For 10 seasons, we loved watching Lisa Kudrow on our screens as the kooky but lovable Phoebe Buffay on everyone’s favorite ’90s sitcom, “Friends” — a time she’s described as “the best experience” (via Express). Although Kudrow is very different from the character we associate her with, she’s just as funny and adorable as Phoebe.
Kudrow has stayed plenty busy since “Friends” ended in 2004, venturing into new territories when it comes to her career — taking on film roles in the likes of “P.S. I Love You,” “Neighbors,” and “Easy A” and tackling projects with her production company. Unlike her “Friends” character, Kudrow is actually quite the smart cookie. She originally pursued a career as a medical researcher before diving into acting — and though her plans changed, she’s still been crushing her life goals ever since.
Though you may think you know all there is to know about Kudrow, chances are there’s still a lot you probably don’t know. This is the untold truth of Lisa Kudrow.
Lisa Kudrow intended to follow in her doctor father's footsteps
Lisa Kudrow was born in California on July 30, 1963, the youngest child of Jewish parents — her mother, a travel agent, and her father, a doctor — who grew up alongside two older siblings. This “rare breed of Hollywood superstar,” as Glamour labeled her in 2014, didn’t have plans for making it in the entertainment business. “I never thought I’d be an actress. It wasn’t even on my mind when I was 22, sitting at graduation,” Kudrow admitted to the magazine.
In 2010, Kudrow delivered the commencement address at her alma mater, Vassar College, where she studied biology. After graduation, she worked with her father, “a world-renowned headache specialist,” in medical research and had big plans for the future. “I was on my way to getting published, then onto a graduate program at whichever very impressive university accepted me,” she shared before a wide-eyed audience of soon-to-be college graduates who were well aware that this was not quite the path she followed. “Six months after graduation, I dumped that plan and decided to become an actress.”
This famous comedian encouraged Lisa Kudrow to pursue acting
Though Lisa Kudrow was always interested in acting, it was never something she ever took seriously as a career choice. So then, how did she find herself on one of the most successful sitcoms in television history?
As Kudrow explains it, acting was something she “always kind of wanted” to do in the back of her mind. However, it was her brother’s best friend — who happened to be comedian Jon Lovitz — who convinced her to learn improv at the Groundlings School, as she told Glamour. “My whole family is very funny,” she explained to Express. “In fact, I would steal their stuff and take it to school to make people laugh.”
After graduating from college, she realized it was now or never. She figured that if she didn’t find success, she could always go to grad school as she had originally planned. Well, as we all know, it did work out. Her work at Groundlings led to a successful audition for their renowned improv comedy troupe. There, Kudrow began performing alongside other budding comedians who would have a big impact on her career.
Before Friends came along, Lisa Kudrow was turned down by these NBC shows
It took Lisa Kudrow a while to find her footing in Hollywood. In fact, she failed to impress the producers of “Saturday Night Live” when she auditioned in 1990 (via Biography). A few years later, she landed the role of Roz on “Frasier,” but the experience was short-lived. She was fired and replaced by actress Peri Gilpin while the pilot episode was being filmed. “After the run-through, the only thing that wasn’t quite working was Lisa’s character,” NBC head of casting Lori Openden said in the book “Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV.”
For Kudrow, the experience marked the highs and lows of showbiz. “[Getting fired] was devastating for me, because I had always thought, ‘I’m going to do a sitcom,'” she said, explaining that she assumed a guest starring role would lead to a recurring role. “So when ‘Frasier’ happened, it exceeded my expectations, because it wasn’t how I saw it happening.”
Though the rejection stung at the time, she obviously didn’t let getting fired hold her back.
Lisa Kudrow once dated this comedian and credits him for encouraging her to pursue her dreams
During the early years of her career, Lisa Kudrow was close friends with comedian Conan O’Brien. “He was really smart, really funny, and he thought I was funny,” she told More magazine of their relationship, as noted by the New York Daily News. The pair dated for a short time before realizing they “were better as friends.”
Though the romance didn’t last long, the two had a profound impact on each other’s careers. O’Brien was instrumental in encouraging Kudrow to stick with acting when she began questioning her choices (via New York Daily News). Likewise, Kudrow convinced O’Brien, then a comedy writer, to try his luck at late-night talk shows. “I was very encouraging,” she told USA Today of their friendship. “I remember saying, ‘If Letterman’s leaving his late-night show, he’s irreplaceable.’ … So I thought he should look into it.”
Kudrow considers herself lucky for having O’Brien in her corner during those early days of her career. “Having someone you respect who thinks you’re good,” she shared with Glamour, is what helped get her through.
Lisa Kudrow's role on this '90s sitcom paved the way for her breakout role on Friends
In the early ’90s, Lisa Kudrow had a small part on another NBC Thursday night lineup series: “Mad About You,” which starred Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. Kudrow played Ursula Buffay, a waitress at Riff’s Bar (via Comedy Central).
While working on “Mad About You,” Kudrow auditioned for “Friends” and “just nailed it,” said Marta Kauffman and David Crane, the show’s producers, according to the New York Daily News. “Phoebe ran the risk of being cartoonish, and Lisa brought so much humanity to her.” One problem, though. According to Comedy Central, the two shows aired back-to-back on NBC, so viewers would see Ursula on “Mad About You” and then Phoebe on “Friends” being played by the same person. “Everybody [realized] ‘we need some explanation for the audience,'” Kudrow explained (via Comedy Central), noting viewers might wonder “why are they seeing the same girl with the same voice at 8 [o’clock] and 8:30 on two different shows?”
The solution? Make Ursula Phoebe’s twin sister. Ursula even crossed over onto “Friends,” with Kudrow playing both sisters in a couple of episodes.
Lisa Kudrow was originally interested in this other Friends role
Though we all know Lisa Kudrow from playing Phoebe on “Friends” for the better part of a decade, she was actually originally more interested in playing Rachel Green, which went to Jennifer Aniston. As Kudrow explained on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” she immediately felt a connection to the part of Rachel even though she was auditioning for Phoebe. She explained that when she read the script for the show, she immediately understood Rachel to be a well-off Jewish girl from Long Island. “That could be hilarious. I can identify with that more,” she said, adding, “But they said, ‘No, no. Phoebe.'”
Kudrow revealed to host Kevin Nealon on the YouTube series “Hiking with Kevin” that she “struggled” playing Phoebe early on, finding herself doubting whether she was the right fit. Luckily, she had Matthew LeBlanc to help her feel better. “You’re her. Relax, you got it,” she said he told her. He explained that she was “working too hard” and needed to “relax.” She admitted, “He was right.”
Lisa Kudrow first met her husband when he dated her roommate
Lisa Kudrow has been happily married to her husband, advertising executive Michel Stern, for more than 25 years, according to Entertainment Tonight. So how did the two meet? It’s actually a pretty darn cute story.
As the Daily Mail noted, Stern dated Kudrow’s roommate back in the day. However, he caught Kudrow’s eye, and she was adorably awkward around him as she tried to hide how she felt. As she once explained, “When he’d come to pick her up, he’d say, ‘Oh, hello Lisa,’ and I’d say, ‘Hi,’ and I’d go and leave the room and he thought I was a freak.”
Luckily for Kudrow, Stern and her former roommate only dated for a couple of months. Six years later, Kudrow reconnected with him at her friend’s birthday party, and they’ve been together ever since. What makes their marriage work, she shared with Glamour, is their mutual commitment to each other. “After you have a history, there’s such a bond, and love takes another shape,” she said.
Friends producers worked Lisa Kudrow's real-life pregnancy into Phoebe's storyline in Season 4
Lisa Kudrow married Michel Stern in 1995 and gave birth to their son, Julian, three years later. She was the first of her “Friends” castmates to become a parent and was the only cast member with a child until 2004, when Courteney Cox gave birth to daughter Coco (via Biography).
As noted by People, the “Friends” producers decided to work Kudrow’s real-life pregnancy into Phoebe’s storyline in Season 4. Interestingly, on the show, Phoebe acted as a surrogate for her brother, carrying triplets, although Kudrow was only pregnant with one baby.
Kudrow shared a sweet story about filming during her pregnancy with People, revealing a behind-the-scenes tradition the cast had before filming each episode. “The six of us would do a huddle backstage and just say, ‘All right, have a good show, love you love you love you love you,” she said. “And when I was pregnant, then they would say, ‘Have a great show, love you love you — love you, little Julian!’ Cause we knew it was a boy and that was his name.” She added, “So sweet, they included my little fetus in the huddle.” Aw!
Lisa Kudrow was the first of her Friends co-stars to win an Emmy for acting on the show
Despite all the talent on “Friends,” Lisa Kudrow was the first “Friends” star to win an Emmy for acting on the series. She’d been nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1995, after only one season of “Friends” (David Schwimmer was also nominated that year for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series). Though she didn’t win, she took home the award after her third nomination in 1998. In total, Kudrow received six Emmy nominations for her work on “Friends,” plus another eight nominations for her later work on other series: two nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for HBO’s “The Comeback” and six nominations as executive producer on NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” and the series “Web Therapy,” as noted in her Television Academy bio.
In addition to her Emmy nominations, the funny actress has also received Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and American Comedy Award nominations for her iconic role as Phoebe Buffay. Clearly, Kudrow had no reason to doubt herself in her early days!
Lisa Kudrow successfully transitioned to the big screen with this hit '90s comedy
It’s not always easy for TV stars to successfully transition to movies because they commonly face an uphill battle being typecast. Lisa Kudrow is well aware of this, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “People still see me as Phoebe, but that’s no problem,” Kudrow explained to Express. “She was a lovely person to be for 10 years.”
However, when Kudrow starred in 1997’s “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” she had a hit on her hands, possibly because she played another ditzy, but lovable, blond. As ABC News reported, the film was based on characters from a play by Robin Schiff and centered on two blonds who try their best to impress their former classmates at their 10-year high school reunion. The movie, however, didn’t come about easily. The bigwigs at Touchstone Pictures reached out to Schiff about making a movie, after a TV pilot failed to take off. Casting Kudrow as Michele was a given since she had originated the role in the play, and Schiff shared with ABC News that Kudrow’s newfound fame from “Friends” probably played a role in “[getting] the movie made.”
In 2019, Kudrow reconnected with her former co-star Mira Sorvino at a Netflix party (via Today), posing a pic on Instagram with the caption, “Most thrilling moment for me at a party EVER! Genuinely GOOD person @mirasorvino see you soon.” We love it!
Lisa Kudrow struggled with her body image while starring on Friends
During her time on “Friends,” Lisa Kudrow struggled with her body image, especially when she compared herself to her more petite co-stars, Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox. During an interview for the “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast, she referred to herself as a “mountain of a girl,” adding, “I’m already bigger than Courteney and Jennifer — bigger, my bones feel bigger,” the 5’8″ actress said.
Additionally, the pressure to be thin in Hollywood had Kudrow often feeling far from her best, explaining that when she was “too thin” she “was sick all the time” with colds and sinus infections. Unfortunately, she shared that she never received any concern from others regarding her skinny appearance because “unfortunately for a woman, if you’re underweight, you look good and that’s all I ever got.”
Fortunately, Kudrow’s relationship with her body has improved with time and is why she’s not running to the plastic surgeon’s office, as she told Glamour. “I think everyone’s beautiful when they’re smiling. So I try to be happy,” she said. “Drink in the good stuff.”
When he was young, Lisa Kudrow's son called this Friends star his mother
When Lisa Kudrow shared a rare pic of her son, Julian Stern, to Instagram from their FaceTime call celebrating his birthday in 2021, friends and fans couldn’t help but notice how much the two look alike. “He looks just like you!” one comment read.
Despite the the close resemblance between mother and son, as a child, it turns out that Stern would sometimes call one of his mom’s famous co-stars his mother when he was a young kid. As Kudrow explained on “Conan,” Stern would accompany her to the “Friends” set so often as a little boy that he’d formed a strong bond with Jennifer Aniston. “He’d fly into her lap,” she said. “And I was always glad for anyone that Julian felt love for and felt from. But then at home,” Kudrow added, “she’d be on TV, and he’d go, ‘Mommy!'”
Confusion aside, with all her success, Kudrow told Vanity Fair that she considers her family her “greatest achievement.” When her son graduated from the University of Southern California in 2021, the proud mom even posted to Instagram to share the special occasion.
Lisa Kudrow helped popularize the web series
Though Lisa Kudrow may be known best for her iconic role on “Friends,” she hasn’t slowed down much since the series came to an end. In fact, IndieWire labeled her as the “most interesting former ‘Friend'” in 2014 for her ability to “[embrace] her character’s mentality while doing wholly original work as an actor.”
Case in point: her taking to the web for her series “Web Therapy,” which debuted in 2008 on LStudio, a new broadband channel at the time (via TheWrap). Fast Company noted that the low-budget project was conceived in partnership with Kudrow’s creative producing partner and friend, Dan Bucatinsky. Together, the two have produced other innovative series through their production company, Is or Isn’t Entertainment, like HBO’s “The Comeback” and NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?,” a docu-series in which celebrities explore their ancestral history.
Interestingly, neither Kudrow nor Butinsky “set out to trailblaze or innovate,” as Butinsky shared with Fast Company. The two were actually approached to develop a web series, but neither were interested at first. Over time, they “became intrigued,” and, ironically, their collaboration on the series led them back to TV when “Web Therapy” was later picked up by Showtime. How cool is that? Kudrow is not only funny and smart, but she’s also a creative visionary and a serious businesswoman.
Lisa Kudrow initially worried about her career after Friends
It’s natural after working a job for so long — whether you work 40 hours a week in an office or you star on a hugely popular TV sitcom — to fear the unknown after a job comes to an end. For Lisa Kudrow, this fear of the unknown was all too real after playing the same character for 10 years.
The actress admitted to the Sunday Times Culture magazine (via Cosmopolitan) that it was this fear, in part, that led her to take on “The Comeback” in 2005, one year after “Friends” wrapped. Interestingly, on the show, she portrayed an actress who starred on a reality show to stay in the spotlight. “I know fame can be hard, even if that’s what people seek out, and, yes, at the time I made ‘The Comeback,’ I was concerned,” she revealed to the magazine, voicing her concern for reality stars, as well. “I was watching reality shows, wondering what they were going to do when the show is over.” And, she added, “They’ve had the most humiliating things broadcast nationwide, I was worried about people not being able to mentally survive that.”
Fortunately, for Kudrow, her career not only survived after “Friends” wrapped but it has thrived. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
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