Things End: Shows, Marriages, Etc.
Posted June 7, 2018 7:21 p.m. EDT
For years, Lisa Edelstein was typecast as the “best friend” but never the leading lady.
That all changed when she landed the role of Abby McCarthy on Bravo’s first scripted series, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” which begins its fifth and final season Thursday. Inspired by the creator Marti Noxon’s own experiences with uncoupling and based on the author Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guides” books, the story tracked Abby, a self-help book author and breadwinner, as she dealt with the consequences of a high-end divorce.
“She not only identified as a wife, a writer and a family maker; she made a career out of it,” Edelstein said of her character. “So when all of these things began to fail, she felt like she had disappeared.”
Over the next four seasons Abby worked through a “cougar” phase, helped to raise her ex-husband’s ex-girlfriend’s baby and otherwise worked to reclaim her identity with the help of her friends Delia (Necar Zadegan), Jo (Alanna Ubach) and Phoebe (Beau Garrett). The result was “Sex and the City” meets “The First Wives Club,” a sharp dramedy about multiple divorces and how they ripple outward, affecting other relationships within a privileged California community. “Getting this role at the age of then 48, playing a woman who is having fun with a variety of men, is drinking way too much, eating way too little, is going through menopause in couture gowns and all the while trying to find a career and raise her kids (was) a gold mine,” Edelstein, now 52, said.
“We have all the ‘Real Housewives’ shows to thank for our fabulous wardrobe,” she added. “The one thing we had to make sure of was that the show looked as ‘Bravolicious’ as the rest of them.”
Previously best known as Cuddy, the administrative foil to Hugh Laurie’s cranky diagnostic genius on “House,” Edelstein also spent time on shows including “Felicity,” “The West Wing” and “Ally McBeal.” (Aging New York scenesters might also recall her time as the ‘80s club kid “celebutant” Lisa E. — the veteran night life and gossip writer Michael Musto once named her one of the 10 best “It Girls” in the city’s history.) Next up are roles in the Netflix series “The Kominsky Method” and the film “Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets.”
In a recent phone conversation, Edelstein talked about why “Girlfriends’ Guide” resonated with its fans, what it did for her and whether Abby’s story will have a happy ending. These are edited excerpts from the interview.
Q. There really wasn’t anything like “Girlfriends’ Guide.” It felt like “The First Wives Club” but more family-oriented.
A. It’s a true dramedy. We get big laughs; we get really raw. That’s the incredible fun of it. By the way, there’s not even a category for it in the Emmys. According to the Academy of Television, you can’t be a comedy if you are an hour long. So annoying! So we compete with “Game of Thrones.”
Q. How did the show affect you on a personal level?
A. When I started in this business, it was hard to be seen as much more than the wry best friend with a name like “Edelstein.” I was considered ethnic, and it was certainly unheard-of to be a sexy-ish, vital, leading lady beyond the age of 35. Unless you think Maude was sexy, which she was to some people. I think Marti Noxon hit a nerve with the subject matter — which was extremely personal to her. This is a conversation that needs to be had out loud and proud from now on.
Q. The show was notably frank in its depiction of divorce. Did you get the sense that it resonated with people?
A. It’s true, people really take this show personally. It’s not just a show: It’s medicine somehow, and it’s a mirror of their own struggles, albeit with amazing clothes and ridiculous shoes. I have heard from so many people who used it to cry and laugh their way through their own relationship and life woes. It’s pretty great to know that your job means that much to some people. There were plenty of moments within the life of the show that people have told me directly mirrored their experiences. It was so personal to Marti, that is not surprising. No matter where you live, some experiences are just universal.
Q. How did her experiences get reflected in the show?
A. I believe it was her personal need to talk about all the “feels” she was having post-divorce that drove this show into existence. Once she met Vicki Iovine (who divorced the music mogul Jimmy Iovine in 2009) and heard her story, she had her character’s inspiration.
Q. How do you think Abby has grown?
A. Poor Abby! So much of who she thought she was, was just attachment to outside ideas. Little by little, over the five seasons of our show, through struggle and plenty of wrong — read: hilarious! — moves, Abby has found the right path for her, minus the expectations. Q. Will all of her exes end up in the final season?
A. I don’t think so. Some of them, maybe.
Q. Will Abby and Jake’s relationship be resolved?
A. There is a beautiful Jake and Abby episode at the end of the season. I love where it went. I love working with Paul (Adelstein). I think every character gets his or her story at least pointed in a hopeful and satisfying direction by show’s end, but we are not a fairy tale, and we don’t want to spin fantasy yarns. We want to tell stories people see their lives reflected in and, well, nothing is perfect.
Q. Will Abby get a happy ending?
A. Because we as a show knew we were ending at the end of Season 5, the writers really got to write a satisfying conclusion. “Happy” isn’t really a goal; it’s a side effect. But I think we leave Abby on a path that feels good and feels more solid ... at least for the moment.
Q. Is “Girlfriends’ Guide” ending at the right time?
A. I wish all shows knew when they were ending. It makes the writing stronger and the performances more focused. That said, there are plenty more stories to tell about divorce; we only barely skim the surface of stepparenting, for example, in Season 5. And the show was a dream come true for me, getting to play the lead role, getting to act my face off and make people laugh, and getting to write and direct. Is it ever time to end that? No, but I consider it one of the best experiences, workwise, I’ve ever had.