Say, Rena Sofer! How do you feel starring in “Coupling,” the racy new sitcom that has reveled in publicity (and gotten a good scolding) since NBC announced it last springfi
“Great!” replies Sofer with a big smile. “Eighteen years in this business, and I’m finally on the show that everybody’s talking about. Fine! Talk about us! Thank you!”
Like Susan, her character on “Coupling”, Sofer is playful but straight-talking. Independentfi Sure, “but not afraid to get into relationships,” she says, noting with a laugh “I’ve been married twice” — in May she wed director Sanford Bookstaver — “so obviously I’m not afraid of that.”
Sofer is a brunette with porcelain skin and incandescent blue eyes. Beauty is an asset for a comedy about six thirtyish singles unified by mix-and-match sex and randy repartee.
The show stars Colin Ferguson, Jay Harrington, Christopher Moynihan, Lindsay Price and Sonya Walger as well as Sofer, who says she was thrilled to get the call that a role for her might be available: She already was a big fan of the original British “Coupling,” watching it devotedly on BBC America.
“When they said ‘You’re auditioning,’ my thoughts just ran wild: ‘Who am I gonna playfi Is it Sally or Jane or Susanfi Susanfi Yeah, that works.”‘
It might work great for Sofer, 34, after years of jobs that never quite launched her: a short stay on “Just Shoot Me”; six episodes on “Ed”; at least one pilot that didn’t get picked up; the final season of “Melrose Place”; “Oh Grow Up,” a Fox sitcom that quickly bit the dust in 1999.
She was a regular on the daytime drama “Loving,” then spent six years on “General Hospital” (where she met co-star Wally Kurth, who became her first husband and the father of her daughter, now 7).
Hers is a lengthy list of credits for a New Jersey schoolgirl who strayed into show business because “I had absolutely no direction.”
The daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, Sofer claims that at 15, “I was gangly, hadn’t blossomed and had really low self-esteem.” Even so, she caught the eye of a modeling scout while hanging out with friends at a shop in Greenwich Village.
Sofer concluded after two weeks that modeling didn’t suit her. Then she decided to give acting a whirl.
Why notfi Her only other option: “My dad said, ‘There’s good money in speech pathology and that’s what you should be.’ And all I could think was, ‘Dear God, I don’t even know what a speech pathologist IS!”‘
Her father gave his blessing to her show-biz quest.
“He thought it would help me build confidence,” she explains. And he must have been right. Though Sofer didn’t land a role right away, “interest in me was huge,” she says proudly. “I would get callbacks. I’d be testing for soap operas.”
But even then, she was no ham. Instead, she was hooked on what she saw as a game of chance with increasingly favorable odds.
“It was like when you play the lottery and you get two numbers, then four numbers, then five numbers, and you think, ‘I can’t stop playing, I’m almost at six!”‘
Will she win the lottery with “Coupling”fi
Despite its hitting the jackpot with media attention, the series premiered last month to reviews that were like oh-for-six lottery tickets. Many critics called “Coupling” unfunny while some went further, chiding it as tasteless, crass and “maniacally preadolescent-minded.”
“One of them said, ‘None of these people are funny, and none of these people are sexy,”‘ Sofer acknowledges. “We were like, ‘Whoa! That’s not just mean. That’s MEAN!”‘
But on “Coupling,” the banter seldom rises above Susan’s quip that “a woman’s breasts are on a journey, and her feet are the destination.”
There are lots of double entendres (here it comes as no surprise when “hard” means more than “difficult”). And one entire episode was given over to speculation about the manliness of one of the “Coupling” males: Could he truly measure up to the title “tripod”fi
“People love ‘Sex and the City,’ and ‘Will & Grace’ has pushed the limits tremendously,” Sofer argues when asked about her own show’s risque style. “Don’t tell me that America isn’t ready for racy! America is absolutely begging for it!”
Maybe so. But thus far the ratings for “Coupling” don’t fully realize the cushy “Must-See TV” berth it occupies. Last Thursday, it lost one-fourth of the viewers from its “Will & Grace” lead-in, ranking 37th for the week.
Still, the season is young and Sofer is undaunted.
“People told me I would hear it once we were on the air: ‘You’re not gonna fit into this night, we’re not gonna accept you.”‘ Then she gamely sends a message to all “Coupling” naysayers: “Fine! We’ll prove ourselves. We believe in our show, and we’re not scared of you!”
October 16, 2003