Actor-producer Lisa Kudrow had two season premieres on different networks this past week — Showtime's "Web Therapy," which goes into its fifth season with Kudrow playing Skyping shrink "without patience" Fiona Wallice, and "Who Do You Think You Are?" a celebrity genealogy show debuting on TLC after three seasons on NBC.
What and who are coming this season on "Web Therapy"?
It has everything to do with where we left off last season. Fiona's husband, Kip, played by Victor Garber, has left Fiona for his campaign manager [Ben], played by Michael McDonald, and they've moved to New Mexico to give it a try. And Fiona's boyfriend, Austen Clarke, played by Alan Cumming, impregnated another woman, Gina Spinks (played by Jennifer Elise Cox), who Fiona knows, and she's an idiot. No marriage, no boyfriend, it's all sort of fallen apart. Fiona's mother has stolen the idea of Web therapy and has started Net therapy, and her assistant, Jerome, has left Fiona to work for [Fiona's mom,] Putsy — that's Lily Tomlin. And Jerome is Dan Bucatinsky.
What we're adding is a [federal] investigation; they're investigating Fiona for campaign finance improprieties. Fiona thinks she's been set up, possibly by Ben. The first thing is she wanted a getaway, so she goes to Laguna. She has this little vacation romance with a character played by Steve Carell. Fiona decides, without asking too many questions, that he's a lowly salesman there for his company retreat until she finds out that's not who he is at all. He was very, very fun too. And cute! I got all giggly.
Beyond the fact that this is improv, what is the process?
We do write an outline — [writer-director] Don Roos and Dan Bucatinsky and I and a lot of Don Roos. As we start casting the characters, these talented actors enrich the characters and stories by like a hundred times. Megan Mullally knew she was going to be a Broadway musical composer, so she came to the set with 10 songs. Fantastic!
It seems like you're working with friends. I would think that would be the best-case scenario. Is that one of the things that motivated you to do "Web Therapy"?
Yes and no. The idea motivated us to begin with, just because that's really a stupid idea, and it was a Web series, so we could do whatever we wanted. And we had fun with the idea that it's just two people talking and that's how the stories come out. And we were pretty amazed that it was engaging enough to support a webisode. And then mixing them up and putting them together for a half-hour format when Showtime wanted to license it, that was then another amazement to us, that 28 minutes of it was interesting enough too.
But it's smart to break it up into segments, so that it's like webisodes with a through story.
It's between four and six pieces. Look, I can watch Meryl Streep for 17 minutes. We had a webisode, the first one of her, we didn't know what to cut. It was like 19 minutes long. We had to really force ourselves to cut.
You started your career with improv, right? At the Groundlings?
Yeah, I was told by Jon Lovitz, who's my brother's best friend — I grew up with him — "I learned the most through improvisation," and I said, "Great. I'll start there."
By the way, I see that Fiona Wallice is trying to get her Twitter account verified. Does Twitter verify characters? I would think they would have the same problem with impersonators as real people.
They should, because someone's doing Valerie Cherish, the character I played on "The Comeback," a show that was on HBO one season. And it's not me, but people think it's me. They're doing a fine job; it's not like I want to shut them down. I wouldn't dream of doing that, but I really am doing Fiona Wallice on Twitter.
And you're doing it often. Are you having fun with that?
Yeah, that can be really fun. Whether it's something like "I'm eating a baked potato," because she thinks that's what you do on Twitter. It's fun how smart the Twitter followers are, because they're right in there playing it with me.
What do you think of virtual relationships?
I don't think much of them. We address it with Mae Whitman ["Arrested Development"] and Darren Criss ["Glee"]. They contacted us because they had this fantastic idea that they're a couple who've been together for two years and they've had an online relationship; they've never even been in the same room. Everything happens through Skype — they have sex. Fiona says, "It's safer to have sex that way. You can't get any diseases." They say, "We're totally safe. We put plastic down over the keyboard." That's coming up.
You have another series premiering this month, "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC. As the subject of one episode yourself, you seemed to have a difficult experience.
Yeah, that was personally challenging. I knew that my paternal grandmother, that her whole family had been rounded up and shot, but I didn't know the details. I just knew they weren't in concentration camps, so I kind of let myself believe, 'Oh, we're not part of the Holocaust.' I actually had too much information and education to really believe that, but emotionally I didn't think I could handle it. So I wasn't eager, I have to say. But I went anyway [to Belarus] and found that you can handle more than you think, and it's not even about you, which made it easier.
It actually was very fulfilling to visit my grandmother's village to see where she grew up and see that it was exactly as she described it, to hear from older people about what happened that day and to walk where they walked, down the same little road where they walked to their end. And to see that there's a monument there and pay tribute to the people who had died by bearing witness and broadcasting it also, that it really happened. Because there are still too many people who aren't sure — that's a nice way to put it.
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