Lisa Kudrow calls nose job at 16 ‘life-altering,’ talks ‘Friends’

Lisa Kudrow of "Friends" fame opens up about her rough adolescent years and the sitcom that made her ultra-famous.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

While other kids were out getting their driver licenses when they were 16, Lisa Kudrow did something else “life-altering”: She got a nose job.

The “Web Therapy” star recently turned 50 and opened up about childhood and young adult events that affected her.

The nose job “was life-altering,” Kudrow told Lawrence Grobel in the Saturday Evening Post. “I went from, in my mind, hideous, to not hideous. I did it the summer before going to a new high school. So there were plenty of people who wouldn’t know how hideous I looked before. That was a good, good, good change.”

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The “Friends” star, who went on to win an Emmy for supporting actress in 1998, explained that she was isolated in junior high after her two best friends said they didn’t want to be friends with her anymore. (Bet they’re somewhere now saying a Phoebe-inflected “Oh, no”!)

“It was just mean. And all of junior high felt upside down to me,” she said. “It was not, like, the nice people who were popular; it wasn’t the most entertaining people -- it was the meanest people who were popular. We were reading ‘Macbeth’ at the time, and I remember the three witches: ‘What’s fair is foul and foul is fair.’ That’s all I could hear in my head during that whole period. When my friends dropped me, I was asking my parents, ‘What did I do?’”

Kudrow’s sister -- seven years her senior -- rescued her.

“She did, definitely. Unbelievable of her too, because I was 13 and she was 20,” she said. “She would find out when our half-days were, when everyone would go out to lunch and I would have no one to eat with. She would pick me up and take me to lunch. That’s extraordinary to me. It was just very generous of her to be so sensitive and aware, even though there was nothing anyone could do.”


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Her brother’s best friend, Jon Lovitz, encouraged her to audition for the Groundlings, and she said that becoming an actress was a tough decision for her because she “thought actors were egocentric people with bad judgment. And anyone who wanted to do that, it wasn’t very mature.”

However, she did the “Frasier” pilot, guest appearances on “Cheers” and “Newhart,” and a small role as a waitress in “Mad About You.” She saw great success with “Friends,” earned up to $1 million per episode and became recognized around the world as the show continued in syndication. But the fame didn’t help her go easy on herself.

“I had always thought that fame would give you permission to lighten up on yourself. If everybody else likes you, you could finally have permission to love yourself. It’s not true,” she said.


But she didn’t quit the acting (phew!), thanks to a “childlike guy” who impressed her in one of her early improv classes. That classmate happened to be late-night host/comedian Conan O’Brien.

“He was so impressive that he saved me from quitting the whole notion of acting,” she said. “I had come late to the second class, and I wasn’t sure I was going to stay with it. It was too embarrassing. I felt I looked so silly doing some of the exercises. So I sat down to watch people make fools of themselves. And then I saw this very childlike guy throwing a space ball, but it looked like he was throwing an actual ball. It didn’t look stupid, and he wasn’t overdoing it. He was totally committed to it. I finally got it -- that as long as you totally commit, you’re safe from embarrassment.”

Apparently, Kudrow also helped O’Brien become a late-night host.

“Yeah!” Kudrow said. “I was very encouraging. I remember saying, ‘If Letterman’s leaving his late-night show, he’s irreplaceable. So better it be someone we don’t know at all.’ So I thought he should look into it.”


Oh, you know, no big deal.

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As for “Friends,” Kudrow said people still think of her as the hippie-dippy masseuse she played when the long-running comedy started its run on NBC about 20 years ago. The character, she believes, was originally written the way Kudrow played her.

“The audition piece was the monologue that Phoebe said in the pilot episode. Everything I knew about her character came from that speech. She was basically a ditzy girl who lived in a happier reality than everybody else, because everything was so gloomy around her. That’s what I decided. And she was fearless and unapologetic. Now on Twitter or Facebook I see young girls saying, ‘I identify with Phoebe because I’m different too.’ That’s nice, to think that people who don’t feel they fit in perfectly well can relate to that character,” she said.


She agreed with costar Matthew Perry that they were sorry the show ended in 2004 after 10 seasons.

“Matthew said that, and then I agreed with him. It was a lot of fun. But I think there was the feeling of better to go out on top, like ‘Seinfeld’ had done,” she said.

And she also believes that she “sucked” on the show.

“Yes, sometimes I watch myself, and I mean, really?” she said, adding that she sometimes changes the channel when she finds the show on television. “It depends on my mood. If I’m in a bad mood, I’d better not. Sometimes my son will come in, and we’ll see it, and he’ll have questions -- mostly what he wants to know is, ‘So how old was I when you did that one?’ He doesn’t care about me.”


As for the age-old question of whether there will be a “Friends” reunion, Kudrow said, “not that I know of.”

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