The Fox drama House has got it's groove back, that's for sure. After some slow seasons, the twisted hospital series won back our attention with the return of original cast members and provocative storylines that keep us riveted. Of course, the adorable Hugh Laurie as cranky Dr. House helps matters too. Oprah.com talked to Lisa Edelstein, who plays the all-powerful Cuddy, about her will-they-or-won't-they romance and the role of women in television today.
Rachel Bertsche: The sixth season of House seems to have had a breath of new life. Why do you think that's happening now?
Lisa Edelstein: It always feels fresh to me, but I think every year the producers try to keep it fresh and fun for themselves. They really haven't gotten bored with the game pieces, and I think it shows in the writing.
RB: There's been a return to the original group of doctors. What's it been like to go back to your roots?
LE: Well, all the newbies are also present, so it's been great. I love seeing everybody more than I had been seeing them for a couple of years. We have a wonderful group of people. We're very fortunate—it doesn't always happen that way.
RB: What's it like to work with Hugh Laurie? He's pretty amazing.
LE: He is amazing. He's an incredibly hard worker. Sometimes I look at that character and I think the character himself is like the sad clown, you know the brilliant sad clown, but Hugh is a warm and wonderful hardworking fella who I'm happy to work with.
RB: He seems like such a wonderful person to lead a strong ensemble cast like yours.
LE: Yeah, we've all been together for so long—which, again, is so unusual—that you begin to speak in unspoken terms...really know each other after a while.
RB: As you mentioned, the show has been on for a pretty long time by TV standards. What do you think is the secret to its success?
LE: Great writing and certainly Hugh. And you know, we got really lucky. There are some great shows that come and go really fast, either because the network doesn't give them a chance or they just don't grab on to the psyche of the country quickly enough. We were really lucky when we started because we were pretty under the radar, but American Idol started that season. Suddenly, all these eyeballs got to see our show that didn't see it before that, and we managed to hold on to a lot of them, so that was great. But not every show has the opportunity to have American Idol before it.
RB: Everyone wants to know if Cuddy and House are going to get together. But before I even ask you that, how would you describe the current status of their relationship?
LE: When he got out of the hospital, I think he was newly determined to be the guy he wished he was, and that included the guy he wished he was in relationship to Cuddy. The thing is, though, she also had some time away and she's trying to be the best mother she can be and trying to sort out what it means now to be a mom and what her needs are as a human being and what would make her life best lived. What are the smartest moves for her to make? And I don't think House is really on that list. However, that said, feelings are feelings. It's very easy to rationalize yourself into an attempted different way of living, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to pull it off.
RB: Do you think they are going to end up together?
LE: They don't tell me, but I hope they do. I really do. I like those two together—I think they should be miserable together.
RB: Your character is a powerful woman: She runs the hospital, and she's a mother. It seems to be a trend that women don't have to be desperate housewives to be on TV anymore. You can be this powerful, strong woman who is running the hospital or even the country. Why do you think that is?
LE: I think that popular culture takes a long time to catch up to what's actually happening in the world. Women have had to take care of themselves for quite a while. Actually, not had to take of themselves, but have wanted to take care of themselves, so I think it's a big transition that our country and our society has been going through a long time. The roles that men and women play are no longer the standard traditional roles of way back when but are those of two very individual people living their lives. I think it's been a hard transition in society—just take a look at the divorce rate—to figure out what that means now. How do you resolve that? How do we redefine the roles; how do we create structure in a new way? So I think that's been going on a lot longer than it has been on television, but now because it's so much part of what we see every day it has to be a part of popular culture.
RB: Do you think it's easier now to be an actress on TV? It seems like there may be many more opportunities.
LE: It depends on who you ask. Some would say there are less because there is so much reality television, but I've been lucky enough to be on this show for six years, so when I hear about what's happening out there for actors and actresses, it sounds like it's pretty brutal. The economy is bad; there's certainly not the pay that we've been getting available. There's a lot of things being done nonunion or low-budget and for people to make a living these days has gotten more challenging.
That said, the opportunities that do exist are definitely more interesting. You're definitely allowed to be in your 40s now. I think if you look back, so many great famous movie stars by the time they are in their 40s were still trying to play in their 20s because all the stories were about women in their 20s. But now you can be in your 40s and not be playing just a mom of the main character—you can actually have a substantial role and interesting part. I think what's happening now also is that television has gotten so good that the competition between what used to be a very divided field between TV and film is no longer. People who are working actors are competing with people who are movie stars for television roles.
RB: Our audience includes a lot of moms struggling with how to balance family and work. How does Cuddy handle that struggle?
LE: I think she has a very common struggle for women right now, which is how do you define your life when what you've done with your life is not the picture that was handed to you when you were a little girl? Our generation for sure was handed the picture that we were going to get married and have children. That was primary to what our experience is going to be, and then we were also going to have a career. I had a board game called "What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?" and the options were nurse, teacher, model, nanny. It was like really, there were four options and each one had a little outfit and you had to figure out what your personality was best for. That was a game in the '70s. So, the fact is that we're not those women. While we were raised with a '60s mentality, we were raised post-'60s so women's rights and women's equality were assumed and not fought for. So we started off with this very confusing message and now all these women have gone on to achieve great things and have these lives, some getting married and then getting divorced because the way marriage was structured in terms of how we were raised does not actually work in terms of who we are as a society today. Not to say that marriage can't work, but it doesn't work in the old-fashioned way. So trying to really find your female identity is a big challenge for our generation. What does it mean to a successful woman today? Does it mean you have to be a mother? If you are a mother, does it mean you have to be a mother with a husband? If you don't have a husband, what is the role that the man plays? I think there are a lot of confusing things that we're all really still sorting out. It will be interesting to see what the girls who are growing up now turn into.
All that is to say, Cuddy is an extremely current character. It is extremely current to be a high-powered woman who doesn't have a relationship, who wants a child and gets a child and has to sort out how to manage all that. And I think on some level, females have become so self-sufficient that men have to find their role in things.
RB: As a hardworking woman today, how do you create balance in your own life?
LE: Well, I don't have children, so it's a lot easier. I think if I had kids it would be a really different question. I don't really talk about my relationship very much, just because I feel like I have to have some part of my life that's private. But I think for me, finding a man that's successful enough in his own life that he doesn't feel emasculated by a woman who's successful is really important. That doesn't mean that men know they're feeling emasculated, but you can tell by what happens in the relationship that it's squashing them. So that's a challenge in the position that I'm in now. I'm sure Oprah can relate! When you have the capacity to spend your life being really independent and demanding in yourself the capacity to take care of yourself and take care of everything in your life, then what do you want out of a partner? Of course, you want love and you want companionship, and you want someone to talk to and argue with and battle ideas with, all those things are really wonderful to have. But it does make a difference to find someone who feels as successful as you do. It doesn't necessarily mean their bank account is the same. It'd be great if it is—I love to be taken out for dinner—but it really has more to do with finding a man who feels successful. Someone who has a role and a goal and is on a path that's really clear, so that's a huge thing for me—and that knocks out a lot of men. And then of course you've got to find the one that is sexy and funny and interesting, and that of course knocks out a lot of other men. But just because you're not in a relationship doesn't mean you can't have a good time.. .whatever that means to you. If it means you have light-hearted relationships with guys you know aren't serious but it's a wonderful friendship, go for it. I feel like there needs to be a shift in the concept of purity in women. I think we were raised very much with a puritanistic idea about what our behavior should be like and you end up sitting at home.
RB: So what do you think it should be?
LE: I think you should have whatever you want. If you want to be with somebody that isn't necessarily your future husband because it's a wonderful, fun experience for you, then you should have that in your life. Women say they believe that, but nobody really talks about it, and it's a necessary part of having a healthy life.
Printed from Oprah.com on Thursday, March 13, 2014
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