Growing up in Encino, California, Lisa Kudrow didn’t have many friends. The daughter of a travel agent and doctor, she stood in the playground hoping someone would show her a little kindness. “I was always the last kid picked for dodgeball,” she recalls. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great life lesson.”
“You take all the setbacks and turn them into stories that you share with other people. You can tell there are so many kids who feel like they don’t belong. I want them to feel like they’re not alone,” says the 58-year-old Vassar College graduate, who wanted to be a doctor but went on to become one of TV’s highest-paid women.
The irony now? “Every time I go out someone says ‘Hi, Phoebe!’ says the actress, best known for “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” and the small TV series “Friends,” in which she played Phoebe Buffay from 1994 to 2004.
Which brings us to her new streaming movie, Better Nate Than Ever, which debuts on Disney+ this weekend. The story revolves around 13-year-old Nate Foster (Rueby Wood), a kid with big Broadway dreams. When his parents are leaving town for the weekend, Nate and his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks) sneak into the Big Apple to audition for a big show. He has a chance encounter with his long-lost aunt Heidi (Kudrow), who looks after him throughout his great adventure.
On a Saturday morning, an ageless Kudrow in a white shirt with flowing blonde hair emerged from the Los Angeles home she shares with her longtime husband, French advertising executive Michel Stern, according to Zoom.
Kudrow says she chose this project because it fit with her new career mantra. “This is joy. There are so many good things at stake here. I want to be a part of that now.”
Review-Journal: Talking about life on the set of a movie, acting and trying to fulfill the dream of being cast in a major Broadway show?
Lisa Kudrow: Life on set was fantastic. It really felt like a theater group. We sat in the same room between takes, which I love, especially when it comes to nice people. I loved every step along the way. This project was so quick and easy, plus it had a director who knew what he wanted and then let someone like me do what he does.
Describe Aunt Heidi.
She is little Nate’s aunt and sadly estranged from the family. The sad thing is she’s an actress who had to be in a Broadway show but not for long because it was shut down. She had the dream, but it was quickly taken from her. It was like, “Wait, that’s not fair.” But she didn’t stop. She’s still auditioning for new roles despite the heartbreak. When she sees her young nephew trying to audition, things come full circle. It’s all about second chances and healing from past hurts.
Did you have a relationship with your character navigating the ups and downs of acting?
I loved how Heidi was clearly getting a bit put down, but you could still tell she liked herself. She still loved acting, although there wasn’t much evidence that she would do that job now. She just can’t help it. She believes in her dream, which is admirable.
The story is also about healing old family wounds – how long will you keep up old vendettas.
Due to an earlier agreement, Heidi is alone in New York. She loves her family and misses her sister. She has learned what her priorities are in life, which is good at any age. Not knowing her in the past made her pretty lonely in life, but sometimes it’s not too late with families.
How do you decide to say yes to a project now?
You always want to work with people you would actually like to spend time with. Then of course there is the script and the director.
Did the young actors in Nate ask you for career advice?
We met on a Zoom call before filming began. The director asked me to give advice to the children and I said a few things. Then I said, ‘You don’t need advice. These young people must have their heads clear.” It was true. They were so grounded. One asked me how I stayed in my role and another asked about longevity in show business. One asked: Which agency should I sign with?
How do you deal with rejection?
If you have someone in your life who you respect and who thinks you are good and talented, keep them in your mind to remind you of that. Sometimes you won’t be your own cheerleader, but you can think of all the cheerleaders from the past. listen to them
You were well on your way to becoming a doctor.
I didn’t play in high school or college. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. I majored in biology in college, partly because my father was a doctor. I also loved how biology is about unlocking the mysteries of humanity. It wasn’t until after college that I thought about acting. I thought about it for so long until I decided to give it a try. Jon Lovitz was a family friend I grew up with and he was on Saturday Night Live. He inspired me and sent me to the Groundlings improv company in LA
Do you remember your audition for “Friends”?
“Everyone who auditioned got the same monologue from the pilot. It’s the part where Phoebe talks about living in a car with a homeless man. It reminded me of a girl I knew in college. So many bad things have happened to her and her attitude has always been like “all in one day”. That was my version of Phoebe and I got the part.
Is it true that you once struggled playing Phoebe on Friends?
I struggled, and by season three I said, “I don’t think I have it. I don’t know what I’m doing.” It was Matt LeBlanc who told me, “You’re her. Relax. You have it. you work too hard Relax.” He was right.
Finally, when you’re not working, what is a perfect Sunday for you?
I’m a couch potato. Give me a sunny day, a good game of tennis, and maybe an old movie like All About Eve on TV. I love long walks. It’s really the easy stuff.