Lisa Kudrow Lisa Kudrow

If it weren't for that unmistakable voice and a trace of comic body language, it would almost be hard to recognize Lisa Kudrow as Mamie in Happy Endings (in theaters now). Of course, that's because we don't understand the craft of acting and think she really is our Friend Phoebe. But as Happy director Don Roos proved in 1997's The Opposite of Sex, Kudrow has the chops to play a smart, damaged, multidimensional woman. Mamie is an abortion counselor searching for the son she had as a teenager with her stepbrother and gave up for adoption — and there's not a New Age-y bone in her body.

"He is the first director [not to cast me in a "Phoebe" role], and based on what I don't know," Kudrow says of Roos, who became her close friend after Opposite. "Maybe he saw reservoirs of pain in Phoebe. He said that, actually."

But Roos was on the lookout for accidental cameos by the flighty folksinger Kudrow played for 10 years. "I trust Don [would have] let me know if something [was] not Mamie," she says. "With Opposite of Sex, there was one word that he said was a little 'Phoebe.'

"This character, Mamie, wasn't me at all, and the only thing I had to go on was that Don trusted I could do it," she explains. "She's a human being, and I do understand [Mamie's emotional] denial; I do understand that behavior, trying to protect yourself."

Kudrow says the critical acclaim she's garnered from Roos' movies means that now her offers come in two categories: "With the bigger-budget studio stuff, it's usually quirky people. With the independent films, it's more along the lines of a Don Roos character." Things could be worse, of course, but still, she enjoyed the freedom of producing her own show, HBO's The Comeback.

"It was a happy challenge," she recalls, "because I got to write for the first time, which I'd been threatening to do.... Challenging, but very fulfilling.... If HBO wants to do another season, we could do another season easily."

And if it means she can continue being fulfilled, Kudrow's willing to add Comeback's struggling has-been Valerie to her list of types.