Connoisseurs of “Friends” will remember ditzy, loveable masseuse and occasional folk guitarist Phoebe Buffay’s surrogate pregnancy storyline, written into the smash-hit NBC comedy to accommodate Lisa Kudrow’s real-life baby bump.
Well, prepare to feel old because it is 18 years since 27 million Americans tuned in to see Phoebe give birth to triplets, and Kudrow’s son Julian, born a few months before the episode aired, is already preparing to go to college.
“Friends,” seen on US television from 1994 to 2004, won dozens of awards and garnered global celebrity for Kudrow and her co-stars Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer, Courteney Cox and Matthew Perry.
The 53-year-old Californian has appeared in around two dozen movies and TV series since it ended — the latest of which, DreamWorks animated feature “The Boss Baby,” has her reflecting on the challenges of parenthood.
“Whenever I play a mother, I try to draw on my own experience as a mother. There are some pretty universal truths,” Kudrow told AFP ahead of the movie’s March 31 US release.
“The Boss Baby” sees her playing the mother to a newborn like any other, except that he wears a suit, carries a briefcase and speaks with the voice and wit of Alec Baldwin — and turns out to be a fully grown spy in a baby’s body.
– ‘Imposter’ –
If the premise sounds daft, the high-wire plot weaves in larger themes such as the jolt an only child experiences when an “imposter” sibling turns up, demanding the love and attention they were once able to monopolize.
Kudrow herself disrupted a settled family when she came into the world, the youngest by six years of three children born to a professional couple in California’s sun-kissed San Fernando Valley.
She laughs at the suggestion that she might have been something of a manipulative “boss toddler” herself, but admits she would seek special treatment at home.
“I think I saw early on if I was irritating my brother and sister, I would just use what I’d heard my parents say — ‘I’m just little — I don’t know,'” Kudrow told AFP.
The actress, descended from Jewish immigrants who fled the Soviet Union, graduated in biology and began following the family vocation — her brother David is a neurologist and her father Lee was a physician — as a researcher specializing in headaches.
She was nudged into show business by a comedian family friend. And after a stint in improv theater and a handful of bit-parts, she won an early role as airhead waitress Ursula Buffay on NBC sitcom “Mad About You.”
The name should sound familiar as Kudrow reprised the character in “Friends,” although it was in her main role as Ursula’s nicer twin sister, Phoebe, that the actress earned six Emmy nominations, winning the award in 1998.
– Awkwardness –
Starring parts came in movies “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” “The Opposite of Sex” and “Analyze This,” and Kudrow found herself facing the dilemma male stars seem largely to avoid — balancing work and home life.
She says it wasn’t until her son was in fourth grade that she realized she was spending too much time away and cut back on her acting.
Kudrow started on “Friends” at $13,500 per episode, but over five contract negotiations became the highest paid TV actress of all time alongside her female castmates, receiving $1 million per episode.
The money has allowed her the luxury of picking roles she finds intriguing and often she gravitates towards the same kind of cringeworthy characters preferred by British filmmaker and comedian Ricky Gervais.
In acclaimed roles on “Friends,” “The Comeback” and “Web Therapy,” Kudrow has revelled in the charm of characters whose appeal lies largely in the awkwardness their lack of self-awareness creates.
“I think they don’t know that they’re setting their dignity aside,” she says.
“They’re completely unaware that that’s what they’re doing for the greater good, however you want to judge their version of the greater good. That stuff makes me laugh.”