Private Practice had its ups and downs last year, but there was one consistent good thing about the show for me: Paul Adelstein as Oceanside Wellness's pediatrician and unlucky-in-love bachelor, Cooper. When I spotted Adelstein after the Private Practice session at the TCA press tour in July, I convinced him to stop for a quick chat. In person, he was quite charming (and even laughed off my good-natured ribbing about his bright-white sneakers), and he gave me some hints about what's coming up for Cooper, who's still involved with the uptight Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) when season two begins. Here are highlights from our chat:
I hear from a lot of people that Cooper is their favorite part of the show. Does that surprise you?
Yeah, that surprises me. I think that one of the things with Shonda [Rhimes]'s writing — being a longtime Grey's fan — is that people identify with different characters differently, and I think that everybody has a favorite Grey's character, and so on. But it's nice to hear! I'm a little surprised — I don't think I'm my favorite character.
What are some of the things you do like about Cooper?
As an actor, it's a great gift to have to show up to work as loose as possible because that's who your character is. It's a challenge as an actor to try to be really loose and present, and when the character is loose and present, it's easier to do that. It kind of demands that you come and have a good time, and so that's a nice way to go to work every day.
Is the whole idea that he is the comic relief? And does that come from you, or is it kind of built in there?
I really try not to think about it that way because you never want to be the schticky guy. But I think Cooper is a funny guy. I think he uses humor as a defense. You try not to think about how it's fitting into the show too much, 'cause I think you can drive yourself crazy and go down the wrong path, so I just try to do whatever he's doing and hope that it translates. You know, last year, I think that we were all struggling a little bit with the tone of the show because [Rhimes's] writing is so good, you can play things very differently. I think that we're better at figuring out where we all sit this year.
To hear about the real pediatricians he met while preparing to play Cooper and what might be coming down the pipeline romantically for his character, just
Cooper's also a character where it makes total sense that he's the pediatrician.
When I first got it, I thought, "Well, is the big kid really the pediatrician?" And then I met with some pediatricians, and I found that the people who are drawn to that profession, to that specialty, really do, more times than not, have a certain personality, which is easygoing, fun, they're certainly not in it for the money because pediatricians don't really make money. It makes a lot of sense that he would be drawn to that, and we'll see this season there are some more specific explanations for that.
I was wondering what you did to get into that character, because I like that he's a pediatrician who's not all, "Talk to the puppet!"
Yeah, we were really careful — we tried to make it a Patch Adams-free zone. We didn't want that to happen. The best people that work with children are the people that don't talk down to them, and I think he has this ability to be empathetic with children, maybe even more so than he does with adults. And it's unfettered for him. When I was talking to the different pediatricians I met with, that was the kind of thing I tried to draw out. And you really saw — two of three pediatricians that I talked to cried when I talked to them, which, you know, I always think, "Well, doctors are going to have a certain distance," but they're just very empathetic, and that felt like permission in a lot of ways to let Cooper be Cooper.
I love that the sort of big-kid-ness carries over into his personal life, like "Can we be boyfriend and girlfriend?"
Yeah, he does have a little bit of an adolescent view of that thing.There were a few times last year, and I think this year too, where he's surprisingly mature. I think that he's sometimes more mature than his co-workers because he takes kind of a child's eye view of things. Sometimes things are black and white, it's not a gray area, and he can be the stickler for some of that stuff
Does he have to change at all to be with Charlotte?
Yeah, sure — we're [shooting] episode five now, and we're just starting to see ways in which he does, some of which I think are healthy for him and some of which aren't.
Do you have people you really enjoy playing off of? Shonda was saying she loves seeing all the guys together.
Well, I did most of my heavy lifting with Amy [Brenneman] last year, and that was a dream. She's a dream, she's an amazing actress, so that's just a blessing. It makes your job so much easier. This year so far my personal stuff has been with KaDee, and that has been equally as fun. There are some people I haven't had that much to do with — I don't think there's a scene I've had with just me and Audra [McDonald].
It doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of Cooper and Addison either.
There hasn't been — although [we're shooting] a thing where it's the first time we really get in each other's faces. I'm looking forward to that.