For Kudrow, Family is First
NEW YORK - Who does Lisa Kudrow's 11-year-old son, Julian, think she is?
He has a tongue-in-cheek name for his mother, who says she turns into "a wild animal" where her son's well-being is concerned. And that's why he calls her "Satan's wife," Kudrow says, smiling. "I'm not Satan because everyone knows Satan's a man. Only a man can occupy the greatest evil there is. Not a woman."
In reality, Kudrow's family hails from eastern Europe, and she set out to find her roots in the new NBC series Who Do You Think You Are?, premiering tonight (8pm ET/PT). The show, adapted from the popular British version, has celebrities - including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kudrow and Spike Lee - search for their ancestors.
In Friday's first episode, Parker learns that her relatives were involved in the California gold rush and the Salem witch trials. And in the March 19 installment, Kudrow, 46, retraces her great-grandmother's murder at the hands of Nazis and reconnects with relatives in Poland.
"That is the darkest of the episodes. There's a ridiculously happy ending now," says Kudrow, who now texts with her kin.
For the Friends star, who has been low-key since the show ended its run in 2004, the new venture represented a chance to mix producing with investigative research.
"Information is good. As adults, we have to start deciding who we are and how we want to proceed," Kudrow says. "I'm not trying to stay out of the mainstream, honestly. I loved Friends, and I saw how fun that was for people. I just thought this was a fantastic show."
Parker, in particular, was eager to be a part of it even though, says the Sex and the City star, "I'm actually a private person. There's something about attention that embarrasses me. But this to me was not really a story about me. It was for my mother - a wonderful thing I can give her."
Five years ago, Parker, 44, tried to help her mother trace her family tree. But they had reached a dead end.
"When this came up, I thought, 'How exciting,' and I set off on this remarkable journey," Parker says.
The actress, known for her glam get-ups as Carrie Bradshaw, wasn't bothered in the least by the show's lo-fi production values.
"When you do this, there's no hair-and-makeup people. No lighting. One camera. It's nice to work in film without any of the vanity attached. It was so liberating."
What surprised the Ohio native the most about her roots? "How long we had been here and what role my family had played in historical times in our country," says mother of three, whose husband, Matthew Broderick, also has his own episode. "It gives me a better sense of who (my children) are now, too. It's wonderful that both Matthew and I had this opportunity that we can hand along to our children, a real academic and emotional line of ancestry.
"I was just shocked that my family was part of things that shaped who we are as a culture and a society. I feel, very simply, more connected, with a sense of pride that I belong here, that it wasn't an accident."
As for Kudrow, she'd love to do a second season of the series. But meanwhile, she's keeping busy doling out dubious advice online as a clueless harpy in the series Web Therapy, about to start its third season this spring at Lstudio.com. And here's good news for fans of washed-up actress Valerie Cherish: There's still the possibility of a comeback of sorts of Kudrow's short-lived but much-loved 2005 HBO series The Comeback.
One thing not in the pipeline: A Friends movie.
"No. There won't be. Why would there be? I don't know why there would be," says Kudrow, who recently guest-starred on pal and co-star Courteney Cox's ABC series Cougar Town.
The Central Perk crew has a tough enough time just staying connected, she says.
"We try, but it's hard. Someone's always trying to plan some dinner, but no one is ever there at the same time. We'd go to someone's house, but everyone is really busy and has different lives. Once you have kids, you're involved in their school and the parents of their school, and it starts defining your social life. It does for me, anyway."