Actress and activist Lisa Edelstein has done much more for animals and the planet than you could imagine!
By Chere Di Boscio
We all tend to believe actors have something in common with the characters they play on TV shows, but in the case of Lisa Edelstein, nothing could be further from the truth. She’s nothing like the uptight Dr.Lisa Cuddy from the highly popular medical drama series House, nor does she have much in common with her hot mess character Abby McCarthy in Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce. She’s played a call girl, transgender woman, sports reporter, lesbian and risotto fanatic (on Seinfeld, if you’re wondering) – all the while playing against actual her friendly, bubbly and compassionate personality.
In real life, Edelstein is an animal loving (but mushroom hating) vegetarian who supports PETA and the Best Friends Animal Society, as well as a human rights advocate and passionate patron of the arts. She’s bubbly and funny and smart – in short, she’s exactly the kind of woman you’d want to hang out with!
Here, in this exclusive interview, actress and activist Lisa Edelstein talks about women in Hollywood, clubbing in New York, starving in Argentina and more.
Let’s talk a bit about vegetarianism. You’ve been veggie for over 30 years. What prompted that?
I’m closing in on 40 years, actually! I became a vegetarian when I was a teenager. I was always an animal rights person but one day the fact that meat was flesh, that I was gnawing on bones and snapping veins and eating muscle – it just became real and I completely lost interest. I was done. As the years passed it not only felt right emotionally but also politically and nutritionally. Like most people who become veggie at a young age, I had to relearn how to eat. The information we got when I was a kid – remember the old food triangle? – was completely upside-down!
I hear you like to cook. What are your favourite veggie dishes?
I’m not a person who makes favorite lists so that’s a hard question to answer! I love a ton of food. I think the easier list for me to make is what DON’T I like: mushrooms. I hate mushrooms. Seriously, don’t serve me a mushroom. Second on the list: okra. Slimy little beast that okra.
What’s your go-to dinner party dish, one that pleases both vegetarians and carnivores?
I make a variety of different flavored tofu dishes and tempeh dishes; it just depends on who I’m cooking for. For kids, I go sweeter, for grown ups I go savory. I make a killer vegan lasagna, an amazing tempeh veggie quinoa salad, yummy vegan Caesar… vegetables of all kinds. I LOVE to cook for people and carnivores never leave hungry or unsatisfied. I WON’T LET THEM!
Are you also cruelty free with your makeup and skincare choices? If so, tell us a bit about your beauty routine.
I try and make sure that the companies I use products from don’t test on animals and I look for make-up brushes that are not made with animal hair.
I understand you love to travel. Do you ever have difficulty finding veggie food when you’re abroad? What have been some of your most memorable meals?
Recently, we took the kids to Peru and Argentina. We were so surprised at the quality of vegetarian and vegan food in Peru. Every meal was fresh and gorgeous and tasty. Incredible vegetables, wonderful spices… we really ate well in Peru! And then… we went very very very very hungry in Argentina. So sad! We’d been there just a few years before, in Buenos Aires, but all the best vegetarian restaurants had closed. We found a few more but honestly, they seem to be 30-years behind in their understanding of what vegetarian and vegan food could look, smell and taste like. And how nutritious it can be! There was enough junk vegetarian food to go around but we don’t eat that way. We like to eat whole, wholesome foods, avoid too much processing and not just fill up on grains. So that was hard. All I wanted to do was open an amazing vegan restaurant there, with delicious high-end recipes, well-sourced vegetables… but alas, I am not a restauranteur! At least not yet…
What initially got you into yoga? How has your practice changed over the years?
I started doing yoga when I was in serious trouble with my neck. I’d had an emergency spinal fusion in my neck and was told by a doctor that I would continue to need to fuse my cervical spine until it was completely fused because one by one each disc would blow. That is a crazy diagnosis! Instead, I started to practice yoga, even doing headstands, strengthening my back and my neck and my shoulders, learning to reduce my stress levels (probably the most important thing) and within a year I was pain free. I practiced Ashtanga yoga for many many years, very seriously, several hours a day, six days a week. Ultimately, though, my body has moved on. Yoga is still beautiful for breathing and for finding a sense of calm, but it’s no longer a good practice for me if the goal is to stay strong. Now I use the gym for strength and my experience as a yoga practitioner for connecting to a more peaceful state of mind.
Clearly, working up to 16 hours a day on a TV or movie set can be pretty intense. How do you find time for fitness?
I am very disciplined during the times when work requires so much from me. Working out is extremely important, it’s time you are gifting to yourself when so much of the rest of the day is given to others. And of course, it keeps you healthy. I usually keep my workouts to 1/2 an hour, that way I am staying in shape without exhausting myself for the day. I really love Jillian Michael’s app! She kicked my butt all through “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.” At 5am, having someone chipper telling you what to do everyday is very helpful, even if she is pre-recorded on an app!
Tell us a bit about your rescue dogs. What drew you to choose them?
My beloved Shazam! died recently. I’d had him for a decade and he was the greatest partner I could have asked for. He came with me to Canada and sat on set, next to my chair, every day. He has friends in two countries! When he died, it was fast and shocking and we all miss him enormously. I can still feel his oversized ears. He leaves behind two dog brothers, Leylo and Banana.
Leylo came to us about six years ago. He was rescued by my husband’s ex-wife but she couldn’t keep him. Since the kids go back and forth between our two households it wasn’t even a question that we would absorb him into our home. Banana is the new baby, we got him about 4 months ago when he was teeny tiny. He had been found under a pile of pipes with his mom and two other pups and taken in by Much Love Animal Rescue. All are safe now. And Banana is living the life of dog luxury!
As for choosing a new dog, we tend to try and get non-shedding breeds since my husband has asthma, but beyond that… you get what you get! The dog lets you know who he or she is over time. And a happy home makes them the best of themselves, like it would anyone.
Which people, living or dead, do you most admire for working to make a positive change on this planet?
There are many people doing wonderful work out there, some are organized and make big sweeping moves and some quietly wash the clothes of the homeless people in their neighborhoods. I think it’s just as important to change the world at large as it is to change the world in front of you. I admire the people I see doing both those things. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has been around for a long time now and does amazing work rescuing animals all over the world and helping smaller groups do the same. School on Wheels is a tiny organization on skid row in LA that helps homeless children get to class, wherever they are. They give them back packs and pencils and new clothes and even a place to hang out that’s quiet. Then there’s groups like the ACLU or the Center for Reproductive Rights or Planned Parenthood…this is an endless list. I think it’s all incredible. I’m so impressed by people who make it their life’s work to help.
You’ve worked in Hollywood for several decades now. How have you seen the role of women there change?
I’ve certainly seen MY roles change. When I moved here in 1991, at the very beginning of my career, I was 24 and already “old” in Hollywood terms. The girls I was sitting in waiting rooms with had started years earlier and already had resumes. I felt like I was racing against the clock! It was clear that if you didn’t get something really going before you were 25 then it was all over. Like a ballet dancer, women’s viable years were limited to their youth. But that definitely changed. I was 48-years-old when I was cast as the romantic lead of “Girlfriends’ Guide.” Relative to how things were, that felt kind of miraculous! And I have many friends doing work more interesting than ever who are well over 40. I have also met many incredible women in power in this industry; Writers, directors, producers, executives. It’s changing. It’s changing a bit slowly, but it’s changing. Honestly, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the way things were. One foot in the door can be pushed out. But a thousand feet in the door? You best stand back because we are charging in!
Finally – I love that famous actress and activist Lisa Edelstein used to be a wild ass NYC club kid! What kind of music do you listen to now?
My days as a club kid were about anything, but music. They were about people: insane, amazing, bizarre, beautiful, magical people. The outfits, the talent, the otherness that I got to be around was so inspiring for this frustrated suburban kid. When I discovered that subculture, that microcosm, It felt like I was exploding into the world. Even today, as a grown up, I prefer the company of outsiders, queers, others. It’s so relaxing to be around people who demand the right to be themselves. They are the super heroes among us!
Images: 1- Wikicommons 2&3 – Pixabay 4 – Wikicommons 5 PETA