Lisa Edelstein, the star of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, reunites with House showrunner David Shore as she joins the cast of ABC hospital drama The Good Doctor for its second season. She tells DQ about joining the hit series, playing another medic and becoming a writer.
Lisa Edelstein has starred in The West Wing and Ally McBeal, and most recently fronted Bravo dramedy Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce for five seasons. But she’s arguably best known for her long-running role as Dr Lisa Cuddy in House, starring opposite Hugh Laurie in the NBC hospital drama for seven years.
In her latest TV role, Edelstein has reunited with House showrunner David Shore to play another medic in the second season of ABC series The Good Doctor.
The series, which returns to US screens tonight, stars Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) as Dr Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome who joins the prestigious St Bonaventure Hospital’s surgical unit. Edelstein plays Dr Marina Blaize (pictured above).
The cast also includes Richard Schiff as Shaun’s advocate Dr Aaron Glassman, plus Hill Harper, Beau Garrett, Tamlyn Tomita, Nicholas Gonzalez, Antonia Thomas, Chukuma Modu, Will Yun Lee and Fiona Gubelmann. The Good Doctor is produced by Sony Pictures Television, Shore Z and 3 AD and distributed by Sony Pictures Television.
Here, Edelstein tells DQ about joining the show, reuniting with Shore and her aspirations as a writer.
Tell us about your character on The Good Doctor, Dr Marina Blaize.
Dr Blaize is a brilliant oncologist who recently got suspended by Dr Aaron Glassman [played by fellow West Wing alum Richard Schiff] for pot use. The only reason she has her job back is because he knows she is the best doctor around to help him deal with his brain tumour. Needless to say, they don’t get off to a great start.
How do you prepare for new roles, and how did you approach this one in particular?
A lot of what David Shore wants from his characters is in the writing. You have to look for the clues, the little gestures, off-hand remarks and opinions, and build a human being from there. In this case, it was really important to me that she not be a rehash of [Edelstein’s House character] Dr Cuddy. So pencil skirts were banned.
Have you had to do much medical research for the role, and will we see you performing operations?
So far I haven’t even put on a lab coat. She is helping [Dr Glassman] deal with his radiation treatments and chemotherapy. I love medicine, so whenever I have to talk about anything technical, I make sure I have a reasonable understanding of what I’m saying. Ultimately, though, I have not gone to med school or been a resident, so I wouldn’t actually try to practice oncology in the real world. If you see my trying to practice oncology in the real world, call the police.
What can you tell us about the storyline you will be involved in?
Richard’s character has a brain tumour and it’s up to me to make sure it’s healed so that they don’t kill him off the show. So Richard better be nice to me!
What was it like being on set with the rest of the cast? Is it easy to join an established series?
Some shows are easier to jump into than others. In this case, it was a breeze. I know half the writing staff from House and half the crew from Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. Being in Vancouver [where the series is filmed] is like a home away from home. Freddie [Highmore] is so excited about his job and his life that his energy feeds the whole set. And Richard and I go back 20 years. He played my father on Jason Katim’s Relativity, then we worked together on The West Wing. And as an added boost, his wife coached me to striptease for Cuddy’s fantasy pole-dance scene on House.
It seems Dr Blaize will upset some people, particularly Dr Glassman. How would you describe their relationship?
They go head-to-head a few times – she won’t take his baloney. That said, she is an oncologist and is used to dealing with life-and-death matters, including fear and how people cope with it. So she has a good deal of empathy and warmth to back up her toughness.
Why do you think the show proved to be such a hit in season one?
Well, David is a wonderful writer and he gathers incredibly smart writers around him. And Freddie is just a special kind of guy. He is so bright and so warm and clearly loves doing what he is doing. Once you have a showrunner and a lead in place who both feel great about being there, the rest is gravy. I think audiences really respond to that.
And what was the appeal for to join the cast in season two?
Honestly, it just seemed like fun to do another Shore show for a minute.
Why do you think medical dramas have enduring appeal? How does The Good Doctor freshen up this well-trodden genre?
We all have our experiences with illness and death and, no matter how fast we run or how busy we stay, these concerns forever loom over us. Maybe it’s cathartic to see these stories play out. It helps ease the underlying anxiety about our own inevitable deaths to watch a story that has a beginning, middle and end neatly tied up, with characters we enjoy. The Good Doctor includes the element of autism, giving it the added appeal of helping a large audience empathise with a person they might normally dismiss by being inside that person’s unique experience of the world around him.
What was it like to reunite with House creator David Shore for the series? How would you describe him as a showrunner?
It was super fun to work with David again. When they reached out to me about the part, David and I went for coffee to discuss it. Mostly we cracked jokes. We vaguely talked about how to make sure Blaize was not just Cuddy’s alias. As for how David is as a showrunner, this time we are nowhere near his office, so he can’t control the pronouns as much as he used to. He has to get a plane to complain. It’s like Lord of the Flies – actors are in charge and on the loose. OK, not really. He is a great captain. I just like to tease.
What do you enjoy about appearing in a network procedural such as The Good Doctor? Or do you prefer more serialised dramas?
I have to say I do prefer more serialised dramas and dramedies. I like telling a long, emotional story. Procedurals are… a lot of procedure. But it’s fun and sort of relaxing to be doing this show for a while. The stages are big, the trailers are cosy, the writing is smart, the actors are talented and the audience is super-enthused about the show. It’s all pretty wonderful.
You’re soon to appear in Netflix comedy The Kominsky Method. Do you enjoy bouncing between drama and comedy, and which do you prefer?
I love it all. It used to be that if you were on a sitcom, no one would consider you for a drama and vice versa. I kept having to recover from my last job and insist on the opportunity to switch. But nowadays it’s better. Many dramas are fnny and many comedies are dramatic, and it’s all a big hodgepodge. I like a hodge podge. I don’t want to just do one or the other. The Kominsky Method is like that, too. I get to play a super screwed-up woman, highly manipulative, a total mess. So much fun! And working with Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas is so exciting. They’re both lovely guys, for one, but it’s also one of those moments in your career where you remind yourself to pay attention. These are actors I watched for years and years, and now I’m standing with them, at work. That is a wonderful feeling. It never gets old.
You’re writing a pilot with Carol Barbee based on ME Thomas’s book Confessions of a Sociopath. What can you tell us about this project and your ambitions for the potential series?
Carol and I have had so much fun creating this character and I really hope we get to realise her on screen. Universal Cable Productions bought the script from us, making it my first experience of selling a script – a great feeling. Now we wait and see where it lands in terms of network or streaming. It’s my first time in the development world. For those who want to try it out, be prepared: it moves in extremely slow motion.
How do you enjoy writing compared with acting, and what stories do you want to tell in the future?
I love to write. Actors do a lot of waiting between jobs, either because there is no job to get or no job ‘right’ to take. It can be deeply frustrating and depressing to have to wait for someone else to give you the go-ahead to create. So nurturing another outlet is incredibly important. Not only that, but becoming an active content creator is really exciting. I can create roles I want to play, roles I want my friends to play and stories I find interesting. It’s all about being proactive.
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce gave me the opportunity to not only act my face off but to write and direct as well. When the show ended, I didn’t want that expanded creative life to end. So I wrote, directed, produced and starred in a short film, Unzipping, which is currently on the festival circuit. I wrote and directed another short for a Google initiative, out later this year, and wrote the pilot with Carol Barbee. I also did a few indie films – Dr Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets and Phoenix, Oregon – so it’s been a rich, creative year.
As for the future, I have a few more ideas that I’m working on that I’d love to see through. And I look forward to whatever surprise characters that come down the pike. Why pre-plan?