Watch This: Lisa Kudrow Recommends Golden Oldies

Jul 12, 2012
Originally published on July 12, 2012 12:21 pm

Lisa Kudrow is well known for her role as Phoebe, the kooky pal on Friends. Lately, she's been playing an incompetent therapist on Showtime's Web Therapy. For Morning Edition's occasional series Watch This, Kudrow spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about some of her favorite classic movies — as well as an inspiring YouTube video courtesy of a cello virtuoso and an L.A. street dancer.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

This 1948 comedy stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as a couple living in New York City.

"Their apartment is too small for them," Kudrow says. So "they decide to buy a house in Connecticut. And it's falling down, and it turns into a money pit."

The style of comedy is old-fashioned and understated, Kudrow says. "The jokes aren't hit very hard." They come and go without too much spectacle.

But the realities of real estate seen in the movie remain the same. "It's the exact same," Kudrow says. "Nothing has changed in the world of purchasing a house, renovating it and the costs that escalate. And then the stress between the couple."

All About Eve

The classic film about the tense relationship between an aging Broadway star (Bette Davis) and an up-and-coming fan and actress (Anne Baxter) holds the record, along with Titanic, for most Oscar nominations in one year.

Kudrow says that All About Eve, like Mr. Blandings, features pitch-perfect dialogue, especially courtesy of George Sanders as the acerbic theater critic Addison Dewitt.

"[Sanders] is always worth watching," Kudrow says. "He always plays that guy who just walks into a room and eviscerates everyone with something he says. I have always been attracted to those characters, I guess, because it's not like me. I've always aspired to walk into a room and destroy someone."

Ordinary People

Robert Redford's directorial debut won the 1980 Academy Award for best picture. It tells the story of a family working through the death of their older teenaged son.

Mary Tyler Moore plays the mother, Beth, who tries to maintain a semblance of order in the house while being exceedingly hard on her younger son, Conrad, who witnessed his brother's death.

Kudrow says she first saw the movie as a teenager. "Whenever I see it again, as I've gotten older, I have new perspective on it," she says. "Just because now I'm a wife, and then I'm a mother."

She particularly has developed sympathy for Beth's character "because of the unfathomable tragedy that happened to [the family]," Kudrow says. "How someone deals with it, to me, is beyond judgment."

Yo-Yo Ma And Lil Buck

Kudrow's final pick is a wondrous collaboration between the world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and an L.A.-based dancer, Lil Buck.

"Someone sent this link to me, and I couldn't believe my eyes," Kudrow says. "This is Lil Buck, and he's, I think, improvising this dance, and he moves like it's not human."

The music is "The Swan," one of the movements from Camille Saint-Saens' suite Carnival of the Animals. The movement is athletic, fluid, rooted in street-dance styles that evolved in Memphis and elsewhere. Filmmaker Spike Jonze recorded the performance and posted it on YouTube, where it's gotten more than 1.8 million views.

"It's the ultimate in interpretative dance to me," Kudrow says.

The interplay between the two performers is particularly noteworthy. "These things inspire me," Kudrow says, "that kind of artistic connection."

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OK, it's time for the latest installment of our series Watch This; Hollywood insiders tell us what films they'd love for us to see, new or old, famous or not. And today, we get recommendations from Lisa Kudrow. She's best known for her role as Phoebe in "Friends." Lately, she's been playing a creative but self-absorbed therapist in "Web Therapy," now on Showtime.

Her list begins with an old black and white movie. The movie is called "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House." What is this?

LISA KUDROW: Oh, it's the best movie. It's Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Melvin Douglas. It's about these people who live in New York City and their apartment is too small for them. You can see them sort - you know, overflowing and they decide to buy a house in, I think, Connecticut, and it's falling down and it turns into a money pit. And I don't remember when this movie was done.

INSKEEP: Nineteen forty-eight, I can tell you that.

KUDROW: Well, thank you. But it's the txact same - nothing has changed in the world of purchasing a house, renovating it, and the costs that escalate, you know, and then the stress between the couple. And the dialogue is really sharp.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to a little bit of this. So we have Cary Grant here and Myrna Loy discussing with a contractor, I believe, the possibilities of renovating this old house that they've discovered.


MYRNA LOY: (as Muriel Blandings) The house and the lilac bush at the corner are just the same age, Bill. If a lilac can live and be so old so can a house. It just needs someone to love it, that's all.

MELVYN DOUGLAS: (as Bill Cole) What did your engineer say when he checked the foundation and that roof?

CARY GRANT: (as Jim Blandings) Well, who needs engineers? This isn't a train, you know.

DOUGLAS: I just saw it move.


KUDROW: I like "I just saw it move." It's that kind of dialogue throughout.

INSKEEP: Do you learn something when you're watching actors of the past like this?

KUDROW: Like this, yeah, because everything's thrown away, you know.

INSKEEP: What do you mean?

KUDROW: The jokes aren't hit very hard.

INSKEEP: You mean you just a smooth remark and things go on as if nothing funny has happened. You could almost miss it.

KUDROW: Right, it's like, "Well, I saw it move." Instead of, "Well, I saw it move!" - you know.


INSKEEP: Cue the laugh track...

KUDROW: Right.

INSKEEP: ...that kind of thing.


INSKEEP: You've got another black-and-white here, "All About Eve," and...

KUDROW: Well, yeah.

INSKEEP: goodness, Bette Davis playing a somewhat aging actress and dealing with a fan who actually wants to replace her.

KUDROW: Right. And she's a theater actress and that's always fun to watch because she's extremely dramatic and insecure. But again, it's the dialogue that every line is so precisely perfect. Especially, George Sanders is in it, and he's always worth watching.

INSKEEP: All right, George Sanders, that's not a name that I think most people know. Who's he?

KUDROW: He always plays that guy who just sort of walks into a room and eviscerates everyone, you know, with something he says. And I have always been very attracted to those characters, I guess, 'cause it's not like me.


KUDROW: Something I've always aspired to, walk into a room and...

INSKEEP: And just open fire.

KUDROW: ...destroy someone.


INSKEEP: You know, I was just watching a clip from the new program of you with Meryl Streep. And Meryl Streep appears to be that kind of character.

KUDROW: Oh, yeah. She was fantastic. That's improvised, too. So that's just her brain.


MERYL STREEP: (as Camilla Bowner) I really apologize for imposing on you on your, this very sad day for you. I didn't realize you were going to a funeral.

KUDROW: (as Fiona Wallice) No, I'm not going to a funeral.

STREEP: (as Camilla Bowner) Oh...

KUDROW: (as Fiona Wallice) Why would you think that I'm going to a funeral?

STREEP: (as Camilla Bowner) Oh, I'm so sorry. You were dressed in a way that looked so sad. And...

KUDROW: (as Fiona Wallice) I don't think it's sad. I think it's just - chic and...

STREEP: (as Camilla Bowner) denial of...

INSKEEP: Well, when you say improvised, I mean you set up the situation. Give her some kind of - or do you not?

KUDROW: No, we do. We do. We write an outline so we know where the story is going. But then it's all improvised within that, how you get to it and how you justify those things.

INSKEEP: You have also sent us the movie "Ordinary People," directed, if I'm not mistaken, by Robert Redford...

KUDROW: That's right.

INSKEEP: the early '80s. And this, a very serious film about a very disturbed young man.

KUDROW: Yes, about, you know, family dysfunction and they did suffer tragedy which derailed the family. And I think one of the more compelling characters is, of course, Mary Tyler Moore's character. She plays the wife of Donald Sutherland and the mother of Timothy Hutton, and the mother who lost a son.

And what I like about this movie is, I saw it when I was a teenager. And then, whenever I see it again, you know, as I've gotten older, I have a new perspective on it, just because now I'm a wife, and now I'm a mother.

INSKEEP: And so, it's almost like it's a different movie when you watch it 15, 20 years later.

KUDROW: Right, that's why I'll watch it every time it's on. I love, you know, watching Judd Hirsch as Timothy Hutton's therapist, because Timothy Hutton's character was with his brother when he died. He drowned. They were both out on a sailboat at sea. And, you know, because he had so much trouble dealing with it he tried to commit suicide. And the mother, who just keeps saying, why don't you - you're not trying.

INSKEEP: But what makes her more sympathetic, now that you're a little older and seeing that movie again?

KUDROW: Because of the unfathomable tragedy that happened to them - she lost her son. You know, how someone deals with it, to me, is beyond judgment.

INSKEEP: Well, let's play one more selection you've got here. And this is something that isn't - not going to be hard for people to find. You can find it in 10 seconds on YouTube, "Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Buck."



INSKEEP: One is a great musician. He's out on a balcony somewhere and who is Lil Buck that's with him?

KUDROW: Yeah, I think this was at a charity event. Someone sent this link to me and I couldn't believe my eyes. This is Lil Buck and he's, I think, improvising this dance. And he moves like it's not human.

INSKEEP: He's a superb dancer, unbelievably flexible and it's like he's a leaf flying on the wind almost.

KUDROW: Right, exactly. And I mean it's the ultimate in interpretive dance to me.

INSKEEP: The amazing thing, too, is - I mean he appears to be reacting to the music, as Yo-Yo Ma plays it. And at the same time, Yo-Yo Ma is watching the dancer as if perhaps the dancer's latest moves are affecting what Yo-Yo Ma will play next.

KUDROW: Yeah, I noticed that too. These things inspire me; that kind of artistic connection. You know?

INSKEEP: So, when you improvised that scene with Meryl Streep did you say, look, Meryl, it's just sort of like Yo-Yo Ma and Lil Buck?


KUDROW: Yeah. Which one do you want to be?



INSKEEP: Lisa Kudrow, this has been very fun. Thanks very much.

KUDROW: Thank you.


INSKEEP: And the second season of "Web Therapy" is now on Showtime.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLO MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.