The actress who plays Dr. Cuddy talks about the season finale and more

Lisa Edlelstein has portrayed Dr. Lisa Cuddy on the hit Fox drama House M.D. since the series premiered in 2004. I was recently in on a conference call with the actress about the series' upcoming two-part season finale. The first part of the finale will air on Monday, May 12 at 9 PM ET and the second part will air on Monday, May 19 at 9 PM ET on Fox. Here's what she had to say.

So, as the season began, knowing that there was a whole group of new doctors coming in, did you have concerns as to how Cuddy was going to fit in with the sort of remixed version of the show?

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Lisa Edelstein: I felt the least affected. I think both Wilson and I felt the least affected by that. Certainly you wonder how they're going to manage to give any of us anything to do with so many characters on a show, but they seem to have managed. It's really the same structure where you have the inner workings of the case and then the B and C stories of what's happening amongst the personalities of the main characters, and it's been great. It's a wonderful new group of people, and they have shown up with lots of excitement and eagerness, and they have great attitudes. So it's been a wonderful experience.

Do you sense movement in Cuddy's character in recent seasons? Do you sort of see a place that she's going from here?

Lisa Edelstein: I do. I really think that her character has been filled out and that her relationship with House has become a beautiful, complicated, adult relationship filled with all kinds of subliminal messages. And it's fun to play, and even when they don't write it, I put it in.

How much of that subliminal stuff is you and how much is the writers?

Lisa Edelstein:I think it goes both ways. I think writers like to see how people bring their words to life, and it's always surprising. Always, no matter what, whether it's good or bad, it's always surprising because a whole human being is coming to that piece of writing. And certainly there's inspiration that comes out of that, but it's also David Shore and what's going on in his mind and where he would like to see things going.

If we were to dress you up as a doctor and disguise you, but drop you into a hospital, how long do you think it would be before you would be found out?

Lisa Edelstein: I think I could go half a day. You know what, I've always been a smarty-pants, and the only thing that goes wrong now is that people know that I play a doctor on TV and so they quickly call me out on the fact that I really think I am a doctor. But before, I used to get away with it much longer.

Now we know Cuddy, in the finale, is in House's head. What is Cuddy doing in his head, and what will it mean for the future of their relationship?

Lisa Edelstein: Well, it is very interesting what happens in the first half of the finale in terms of learning about how House sees people and kind of getting the world from his point of view directly. And he's suffering from a brain injury, so he's trying to remember what he saw before this accident, and in doing so, he's using the people around him in his imagination to kind of help him dig through his memory and bring things up. And so when Cuddy enters into that fantasy, he decides he might as well have her strip, so we'll see what happens.

It's been awhile since the first season of House, what do you think of the fact that you've finally been able to play the same role for several years and it may keep going for several more? Is it freeing, is it challenging, is it weird? Is it all those things?

Lisa Edelstein: I love it. I'm loving the experience because it only gets more interesting. You know, it's scary when you sign onto a pilot of a series because, as much as you want the series to go, you also want it to be a character that you'd be interested in playing for a long time. What ends up happening, well, on a show like this that's so well-written, what ends up happening is that it just becomes more interesting because the layers and layers and layers that are added on and the complex relationships that start to reveal themselves. It's great to play. I'm having such a good time.

Being on a show where you can see all the different ways that a human being can get sick, does it ever mess with your mind?

Lisa Edelstein: It does. When anybody I know has any symptoms at all, I have a thousand things that run through my head. A friend of mine has a rash that won't go away, and I'm asking her if she had her immune system tested to make sure it's not an auto-immune problem. It definitely gives you more information than you definitely want most of the time, but most of it goes in and out of our heads because we have to compile so much stuff per episode. We have to let it go.

If you could write the show or you could direct where the show's going to go, do you think Cuddy would have a romantic relationship with House or Wilson, or would you prefer she find someone new?

Lisa Edelstein: I still think there's more to explore with House. I don't think her and Wilson are attracted to each other, but I think they have a common bond in terms of their weird relationships with House. But I do think there's more to explore in regards to her relationship with House.

I've always had a theory that she loves House and all of the games she has to play to keep him in line. What do you think of that theory?

Lisa Edelstein: I think that theory is right on the money. I think that she very much loves House and also lives vicariously through him because she's a very smart woman who is very successful as a doctor and has a great job and a wonderful position, but also has had less and less to do with the actual practicing of medicine as the years have gone by, so I think she's excited by what he does and how he does it and deeply frustrated by him at the same time. But as all intense people are, they're incredibly interesting and compelling, and she definitely falls victim to that.

I read that, in the two-parter, in the fantasy sequences, you actually have to work a stripper pole. How did you prepare for that?

Lisa Edelstein: I called Sheila Kelley, who has a company called S Factor. She's actually the wife of Richard Schiff, who I've worked with a bunch of times on The West Wing and on Relativity, and she did a movie a long time ago about strippers and realized that stripping was a great way to stay in shape and also a great way for women to kind of explore their sexual power. And so I went to her, and she helped me choreograph this routine. It was a very interesting experience.

Was it good exercise and empowering?

Lisa Edelstein: Yes, in a way I could say yes, yes. I didn't really need it for the exercise because I would show up there having just done two hours of yoga, but in terms of learning about how to be sexy without doing it for somebody else, I think that's the trick is that you stand within your own skin and your own power and you do it for your own enjoyment.

What do you think that House thinks of Cuddy? Do you think he loves her like she loves him?

Lisa Edelstein: I think he's attracted to her. I think he likes her smarts. I'm not sure House is capable of love the way other people are. I think he's so disconnected to himself in that way that it would be impossible for him to truly be able to connect to somebody else. I mean, I think he loves Cuddy and I think he loves Wilson, but I don't know that it would be in the same way they love him.

What's Hugh Laurie like as compared to House? Because it seems to me like he's so very different than all that.

Lisa Edelstein: Oh, yes. He is a much softer person and very sensitive and very empathetic and hilarious, an extremely hard worker.

How would you say you and Cuddy compare to each other, like yourself and your character?

Lisa Edelstein: I'm much more playful than she is. I behave younger and I have a different kind of energy, completely. I'm usually ricocheting off the set walls until they say "action," and then I'm this serious person. She wears skirts that you can't even take long strides in. But it's great. It's great playing that part of myself with her, but I think most people are surprised when they meet me that we're so completely different.

So when you're off the set or whatever, what sorts of TV shows do you enjoy watching when you're on your downtime?

Lisa Edelstein: I love Project Runway, and I really love Lost. The Sopranos, I was really into. I love Big Love and Mad Men. I think they're fantastic shows. There's some really great television out there, actually, and, with the magic of TiVo, it's really amazing because our schedules are so weird that I never can turn the TV on at a normal time.

So you said you're starting right back up again, you're still aiming for a fall premiere for season five?

Lisa Edelstein: Oh, yes. We're starting season five. As soon as we finished season four, we started season five. We're working straight through until August. Usually we have May and June off, so we work through to August, then we take a break for a few weeks, and then we come back and work through December. So, barring an actor's strike, that will be our schedule.

Was there a moment when you realized this is going to work?

Lisa Edelstein: Yes, well, there's so many elements. It's like, when I did the pilot of The West Wing, and when I saw it, it was like watching a movie and I thought, "This is going to work," and it did. But I was also on the pilot of Relativity, which was an incredibly beautiful filmic pilot, and I thought, "This is going to work," and it was done in one season. So there are so many elements from how the scripts continue to be written to what network you're on and how their other shows are doing, what night they put you on, what you're up against. There are just too many elements to really know beyond whether or not you like it as to whether or not the show's going to last.

How is the prospect of another potential strike sort of affecting the atmosphere as you go into this quick turnaround into the fifth season?

Lisa Edelstein: Well, I think the fact that we're doing a quick turnaround to the fifth season is part of it, but you know, we're all kind of holding our breath because nobody wants a strike, and hopefully a strike won't be necessary, but it's very scary, the kind of tactics that the AMPTP is pulling again. And it's very sad, so fingers are crossed.

Is it something that anyone discusses? Like, are you guys talking about it on the side, the possibility of that?

Lisa Edelstein: Yes and no. It's in the air, but we haven't all gotten to that point just yet. They haven't sent out strike approval notices or anything like that, and it's scary. We were very behind the writers and the writers' strike, and these are really legitimate issues that are being brought up, and some really terrible tactics are being used to work against the artists. So I really, really hope it doesn't have to go to that place.

I'm just wondering, in House's mind, Cuddy strips. Do you think, if the situation was reversed and we were in Cuddy's mind, House would strip?

Lisa Edelstein: I don't know. I don't think Cuddy's like a Chippendale's kind of gal. I think women have a different idea of what's sexy in terms of what they want to see their men doing than in terms of-

There'd be like a fireplace and a beach and flowers?

Lisa Edelstein: Yes, maybe it would be some kind of like laying there quietly, caressing her belly, like tickling her belly while doing a diagnostic.

House's two-part season finale starts on Monday May 12 at 9 PM ET and concludes on Monday May 19, also at 9 PM ET on Fox.