For 19 seasons, Alex Borstein has voiced the red-headed wife and mother, Lois Griffin, on the Fox animated series “Family Guy.”
Before each episode, to prep for Lois’ distinctive nasal delivery, Borstein said she’ll repeat a specific line of dialogue from the pilot episode — “No toys at the table, Stewie” — back to herself. “I don’t know why I do this, but I do. It’s kind of like blowing on the dice before rolling at craps.”
The voice itself was borrowed from two sources: an earlier character she played in a live sketch show (the “mother of a grown man who was leaving his stockbroker job to become a magician”) and her cousin. “I used my cousin’s voice as a model for that character and a few weeks into our run I had the opportunity to work with Seth MacFarlane on the pilot presentation for ‘Family Guy’ and the voice was fresh in my mind and on the tip of my tongue … My cousin is now in her late 70s and ‘Family Guy’ isn’t really her thing, so I’m pretty hopeful that she remains blissfully ignorant about the fact that I stole her voice.”
Borstein is also a two-time Emmy winner for her role as Susie Myerson on the Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
When asked to share a worst moment from her career, she dubbed her story “a laughable disaster.
“Those were Lisa Kennedy’s words in her review of ‘Catwoman’ for the Denver Post,” Borstein said. “And she wasn’t wrong. What she didn’t know was that it was also an accurate description of one of my first days on set.”
My worst moment …
“In this upside-down film (from 2004) Halle Berry was playing a shy, invisible wallflower while I was cast as the brazen (guy) magnet, Sally. I was the best friend, co-worker and comic-relief.
“Long story short, my character ends up in the hospital after using too much tainted anti-wrinkle cream introduced to the market by that evil (woman) with flawless skin, Laurel Hedare, played by Sharon Stone. Sound insane? It was, but it was only my second movie and I was just so excited to be making a movie I didn’t care.
“So, I’m on set for my first big scene. It is a hospital scene, so my character is in a hospital gown. The set was built in an office building that was being used for many different sets throughout the film, they would just re-dress rooms as they needed. But the room did not have a proper cooling system and it became sweltering hot and I was in my hospital gown, in the bed for hours. The set dresser would come by between takes and re-tuck the bed with me in it.
“After a few hours, I thought I was going to actually pass out. I was dripping sweat and had to pee like crazy. But I was scared to ask for a break because I knew it would mean stopping the action and having to get out of the bed, take off the mic, mess up the bed covers, etc.
“I didn’t want to be a problem, so I just stayed in the bed and continued to sweat and wondered if it was possible to sweat out urine. I kept waiting for them to call for a bathroom break or something, but it never came. Finally, Halle saw me shaking my leg under the blanket and she asked if I had to pee, like you would a toddler. I admitted I’d had to pee for the last three hours. And she was kind enough to pipe up and ask for a bathroom break, so I climbed out of the bed and scampered off to the bathroom.
“When an actor leaves the set, they will often bring in a stand-in to take the actor’s place because they continue to light and measure and set-up shots. And in my absence, they did just that, a young woman took my place in the bed and they carried on. I ran to the bathroom and peed for what felt like 20 minutes and then used the hand-blower to blow my entire body dry. It felt so good to stretch my legs and dry off a bit.
“I quickly returned to the set and saw the stand-in getting out of the bed. She had tears in her eyes and looked distraught. She shot me a look of disdain and I was taken aback. The set dresser ran in with fresh sheets and blankets and began re-dressing the bed. I then noticed that the whole crew was looking at me funny. It was one of my first days on set and I didn’t really know anyone and couldn’t imagine what I had done to make everyone hate me.
“Was it hate in their eyes? Or pity? Someone from the crew, maybe the A.D. (assistant director) pulled me aside to the corner of the set and softly said, ‘Alex, any time you need to use the bathroom you just need to tell us, OK? We can’t ask your stand-in to get into a soiled bed.’
“I was like: What?! Holy (crap), they thought I pissed the bed. I started laughing, which is what I do when I’m mortified. And I said: ‘That was sweat! I’m a chubby Jewess and I just schvitzed for three hours under a blanket!’
“I ran after the poor stand-in and assured her she didn’t just lay in my urine: ‘Good lord, you’d think I’d piss the bed and let you get in it?’ I said it loud enough for the whole crew to hear.
“Then I returned to the set and silently climbed back into the bed with everyone either looking at me funny, or very purposefully not looking at me at all. After a long uncomfortable pause I announced, ‘It was sweat, you guys. It was just a lot of sweat. Trust me folks, when I (crap) the bed, you’ll know it.”
What was going through her mind during all of this?
“When I realized that everyone on set thought I was incontinent, my first reaction was humiliation. But it quickly turned to hilarity. That’s kind of how comedians work, we take our humiliations and shortcomings and then try to turn it around, have a laugh and maybe even monetize it. I’m sure I called back to it whenever I could — probably something like, ‘We better get this next shot or I’m gonna start pissing on stuff.’
“The film had much bigger problems than me and my bladder, so it was soon forgotten and onto the next event, thank God.”
The takeaway …
“That I need to speak up for myself. And it’s a very important lesson that I bring with me everywhere to this day. No one is going to take care of me but me. If I am tucked into a bed on a sweltering set and I need a break — or some air or water — I need to pipe up and say what it is that I need.
“We can’t just sit in our own saltwater because we are too scared to make someone else sweat a little. Don’t be a (jerk), obviously. But squeak when you need to.”
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