He may have kicked the bucket on Prison Break, but Paul Adelstein is back this fall as Dr. Cooper Freedman on the Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice. The Chicago-bred actor shows his sensitive side as a pediatrics specialist who befriends Addison after she moves from Seattle Grace to the Oceanside Wellness Group. Here, he dishes on Agent Kellerman's death wish, making rounds at the Venice Free Clinic and waiting tables with Kate Walsh.
TV Guide: What attracted you to Private Practice?
Paul Adelstein: Prison Break had already told me I wasn't going to be back.
TV Guide: So you knew you were about to die?
Adelstein: Yeah, or die-ish. I might not be dead. You never know. On Prison Break, if you don't have a heart removed from a body, the person can always come back. So I was looking for a job and I went and had a meeting with Shonda. I didn't know what it was about until she told me. We talked at length about the character and the characters on the show. I loved Grey's and I love her writing. So I sort of jumped at the chance.
TV Guide: Did you know which character you'd play?
Adelstein: The script wasn't completed so there wasn't really anything to discuss. But she was describing the pieces of the show and this one specific character, which we were talking about at length. That's who I ended up playing.
TV Guide: Did you sign on without seeing a script?
Adelstein: Yup! It's a lot of trust but it's not like she's somebody whose work I didn't know. To make that leap with Shonda is, in my mind, a no-brainer. I knew the thrust of the show. I knew Kate was involved. And, with Shonda on board, this is a small risk.
TV Guide: How did you know Kate?
Adelstein: We knew each other in Chicago. We did some workshop stuff together. We waited tables together for a while. I lived down the street from her when we both lived in Hollywood. I've known her for a long time. It's great. It's really gratifying.
TV Guide: You waited tables together?
Adelstein: It was at a now-defunct place in Wicker Park in Chicago. We worked at a little French restaurant. I was terrible, the worst! I got fired from a waiter job downtown I'd had for three years. Then Katie actually said, "My place is looking for somebody." So I went in and introduced myself to a guy who hired me then fired me a month later.
TV Guide: Was Kate a good waitress?
Adelstein: I was literally so slammed myself that I couldn't possibly tell. She says she was bad but I don't remember her being bad.
TV Guide: Did she recommend you to Shonda to play Cooper?
Adelstein: It was independent. She didn't know, so that was a fun phone call. I left a message saying, "Just call me." I think she found out in between before she called me back. We were on the phone laughing for 10 minutes.
TV Guide: Who would have guessed your friendship would come full circle?
Adelstein: I know!
TV Guide: What drew you to Cooper?
Adelstein: I like that there's a big difference [between him and Agent Kellerman] because that's always fun as an actor. I like the exploration of somebody who is at a pretty secure place in their life professionally but they shy away from the same kind of dedication to their personal life. When I was talking about it with Shonda, I said, "That's a very familiar characteristic to me." There's this kind of prolonged adolescence in America. It's a phenomenon and it becomes interesting when people get towards 40 and their careers are on track but there are other [parts of their lives] that they haven't even gone after.
TV Guide: How did you go about researching the role?
Adelstein: Production hooked me up with this great pediatrician at the Venice Free Clinic. She has a practice of her own and she works there a couple of days a week, I think. Then I have a couple of different friends from home who are doctors. They've hooked me up with different pediatricians. I talked to an oncologist. I talked to a pediatric surgeon and it really helped give me a context for the character. It's really helpful.
TV Guide: Did you spend any time doing rounds at the Venice Free Clinic?
Adelstein: Amy and I were given a tour. We spent a few hours there. Then we sat down with doctors in our respective fields. I've had a lot of conversations with that doctor subsequently, and I hopefully will get to go and watch her do a day of rounds in Venice at some point.
TV Guide: Were you a Grey's Anatomy fan before you signed on to Private Practice?
Adelstein: I loved it. I watched from the beginning so this is doubly exciting on that front. I think it's real fun to watch drama with three-dimensional characters. That's relatively rare these days on network television. It's fun to watch good actors tackle complex material. You also get sucked up in the different storylines. I'm a rabid fan.
TV Guide: Have you asked Shonda for scoop?
Adelstein: No, I'd rather not know. I'm actually kind of glad that I don't get too much of the skinny on that.
TV Guide: What's your take on Gizzie?
Adelstein: I thought it was very interesting. I will follow Shonda's writing anywhere. When you have someone like T.R. [Knight] and Katherine Heigl doing that stuff, I bought every single second of it. It may be an unlikely romance, but it felt very realistic to me. Whether you approve of it or not is a different thing. I think people criticize the writing when the characters do stuff that they don't like. They grow to love the character, then they say, "I can't like somebody who does that."
TV Guide: How does Cooper compare to characters you've played in the past?
Adelstein: It's more well rounded than a lot of the stuff that I've gotten to do in the past. One of the strengths of Shonda's writing is you get to see the whole person. That's really challenging as an actor. I've played three-dimensional characters before but not day in and day out.
TV Guide: How would you describe your relationship with the rest of the cast?
Adelstein: I'd worked with Amy Brenneman. I'd worked with Audra McDonald. And Kate I knew. Everybody pretty much knew at least two or three of the other people. It is a really great group. On set, the guys are always like, "Shut up!" because we're kind of like high schoolers. When we have group scenes, it can get a little out of hand.
TV Guide: What projects did you do with Amy and Audra?
Adelstein: I did a pilot with Audra called Partners in Crime. It never got on the air. It was me and Audra and Jennifer Esposito and Matthew Rhys. Then me and Amy did a reading at the Skirball Center. We both had really bad New England accents.
TV Guide: Spin-offs definitely have a stigma attached. What makes this show different?
Adelstein: It's about people in their thirties and forties who have dug themselves out of the trenches. They're accomplished and have an idea of the kind of medicine they want to practice. But there are issues that come along with being that age and having attained success. Addison is the perfect example, being somebody who is at the top of her profession but she fails at relationships. She has mixed feelings about being childless. It's kind of Grey's 10 years later, and without the complications of just learning what you're doing.
TV Guide: Do you think the hype around the show helps or hurts?
Adelstein: I've been on shows that nobody's ever heard of and that get put on at 8 o'clock on Fridays. That is an uphill battle. I think it's challenging to have this much attention paid to something before it's on the air. But I think we're up to the challenge.
TV Guide: Any hints as to what's next for Cooper?
Adelstein: I think we'll see him try to pull himself out of some behavior that he feels is unhealthy. Whether he can do that or not will be interesting to watch.
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