when you first start out, you just don't say no, but 'yes' to everything."

In her non-working hours, Kudrow plays tennis and is happily married to French advertising executive Michel Stern. And now they have junior, called Julian Murray. "I THINK I'm coping well. It's hard to put it into words. I guess like most people who experience parenthood for the first time, it just takes your breath away. The only hard part is the sleep, but I hear you get used to that."

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"It was just a great script, and the character was somebody I just got, thinking to myself: I could easily do this."







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