Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe Buffay made her television debut on Friends in 1994 and stands as one of television’s most endearing, memorable characters. Her purity and ability to put a positive spin on the most negative situations won a place in the hearts of millions of viewers around the world. Kudrow was the first cast member to win an Emmy and also garnered two SAG awards for her continuing excellent performances. She has gone on to appear in a number of independent films, her latest being Paper Man, in which she plays the wife of a failed middle-aged novelist (Jeff Daniels) who has an invisible companion. He strikes up a questionable friendship with a young woman played by Emma Stone, who also has an invisible companion.
The following exclusive interview with the Mirror has been edited for print purposes.
Mirror: Was it difficult making the transition from television to film after Friends, which ended in 2004?
Kudrow: Even while I was on Friends I did films and because of The Opposite of Sex,” an independent film released in 1998, in which I played a character that wasn’t anything like Phoebe, I was asked to play roles in other films.
Mirror: Is your technique for developing a character the same for television and film?
Kudrow: Yes. You go by what’s on the page and see all kinds of messages in the writing, aside from when they boldly let you know such things as strong character traits. I always find little clues to support more layers in the person and to me that’s the fun work about being an actor.
Mirror: Do you write out a biography on the character?
Kudrow: No. I just think about it as things come up. For Paper Man, for example, I just imagined about when they first got together. He made her laugh a lot and she really thought she would be this fantastic vascular surgeon and he was going to be this successful novelist and they’ll live in New York City and have this glamorous life.
Mirror: When you’re looking at scripts, what’s the first thing you look for and what attracted you to Paper Man?
Kudrow: The first thing I look for is how it all washes over me – is the story tracking, do I buy the characters, do I see who they are, are they’re enough layers to make them interesting. I saw that in Paper Man and I really wanted to work with Jeff Daniels who was to play my husband. That was really exciting to me. Also, I like stories about marriages that are tricky and just because they’re tricky, it doesn’t mean they’re doomed.
Mirror: Did working with Jeff meet your expectations?
Kudrow: Oh yes. He was very professional and not terribly “precious” about acting, but takes it seriously. He’s a regular guy who lives in Michigan with his wife and kids, who are his priority.
Mirror: When you read the script, were you concerned about where his relationship with the 17-year-old Abby character would go?
Kudrow: Reading the script I was sort of on pins and needles wondering ‘don’t tell me you’re going to kiss her, don’t kiss that young girl. I can’t like you if you’re going to be that guy.’
Mirror: Two of the characters have imaginary friends. Did you have one as a child?
Kudrow: Not actually. I did imagine that The Beatles or The Monkees, mostly The Monkees, were with me everywhere I went.
Mirror: How did it work out taking direction from the two first-time directors – Kieran & Michele Mulroney?
Kudrow: I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors and it’s been fine. The Mulroneys wrote this together and had the same vision. They were careful not to give mixed signals. They would discuss what was needed after a take and one of them would give notes. They seemed very much in sync and if they had any arguments, it happened off the set.
Mirror: Were you totally satisfied with your performance?
Kudrow: I was satisfied. I think it’s also part of the job to trust the director, in this case the directors, that while you’re doing it, if something needs to change, they will to let you know. They gave notes that would change something a little bit and turn it into something else that was fun and exciting and another way to look at it. I thought they were really good and imaginative in that way.
Mirror: I’d like to ask you a personal question if that’s o.k. How do you balance your off-screen life as a wife and mother with your career as it’s always a challenge in Hollywood to have a successful marriage.
Kudrow: I can see it a challenge for any working woman and that’s just about everybody, because we can’t afford to not have both people in the marriage working. For an actor, especially, films are not shot here in California where most of us live, so you have to choose your projects carefully. That’s why I like independent films because the shoot is not that long and I don’t have to be away as much. I know that’s not very artistic, but it’s practical.
Mirror: At what point did you decide you wanted to act?
Kudrow: As a kid I wanted to be an actress, but put that all away in high school and college and then after college it was like a drum banging in my had and I realized that I had to pursue it before it got too late.
Mirror: Did your stint with The Groundlings prepare you for your acting career?
Kudrow: Yes, because in improvisation, you have to listen and respond immediately and put yourself in the moment, and that’s one of the basic rules in acting.
Mirror: Is there something secret that no one knows about you? It’s just between us girls. (laughter).
Kudrow: That’s crafty. But, no. No big secret. (laughter)