It took a trip to a professional to teach "House"'s Lisa Edelstein how to pull off a pole dance.
In the top-rated show's two-part season finale, Edelstein, 41, who plays Dr. Lisa Cuddy, the buttoned-up administrator of Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital, went totally against type. Dressed in a skimpy Catholic school uniform and sporting little-girl ponytails, Edelstein slowly writhes around a pole while slowly stripping - until she remembers that for Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), diagnosis is the ultimate turn-on.
The striptease is part of a hallucination House after suffering a brain injury during a bus crash.
As soon as Edelstein learned what she was going to have to do, she turned to Sheila Kelley, creator of an erotic workout called The S Factor. Kelley, an actress and one-time dance major at New York University, combined ballet, striptease and yoga to create routines that would help women get back in shape after having children. Kelley wrote a book by the same title that was published in 2003."S Factor came to life after I discovered my sensual power and a fit body while researching and preparing for a role in the film 'Dancing at the Blue Iguana,'" says Kelley on her Web site at www.sfactor.com.
Besides helping other actresses, Kelley runs nine studios nationwide.
Stripping might be out of Cuddy's comfort zone, but yoga-loving Edelstein embraced it.
"I found stripping really helps you stand strong within your own skin. You do it for your own power and your own enjoyment more than anything else," she says. It's not the first time Edelstein has had to play a sexually provocative role. In 2000, she played a transsexual in "Ally McBeal" and Sam Seaborn's (Rob Lowe) high-class hooker girlfriend in "The West Wing" in 1999.
Edelstein's striptease scene ends up working on several levels. First, it's part of the storyline as the hallucinating House tries to retrieve his memories in order to save someone, only he can't remember whom. By the end of part one - "House's Head," which aired last Monday - House has seriously risked his life to figure out he needs to save Amber (Ann Dudek), the girlfriend of his best friend, Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). Part two, appropriately titled "Wilson's Heart," airs Monday night.
"I think the people who work with House are used to his mental struggle," says Edelstein. "In the finale, he ends up risking his own life in order to access his own mind. None of the other people there can do what he does so they are all willing to participate in that risk. For a long time, people don't know the extent to which he's risking his life but even when it becomes apparent it still goes on."
On another level, the erotic dance illustrates the complex, underlying attraction that House and Cuddy have for each other. "She very much loves House and vicariously lives through him," says Edelstein. "She's excited by what he does and how he does it and is deeply frustrated by him at the same time. Intense people like House are incredibly interesting and compelling."
In fact, Cuddy loves House enough that she - head of the hospital and his boss - personally sleeps on his couch after his injury to keep an eye on him.
Striptease notwithstanding, "House" fans probably shouldn't hold their breaths for House and Cuddy to act on their feelings. "I think he's attracted to her and I think he likes her smarts," says Edelstein. "But I'm not sure how capable of love he is. He's so disconnected from himself in that way."