In the case of Lisa Kudrow, it's not the 'celebrity sues the paparazzi and wins' type, but rather, the 'celebrity proves her canceled show was in fact quite brilliant' variety. Her HBO comedy series "The Comeback," axed after one season, earned three Emmy nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Kudrow.
"The Comeback" was a series with a twist. Viewers got to see Kudrow's character, Valerie Cherish, as she joined the supporting cast of a new sitcom, while simultaneously being followed by a reality show crew. Each episode was presented as raw video, chock full of humbling moments, extreme closeups, and on some occasions, downright humiliation as her B-list character struggled to rediscover A-list popularity in youth-obsessed Hollywood. Priceless moments include her nabbing the cover of a yoga magazine (and subsequently taking a painful crash course in yoga) and attending The People's Choice Awards in a gown she inadvertently wears backwards.
There have been many a raised eyebrow over the former cast of the sitcom "Friends" and their ability to build — or even maintain — careers after the series' phenomenal success. All the while, Kudrow seemed to be playing the "slow and steady wins the race" approach, landing strong supporting roles in more films than you'd expect. The tactic appears to have paid off. While escaping the scrutiny of many of her sitcom peers, not to mention the paparazzi, she has built a career of strong performances. "The Comeback" should have been just that, if not for a surprisingly premature cancellation from a network ordinarily known for taking risks on original programming.
This month, as she anticipates the Aug. 27 Emmy Awards, the full 13 episode season of "The Comeback" is on store shelves with hysterical commentaries by Kudrow's character, bonus Valerie Cherish interviews, and a new parody of Cherish's would-be appearance on "Dancing with the Stars."
Q: Congratulations on your Emmy nominations. Is it in some way vindication for the early cancellation? Was there a tinge of self satisfaction you didn't even know you needed?
A: Yeah. There was, and you know, there was a big feeling of 'Okay, so we weren't crazy! And all the people that we heard from weren't crazy either.' So that was really, really nice. And three nominations is just above and beyond ... that's a lot.
It feels really good.
Q: Your character, Valerie Cherish — she had such a vulnerability — on one hand the comedy was in seeing these horrible, awkward things happen to her, but you really made her very likable. It was a weird balance because as a viewer I didn't want to see her suffer. And yet the comedy came from that.
A: The balancing act that I was looking at was not so much a victim, which she was often, but this completely phony, annoying woman who has her priorities all out of whack, but is ultimately a good person — she's not a bad person — a little misguided but not a bad person... like any human being.
Q: And you weren't afraid to have the camera just push in on your face while your character went through this really tough moments — you could almost feel her pain. A lot of actors and actresses would never let a camera get up that close.
A: I keep hearing that it was courageous and brave. Those words kept coming up and I'm not sure why. The physical flaws are just there. It's about this woman thinking she is going to look gorgeous and be in complete control and you just can't be.
Q: To me, the show was painfully funny. But to some people it was just painful. But in a sense, the fact that people had a hard time with Valerie's struggles is a testament to how well you portrayed her.
A: It's almost like a psychology test, this show. For some people it was too painful to watch. So many people have told me that they could only watch it from just outside the room and kind of peek in. To have that kind of effect, it's such a strong impact to have. There's no violence, no sex, and yet people found it painful at times. I think that's a huge accomplishment.
Q: You did some great bonus features for this — some new things that weren't on the series — and it got me to wondering — is there any chance we could see Valerie pop up in another show or make some sort of cameo appearance?
A: It's a hard question. I wish the answer were yes but there are no plans — Michael Patrick King and I love this character. We don't know. It takes multitudes of people, plus, all the networks are doing shows that are like 'The Comeback' for fall. Following people around, reality based — they're now mockumentaries.
Q: And of course, this bares the question — what about your 'Friends' character Phoebe? Have we seen the last of her? There was a blurb in the papers somewhere that Jennifer Aniston said she would love to do a reunion someday.
A: Well, I think she was just talking. I don't think it's possible. Not because I won't play Phoebe, but the writers are everywhere. David Crane has a new show.
When you commit to being done, that's pretty much it. You're done. All those people move on, we're scattered all over the place. I just don't know how on earth we could do it.
Q: While we're on the subject — I have to ask — what's your least favorite "Friends" question? And why do I feel like I've already asked it?
A: You did just ask it! Even before we were done we were being asked ... but I'll tell you one thing — the DVD is a whole other life for the series. I had no clue.
I recently came back from France. I have been going to France for years, this was my fourth year, and never have as many people asked for an autograph as much as this year because of that show.
Q: Have you had a 'Valerie Cherish' moment? A time when you've said something and stopped yourself and said — 'Whoa, Valerie would have done that!'?
A: Oh God yes! I'm thinking more about things that have happened to me. The thing about me that is like Valerie Cherish, is I'm always 'spinning' things. If something happens that is unpleasant or mean, I pick the best version and I choose that reality to be in. Then you don't have to be as hurt. Because unpleasant stuff — it will stay with you and it ricochets in your head.
Q: You've said that the inspiration for Valerie was from seeing a lot of guests appear on 'The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.'
A: It was. Honestly, it was a composite of actresses and actors that I have seen on Carson who were on so self-serving, talking about some cause that you didn't really buy that they believed in. An excuse to be talking some more on TV, trying to spin some project of theirs that didn't sound that great.
Q: You seem to have managed to survive celebrity without letting it run your life. What's your secret to staying out of the flashbulbs? Do you think a celebrity — if they really want to — can escape paparazzi?
A: Well you know, you have to be uninteresting to them, so if you like to go out, if you like to go to certain parties or premieres, that's one thing that attracts it. Also if you like to party.
I'm really uninteresting to the paparazzi. I'm relieved (about that) because I have a son. We were recently somewhere where there were some photographers and now he's at an age that it's all clicking in and it was a little confusing. Usually he's kind of in his own world about it.
But now he 'gets' that I was on "Friends." He'll let people know. He's thrilled that I was Phoebe on 'Friends' because kids watch the DVDs. He says, "She was Phoebe on ‘Friends’."
"The Comeback" is now available in stores.