Interview: Lisa Edelstein: In the House
by Scott Juba
Published: March 30, 2005
Lisa Edelstein never shies away from challenging roles. She played a high priced Washington call girl on "The West Wing", a transsexual on "Ally McBeal", and a lesbian on "Relativity". She currently stars as the Dean of Medicine on the FOX medical drama, "House", which is one of the network's highest rated shows. "I'm so thrilled by the success of the show," Edelstein says with enthusiasm. "I think that of all the shows I could have been on, I'm really glad that this is the one. I'm really glad that it's such a good show. It's a show I would watch. It's very smart. You can be on a hit show that you hate, but that's not the case for me. I enjoy the people that I work with, and I enjoy reading the script for each episode. In the end, I love the final product that we put out each week."
Some have compared "House" to NBC's "ER", but Edelstein is quick to point out the differences. "I think ER is much more of a soap opera than we'll ever be," she says. "I think we're more like a marriage between ER and CSI. House is not as dry as a show like CSI, but it also has a completely different format than a show like ER. Really the only reason we're being compared to ER is because we're a medical show."
"House" is the creation of "X-Men" masterminds Bryan Singer and David Shore, both of whom Edelstein has great respect for. "Bryan is just an explosion of a human being," she comments. "He's got so much energy, and he's hyper-smart and hyper-talented. He's wonderful. He has a very interesting way of working. He works by feel. He knows when a scene's not quite doing what he wants it to do, and he'll go and pretty much rock like a child while he figures out how to push it in a different direction. And he always manages to get us there. He's very intuitive."
Of Shore, Edelstein remarks, "David Shore's just a doll. I love him. He's a great producer and a great writer. He's one of those people that have an open door policy. I can go to him and talk to him about my character and where the storyline's going. He'll listen to any ideas I have. It's a really nice relationship that I have with him."
During her college years, Edelstein spent time studying at NYU, but she dropped out of the university's acting program in search of real world acting experience. "Ultimately you learn the most when you're doing your job," she tells me. "Acting class helps to keep people creative when they're not working, but ultimately you just have to start doing it. The problem that I had with a lot of the acting classes at NYU was that they really weren't honestly preparing people for this industry and for what the job actually is. It was a lot of fluff. You have these young kids who have this fantastic idea of what it means to be a part of this business. There was very little effort put into squashing the fantasy and creating a reality."
After leaving NYU, Edelstein went on to write, compose, and star in the critically acclaimed AIDs-related stage play, "Positive Me". She explains why the project had special meaning for her. "At the time, a lot of my friends were dieing of AIDs. At the same time I had friends who I'd grown up with that thought the AIDs problem was all government hype and had been made up. I had volunteered for Gay Men's Health Crisis to go visit men in the hospital who were dieing. I got educated about the disease -- how you catch it, what it looks like, how to protect yourself -- all of that. Even people who weren't close friends knew that I had done this course and suddenly I was being pulled off to the side by people who were showing me things on their bodies and telling me their symptoms. Everyone was in this panic about whether or not they were dieing. It was a very intense time; and coming out of school, I was in a very creative place. I think that when you're that young you're pretty fearless and you don't think there's anything that you can't do. So I just started to write this show about what it is that stops us from taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves at risk. It was a comedy, but it was about a very serious subject. It was a great experience. It was very difficult, but it was amazing."
Being involved in projects that have such intense personal meaning to her energizes Edelstein's passion for her profession. "There needs to be passion behind what you're doing or it's not worth it," she remarks. "I feel very grateful that even though what I love to do is a business that's very difficult, at least I love something. I know that there are people who spend their whole lives never really having a passion for anything."
In addition to her love of acting, Edelstein also stands out from other actresses, because not only is she an exceptional talent and a stunning beauty, she's also savvy enough to always choose roles that will advance her career. On "House", Lisa Edelstein is proving to be just what the doctor ordered.