January 19, 2020

Lisa Edelstein returns in ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce’

With its frank, funny dialogue and authentic take on adult relationships and life in Los Angeles, “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” returns Dec. 1 to Bravo for its second season, providing a plum role for “House, M.D.” and “The West Wing” actress Lisa Edelstein. Edelstein plays Abby Shoshanna McCarthy, a Jewish (on her mother’s side) writer navigating newly single life with the help of her divorced friends. In Season 2, former marriage-advice maven Abby has reinvented herself as a happily single “Face of Divorce” columnist, but that’s complicated by the fact that she and her estranged husband, Jake (Paul Adelstein), have secretly rekindled their romance. “When we last saw Abby in the finale of Season 1, things were still pretty confusing for her, relationship-wise,” Edelstein said in an email interview. “Season 2 starts just a matter of days later, and you will see Abby and Jake try and give things a go just one more time, to see if they’ve learned enough in their painful time apart to actually save their marriage. Now that she has inadvertently become the face of divorce, staying with her husband is as threatening to her burgeoning new career as leaving him was in the early part of Season 1. She is still trying to be all things for all people and it really bites her in the ass, big time.”

It’s a predicament that rings true for Edelstein. 

“Abby’s journey reminds me of my own when I was in my 20s,” she said. “Lots of mistakes and misjudgments due to inexperience in the big, bad world of dating. Meanwhile, her career is taking off in an unexpected direction and taking her out of her comfort zone. In other words, the s— hits the fan, and hilarity ensues. And crying and yelling, too.”

The character’s vulnerability, flaws and foibles are the most attractive element for her as an actress. “Despite the effort she puts into putting on a good face, she’s completely incapable of it,” Edelstein said. “She’s clumsy, she tries hard, she’s expressive, she’s fun. It’s an amazing job for me. I get to do physical comedy, drama, dramedy, all rolled into one job. I count my lucky stars everyday, even when I’m too exhausted to count.”

Abby is the latest in a long line of Jewish characters Edelstein has played, including a rabbi on the sitcom “Nothing Sacred,” an Orthodox woman in an episode of “Family Law” and Dr. Lisa Cuddy on “House,” a role she played for seven years. 

“I don’t do it on purpose, but somehow 90 percent of the characters I play become Jewish by Episode 2. I guess I don’t pass,” she said, putting Lisa Cuddy, Rhonda Roth on “Relativity” and, especially, Abby McCarthy at the top of that list. “I’m sort of living my favorite experience right this second.”

Edelstein enjoys the opportunity to show Abby’s Jewish side, and that arose again this season, but not without calamity.

“We have a family dinner at one point this season, and on the day we shot it, we realized what a great opportunity it would be to make it another Shabbat dinner. Even though the dinner would be almost over, you’d still see the remnants of the ritual: candles burning down, crumbs of bread on the challah plate,” she said, noting that “a sudden inspiration to make it a Shabbat dinner is not so easily done in Vancouver,” where the series is shot.

“We have a new, wonderful set-decorating team this year and they had no idea what Shabbat candles looked like, or where to find a challah, once we explained what a challah was. If you have never seen a challah, I have no idea what you’d think ‘braided egg bread’ actually looked like — probably some monstrous combination of scrambled eggs twisted over a loaf of white bread,” she said.

She has fond memories of real-life Shabbat dinners and other Jewish rituals celebrated in her youth.

“Relative to the people I grew up around, ours was a very traditional household,” she said. “My grandparents were Orthodox, my family was Conservative, our house was kosher, we hadShabbat dinner every Friday night and went to synagogue on Saturdays. We built sukkahs, we played dreidel (although I still don’t understand that game) and we had what seemed like 18 sets of dishes and silverware.”

One particular tradition proved to be pivotal and influenced her choice of career.

“My bat mitzvah was the first time I realized I had a completely captive audience. I sang that haftarah like I was Ethel Merman,” Edelstein said. “Other than that, I was a tiny, flat-chested, disco dancing girl with large, plastic-framed glasses, a head too big for her body and hair that was somewhat desperately blown into a (very unsuccessful) flip.”

Edelstein has been to Israel four times, “first as a little girl visiting relatives and the last time just a few years ago, on a trip with my now-husband and a bunch of the folks from ‘House.’ It’s wonderful, complicated and intense but it’s hard to have a free and easy, all encompassing opinion on the place as a whole, as it’s also the hotbed of many opposing ideas.” 

Jewish tradition continues to be important to Edelstein.

 When my husband and I got married it was important to both of us to have a wedding riddled with ritual,” said Edelstein, who married Robert Russell (né Uswetsky, a Russian Jew) in May 2014.

“To me, it’s like an invisible ribbon that binds me to the generations before me and the ones yet to come, like touching the past and the future simultaneously,” she said. “We have Shabbat dinner with the kids, too. It’s very sweet. I hope their memories of these things help inform them when it’s time for them to make a family and a home life. But either way, I’m glad we were able to share ours.”

“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres at 10 p.m. Dec. 1 on Bravo.