By Kris Kitto - 09/12/11 11:31 PM EDT
Lisa Kudrow’s television show “Web Therapy” debuted on Showtime this summer. In it, she plays Fiona Wallice, a self-anointed therapist conducting speed sessions over the Internet. Wallice also happens to be the wife of a Republican who’s running for a congressional seat in Pennsylvania. Kudrow spoke to The Hill about the show’s political storyline and her take on real-life politicians’ tireless ability to stay on message.
Your character, Fiona Wallice, is the wife of a Republican congressional candidate in Pennsylvania. Where did that idea come from?
The show is improvised, and there’s not a long-term plan for it. When the information of him having an affair with a woman came out — well, he was having an affair with a woman because he thought she was a transvestite — we labeled the husband as gay. So what comes next? He runs for office, because don’t they all? It’s almost a clam now, like an overused joke: the Republican, anti-gay politician who is in fact not even that closeted but is gay. So we couldn’t not have that happen.
I also read that you watch politicians to prepare for your role. How did this get started? Are there any politicians in particular you watch?
I almost don’t want to single any one out. There’s too many that just stay on message, don’t answer questions directly and don’t even pretend to be avoiding it. They’re not even clever about how they sidestep direct questions, and so that was fascinating to me and seemed like this character — so brazen and overly confident without having any reason for it. They just say the same things over and over and bully you until you say, “All right, well, I guess that’s over.” It’s great that it’s a joke now, but it’s also not a joke, because it’s scary that they don’t even care.
Do you find humor in politics and politicians?
Well, yeah, obviously I do, but to me the bad part is that it’s really become a joke. We’re not political comedians, but it’s become such an obvious joke that even we have to include it.
How involved are you in politics? Describe your level of interest.
I’m as interested as any other private citizen. I would hate for anyone to listen to me about any political views or anything on policy, because that’s not my field of expertise. I’m an entertainer, so if anyone wants to ask me about that, I’m happy to talk about it.
I do care about arts in education; I care about education, and I think the arts are an important part of it.
Have you ever been asked to come to Congress to speak?
I have been asked to go to Congress to speak — and I said no. Maybe one day I will. It’s all hopeless. If we’re now saying we can’t afford to have FEMA, then I’m done.
Your series also touches on other common themes in politics — philandering, sex scandals and, for instance, ex-gay therapy, which is topical right now since Michele Bachmann’s husband runs a counseling center that is reported to have used controversial counseling techniques. Is this purposeful?
We shot that over a year ago, so we had no clue. We just knew that those things existed. That’s all. It was insane when that story came out. I really was kind of in shock because it was just completely on the note. That’s exactly the story we were telling.
And it all ties into, anyway, the idea of this therapist who’s supposed to just listen and gently guide, and instead you have an extremely opinionated person who’s really intrusive, who’s telling you how to live and makes you feel bad if you’re not doing it her way. And to see it happen in our government when we have too many candidates who talk about less government and then can be more intrusive than friends and family… This stuff rattles me, clearly.
We think that we’re taking things that happen and taking it to a different level, taking it to a more extreme level and making it more of a joke. And then after the fact, finding out it’s happening — so that’s not funny anymore. But it’s out there, and that’s what’s happening, so we all pick up on it.
Your character’s platform as a would-be first lady is to combat obesity — similar to first lady Michelle Obama’s. Is that a coincidence? Fiona Wallice even does a citizen’s arrest on a 4-year-old girl for overeating.
We knew that childhood obesity was the hot topic when we shot that, but again, we took it to an extreme level, where, you know, protection and persecution sort of run into each other. Hopefully we won’t see anything like that acting out. We just thought, that’s insane and no one can ever agree with Fiona on that.
Have you ever played a politician? Would you consider it?
I haven’t played a politician before, and I wouldn’t know how to do it without making it a joke. I’ve watched them, and they seem like jokes to me, they all seem like [“Saturday Night Live”] characters. No one’s even advising them, nor are they attempting to be real people. That’s what’s crazy to me. At some point, you’d think people would say, “No one’s going to buy that,” but they don’t. And it’s working.
Would you ever run for office?
No. Never. Ever. Ever. The way it is now, it doesn’t feel like — even if you’re interested in public service, that’s not the place to do it.
Where did the idea for “Web Therapy” come from?
It was like 2006 or 2007, and it seemed that people were doing a lot of things on the Internet at work because it wouldn’t take long, so you could do tasks very quickly and it doesn’t take away from your leisure time. You could shop online, do almost anything online. And it was very funny to me to just extend that to therapy while they’re at work for three minutes — just the idea of doing something but not actually devoting the time to do it well.
This show is largely done without a script, by improvisation, right? What’s the key to speaking extemporaneously?
You get in character, and you listen and respond, and then whatever information you already possess is your whole library that you have access to. I was told when I was learning to improvise: Watch the news, read every newspaper, stay current. That was for improv shows.
What’s Fiona Wallice’s future like as a political spouse? Do you think she has one?
We haven’t thought past the election, but mostly you’re just going to see the push and pull of having her involved and then trying to shut her out altogether. And she’s always self-serving, always. But for the sake of the campaign, she can’t really practice her therapy anymore. Things that come up set her off — she’s written a book, she wants to promote that, but it’s not well-written at all. Little by little, she’s realizing this campaign isn’t as helpful to her as she had hoped.
To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Kris Kitto at (202)628-8539 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.