Lisa Kudrow is notably normal compared with the kooky roles she’s known for playing. Whether it’s her 10-season stint as Phoebe Buffay or the fame-starved Valerie Cherish on just one season of “The Comeback,” the actress admits a fondness for delusional characters.
Since “Friends” ended in 2004, Kudrow has developed and appeared in several other shows, and become a producer and writer of her own projects, including “Web Therapy,” in which she plays self-obsessed Internet therapist Fiona Wallace. The Showtime series enters its third season on Tuesday, July 23.
The new episodes take place solely in online video Skype chats, and will feature a slew of new guest stars, including Steve Carell, Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal and Matt LeBlanc, as Fiona grapples with the ramifications of last season’s finale.
Kudrow also executive produces the documentary series “Who Do You Think You Are?” which premieres the same day on TLC. That show, which traces the ancestry of various celebrities, is an opportunity for Kudrow to dive into her work off-camera as well. The fourth season of the show will feature eight episodes and look into the backgrounds of Kelly Clarkson, Christina Applegate, Zooey Deschanel, Trisha Yearwood, Cindy Crawford, Jim Parsons, Chris O’Donnell and Chelsea Handler.
Kudrow invited CNN.com to the offices of her production company, Is or Isn’t Entertainment, which she owns with Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos, to discuss both projects. Sitting in the space’s living-room-like conference room, where a massive bulletin board displayed the episode breakdown of this season of “Web Therapy,” Kudrow discussed her work on the shows and why fans need to stop waiting for a “Friends” movie.
CNN: Did you get these two shows to premiere on the same day on purpose?
Lisa Kudrow: Isn’t that crazy? We don’t have that kind of power over TLC and Showtime. I think Showtime changed the date, but I don’t think that’s why.
CNN: Is there one person on “Who Do You Think You Are?” this season whose story was most compelling to you?
Kudrow: They’re all really compelling. That’s why we end up shooting them. One of the more different ones we’ve ever done is Chelsea Handler. Her father is Jewish and her mother is German and they were all raised to be Jewish. Her mother’s parents were here from Germany and she grew up with them and knew them really well. Her grandfather was a soldier during World War II who never spoke about it and so she’s always wondered. She knew it would be hard.
CNN: For those who aren’t familiar with “Web Therapy,” can you set up the premise?
Kudrow: It’s a really bad therapist named Fiona Wallace who conducts sessions online only through Skype. Three-minute sessions, because that’s all she really wants to do. We end up seeing a lot of her life happen.
CNN: When the show began as a Web series, how much of the show’s narrative did you have planned out?
Kudrow: We certainly knew she had not a great marriage, but it worked given who the two people were. At first we weren’t going to see (her husband) Kip until the end — that was the big surprise — but then once it was a half-hour format we thought “OK we need to know a little more about her.” We had her mother show up because we thought it would be important to know why she’s so damaged.
CNN: When you shoot the online sessions, are you actually interacting with the other actors or do those scenes happen separately?
Kudrow: We are shooting together. We’re on different sets but on the lens of the camera that we’re looking into there’s a prompter that’s a monitor. So I can see everything the other person is doing in real time and we can hear each other in real time. So it’s like a real Skype session.
CNN: How much is actually improvised?
Kudrow: The dialogue is improvised for sure. We come up with the outlines for stories and we give those to people. Sometimes when we’re coming up with the story we have some lines that we think are funny and the person can use them or not. Mostly, it’s improvised. We’re listening and talking to each other. I definitely crack up. And sometimes I crack myself up, which is embarrassing in a whole other way.
CNN: What’s changing for Fiona in this new season?
Kudrow: She’s not changing as a person, but she’s taking some hard knocks. In the season before with the campaign — her husband Kip was running for Congress — it all exploded because he was having an affair with his campaign manager, Ben. So they have in fact run off together. They’re in New Mexico. They’re living the gay life, but we’ll see them. So he wants to divorce her and she’s also being investigated for campaign finance improprieties. (Her assistant) Jerome has left her to work for her mother, who has stolen the idea of Web Therapy. She’s doing Net Therapy, which is different. Everything’s falling apart.
CNN: How many of your “Friends” co-stars have now appeared on “Web Therapy”?
Kudrow: We had Courteney (Cox) in the first season, (David) Schwimmer in the second season and now we have Matt LeBlanc.
CNN: Watching this show and going back to “The Comeback” and “Friends,” it seems like you’re attracted to characters who are pretty delusional. Does that feel true?
Kudrow: Yes, that’s what’s funny to me! Delusional people are really funny to me. People who live in a different reality, and it’s really obvious to everybody else but them, is really funny. For Fiona and Valerie Cherish, there’s a certain amount of Teflon coating them. Things don’t stick too much. Mess doesn’t stick too much. I see that everywhere. If you have kids and you’re at a school, the parents are all “Oh no, my 2-year-old can read!” I think people are always spinning things and that’s what I’m interested in. I had to learn to spin things when my son started school. Maybe it’s just people in a panic trying to look calm is what makes me laugh.
CNN: How did you feel about the false news a few months ago that a “Friends” movie was in the works?
Kudrow: Well, I knew there wasn’t ever a movie. There was never a “Friends” movie. Ever. So I’ve always known it’s not happening. But with this last rumor someone came up with a great graphic with the couch and it looked like a real teaser and I went, “Wait!” And then someone came up with a fake story and got some publication to buy the lie that there was going to be a reunion, so I saw on Twitter people were posting this article that NBC was really going to do it. And I went, “Wait a minute, was I not invited? Oh my God, maybe there is one and I wasn’t asked to do it.” I even had a moment where I believed it because everything around it looked real. It was a good setup.
CNN: Are the rumors finally put to rest?
Kudrow: The creators have put them to rest. NBC has. I don’t know who else needs to say, “It’s really not happening.”
CNN: Entertainment Weekly recently listed “The Comeback” as one of the 100 All-Time Greatest TV Shows. Do you think you’d ever revisit that show?
Kudrow: We talk about it all the time, we just haven’t asked HBO. Maybe a special, maybe not the series again. At the time we didn’t see where it would end. (The character) really just wants celebrity and I think now that we’re all a little more comfortable with that notion, it could be interesting.