Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Lisa Edelstein - Unzipping

Photo Credit: JBN Media/James Vallesteros

From her role as Dr. Lisa Cuddy on the hit Fox series "House" to her starring role as Abby McCarthy in Bravo's first scripted series "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce," Lisa Edelstein's range of roles are as diverse as her talent. Set for a Summer 2018 Season 5 premiere, "Girlfriends' Guide" is a dramedy following a best-selling author of a self-help series who separates from her husband and must navigate big career changes and the dating world as a newly single mother. Created by Marti Noxon, the show not only gave Edelstein the opportunity to be the series lead playing everything from heartfelt drama to physical comedy, she also had the chance to expand creatively by being a writer, producer and director on the show.

Edelstein is developing a dramedy pilot with Universal Cable based on the book Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas. She is co-writing the script with Carol Barbee, will star in the lead role and executive produce along with Phoenix Pictures. She is also shooting a recurring role in the new Netflix series "The Kominsky Method," starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin and created by Chuck Lorre. Edelstein plays Phoebe, the drug-addled hot mess daughter of Arkin's character. The show will premiere later this year. In addition, she took the helm this year by writing, directing, and starring in the short film "Unzipping." Based on the short story by Etgar Keret, Edelstein produced the film with Jane Hollen and Kate Cohen of Straight Up Films. James Le Gros and Jason Lewis co-star.

No stranger to fearless and even some iconic television roles, Edelstein was the risotto-loving Karen on "Seinfeld," Rob Lowe's call-girl girlfriend Laurie on "West Wing," the transsexual Cindy on "Ally McBeal," and Rhonda Roth, the first out-lesbian on network TV in Jason Katim's "Relativity." Other guest and recurring appearances include "Scandal," "The Good Wife," and "House of Lies." She co-starred for seven seasons on the medical drama "House," which became the most watched show in the world and garnered Edelstein the People's Choice Award for Favorite TV Actress.

Edelstein's feature credits include "Keeping The Faith," starring Ben Stiller and directed by Edward Norton, Mel Gibson's "What Women Want," "Daddy Day Care" with Eddie Murphy, "As Good As It Gets," the dramatic Showtime feature "Fathers and Sons," "Joshy," and "Dr. Bird's Advice to Sad Poets." She also works in the realm of animation voiceover in such shows as "American Dad," "King of the Hill," "Airbender: Legend of Korra," as well as the character Mercy Graves in the "Superman" and "Justice League" series.

While honing her craft at the prestigious NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Edelstein appeared in numerous off-Broadway productions and then authored, composed and performed the AIDS-related musical "Positive Me" at Ellen Stuart's La Mama in Manhattan. It was one of the first productions in any medium about the crisis and New York's Common Ground bestowed to her a Humanitarian Award for her efforts to further awareness.

Edelstein resides in Los Angeles in a century old home with her husband artist Robert Russell, two step-sons, and several rescue dogs. She volunteers her time with a variety of charity organizations including Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, The Anti-Defamation League, Planned Parenthood and The Center for Reproductive Rights.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in directing?
It’s wonderful to love what you are doing, even if you have to struggle to do it. Remember that a majority of people don’t have a dream, so just having one is a privilege. GO FOR IT!

What do you hope for people to be thinking when they watch the UNZIPPING?
Unzipping is a crazy ride! I love how the story keeps challenging the viewer. At first, it feels like a romance, then you realize you can laugh and finally it takes you to fairly deep place of tragedy. HollyShorts was the first time I actually saw it in a theater with a large audience. Hearing everyone respond to each and every moment that was planted in the script, on the set, with the shot choices and even the sound design, was enormously exciting. I was riddled with adrenaline and exhausted afterwards! But people take away different things from the story itself - and all of those things are valid. I’ve heard it described as being about everything from relationship issues to aging. I just love that it inspires further thought. Any thought is good!

What makes directing great for you?
Having been in this business as an actor for long time, getting to direct was like finally having permission to make all the decisions that I’ve silently stewed over for decades. As an actor your job is to make other people’s decisions work, feel natural, tell the story. But to be able to direct; to have a vision from bottom to top, it’s a wonderful expansion.

What was the most magical thing that happened during the production?
Well, as in most productions, there’s always drama somewhere. Ours revealed itself just 2 weeks before we were about to shoot when we realized our line producer had done literally nothing in regards to getting the skins researched and ordered. She essentially just told us it would cost 40 grand and wasn’t possible, shrugged and then took another job. So! Off to the races! We got a new line producer. Then I found a place called Dapper Cadaver where I was able to get the fresh skin made, or at least a version of it, super fast. it was stiffer then I wanted but in working with what we had, it really ended up being perfect. I was able to scrunch it up and hide all the things about it that looked fake while featuring a foot, just next to my face, that really sold the story. But there was still the rotton, decaying skin that we needed to deal with and by now we were just days away. I called special effects people I’d met in my time in this business, but was hitting a dead end. And I reached out to friends who were show runners or involved in special effect-driven shows. My neighbor, Bryan Fuller, created Hannibal so I asked him if his SFX guys happened to magically have an entire human body, flayed and decayed, just laying around. He thought for a moment or two then said… “I think I have one in my garage.” AND HE DID!!!!!!! It was the greatest hollywood moment ever! Who has a neighbor with an entire flayed and decayed human body in a box in their garage right next door?!?! ME!

What was the most difficult scene in the movie to shoot?
I thought the most difficult scene would be the party scene. We had quite a few background players and some moving shots. But it was magical, instead! Everyone was so enthusiastic about participating and took direction beautifully and we sailed through that complicated scene in no time! The kitchen scenes ended up being the most complicated. It was the first scene up and we were block shooting because the set changes so dramatically between her life with Tsiki (James Le Gros) and her life with Jurgen (Jason Lewis). The crew didn’t really know each other yet so it was stop and start, there were several reflective surfaces affecting the lighting, there was flashback scene fog that kept dissipating too fast, stuff like that. It was a stressful beginning, but once we got through it, we sailed for the rest of our 3-day shoot.

In your new film; UNZIPPING can you tell my Nerd community a little about it?
Unzipping is about a woman who knows her husband is hiding something from her. One night, when they are sleeping, she discovers what it is: there is a zipper pull under his tongue. Unable to resist, she pulls - and everything about her life changes.

Are there actors that you’re excited to engage/work with?
Oh, about a million. I love directing my fellow actors! The first time I did it was on Girlfriends Guide to Divorce. Everyone was so supportive and enthusiastic. Trying to figure out how to translate an inner language I developed for my own work as an actor into an external direction was a challenge! But everyone was really responsive, it was just beautiful. I just directed another short, this time with little kids - a different kind of directing to be sure, because you really need to get in there, sometimes line by line. But they worked so hard and were so into it. It’s wonderful to engage with people who are excited about what they do, who want to give you what you need, who put their trust in you.

For those who are unfamiliar with Ella and Tsiki, how would you introduce them?
Ella and Tsiki are a couple who have been together for a long time. They love each other and are kind to each other, but the spark of newness is long gone.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Acting-wise I am currently recurring on The Good Doctor on ABC and (as of November) The Kominsky Method on Netflix. I did a few indie films this spring that should be out next year: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, alongside Jason Isaacs, and Phoenix, Oregon, alongside my dearest James Le Gros. I’m directing a short film for a Google Initiative. It’s a series of shorts intended to inspire young girls to go into tech and sciences. I’m deep in the editing of that one so fingers crossed. I wrote a pilot with Carol Barbee based on the book Confessions of a Sociopath that we sold to UCP and are currently shopping to networks. So it’s been a fun, busy year.


  • It’s hilarious!
  • It’s deeply moving.
  • It’s beautifully shot!
  • It’s a thought provoking story.
  • My parents are in it!
  • My father can sleep on cue.
  • The SFX are simple, but tell the whole story.
  • It’s written, directed, produced, line produced and shot by women.
  • The crew was mostly women. (We let other gender variants in, too)
Any Camp stories you would like to share?
For the most part I was miserable at camp. I didn’t fit in. It was too sports-oriented. I hung out with the horses. The counselors felt so bad for me they made up an award for me at the end of the summer: The Determination Award. Oh, and the Golden Shovel Award, because I scooped up a lot of horse manure. Good times.

Last Halloween Costume you wore and when?
Once I started getting paid to wear costumes I stopped wearing them for free.

What are you most passionate about today?
I’m extremely excited about being a content creator, about having deeper input into my own future, about creating jobs for myself and for others, about using more of my brain power. I absolutely love acting but after 28 years of being told where to stand, having someone constantly fix your hair, your face, your clothing, being followed to and from set and having to announce when you have to pee, it’s pretty exciting to get the chance to also feel like an adult on set. I hope I get to continue to act until the day I die, but I’m thrilled to add writing and directing and producing to the list of things I do on set.

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
If I’m working I review the entire day and try and organize tomorrow. It’s a terrible habit. When I’m going that fast and that intensely, learning how to turn it off and REST has been a big challenge.

What did you do for your last birthday?
I was on location shooting Phoenix, Oregon and we had a cast and crew BBQ where I showed them Unzipping! They were an AWESOME audience and it was so exciting to hear their reactions. Then they surprised me with DELICIOUS vegan chocolate cupcakes and a rousing happy birthday song. Perfect!

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Many years ago I woke up from a surgical procedure that I didn’t think I’d make it through. I was just so happy to be waking up at all and the volunteer working in the recovery room said she’d never seen anyone come to with a smile like I did. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the Auschwitz tattoo on her arm. Not only was I grateful to be alive, but her tattoo helped me move forward with a clarity I deeply appreciated. Changed my life forever.

Ella and Tsiki embrace in a routine kiss when she is suddenly pricked on the lip by an unknown source - a zipper hiding under Tsiki's tongue. In the thrill of curiosity, and a chance to escape her mundane relationship, Ella pulls the zipper to reveal Jurgen lying underneath. Jurgen is the antithesis of Tsiki, and Ella finds temporary happiness in the change he brings to her life. However, as the bliss of new love fades, so too does Ella's sense of fulfillment. She pulls Tsiki's skin from its hiding place in the kitchen and longs for the man she cast aside. She sinks in the realization that happiness cannot be manifested in others; the change must come from within.To her surprise, Ella soon discovers a zipper under her own tongue. As she stares at herself in the mirror, she contemplates the difficult decision of whether or not to pull.

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  1. All I could see were the feet - toes next to her face. That's the stuff of nightmares for me!

  2. I did not like the trailer. Even though, only because I like Lisa Edelstein, I would look into watching the film.

  3. "What did you think of the trailer?" I was mystified. The music sounds "Clair de lune"-esque, and we see Edelstein's face embraced by feet? It seems quite perplexing.