Alex borstein talks about being lois from family guy and what comes next
Words by Nik Taylor
You might not know the name Alex Borstein, but you'll certainly know her voice.
Alex plays Peter Griffin’s long-suffering wife Lois in Family Guy, as well as turning her hand to most of the show's other main female characters, such as Tricia Takanawa, Loretta Brown and Barbara Pewterschmidt.
The Student Room caught up with Alex ahead of the release of Family Guy: The Best Of to ask her your questions.
When you recorded the Family Guy pilot show, did you have any idea how popular it would be?
I had no idea what it was going to become. I thought it was just another little pilot and I would do a little bit of voice work. Lo and behold, it became the monster that it is.
But it almost ended before it had properly begun, when the show was cancelled after its third series. What did you make of the fans' reaction to the cancellation?
Well, when the show was first cancelled, there was less of a reaction. What happened was when the show became available on DVD, all of a sudden people started buying them up like water in an emergency. The sales of the DVDs went through the roof and that's what turned us around.
I feel the show came out six months before its time; people weren't consuming shows the way they would just yet. Six months later people started swallowing the DVDs and rewatching them and pausing because something's happened.
Some of them are so dense it's almost like it's meant for DVD - you want the ability to stop and start and go back. The sale of those DVDs became our salvation - no-one could deny it: “Wait a minute we were wrong, people want this.”
How would you describe your main character, Lois Griffin?
Lois Griffin is the perfect woman - and I don't say that lightly. She's the voice of reason when she has to be, but she's also got this incredible dark underbelly. She is a mother who likes having sex, who is still a really sexual creature, is playful, who can get into just as much fun and trouble as Peter. I love that she's a little bit of a deviant. But, when she has to be, she is the mom and the core that keeps the family running.
Family Guy has a reputation for pushing the boundaries. TSR member JoinedUp asks: has there ever been a script you've refused to do?
No. I come from doing sketch comedy and stand-up. For me, the definition of comedy is offence. You have to offend somebody to make somebody else laugh. So there's really nothing I would never do. As long as it's funny, I'm in.
If something's not funny I'm not going to be a huge proponent for it, but I've never refused to do something. I'm not the arbiter of taste. It's very subjective and I would be a fool to assume that only I know what's funny and what isn't.
TSR member RHCPfan asks: where did the voice for Lois come from?
When I met Seth [MacFarlane] and helped out doing the pilot for Family Guy, I was also doing a live sketch show in Los Angeles. I was playing this mother in a sketch about a young man coming to his parents and telling him he was no longer going to be a stockbroker and he wants to become a magician.
For the character, I was doing this voice that was very loosely based on a cousin of mine from Long Island in New York. So it was kind of in my head because I was doing that nightly on the stage. When Seth asked me to give a voice to Lois, I looked at the drawing and it felt very similar to what I was doing on stage.
So I said 'how about this?' and it was this [drops into a slow-motion Lois voice] "very slow and annoying and grating voice". Seth liked it but he said, “It's too slow, the show is only 22 minutes! Can you speed it up and make it a little less annoying?”
It was pretty low for a while but throughout the 10 seasons it's become quicker and higher, the pitch has changed a little bit but it's pretty much the same voice.
Do you ever freak strangers out by using it on them? (TSR member Jack93o)
No, not really. To me it doesn't sound that different from my regular voice, but other people always marvel: "You don't sound anything like her!"
Usually when I go in to record I'm doing it for several hours. By the time I finish all the scripts I want to throw up if I hear the voice again, so I try not to do it too often in daily life.
Flowerii asks: when you're recording the show, are you all in the room together?
When we first started, we tried to do it that way, like a radio play, where everybody was in the room together and we went through the script in order from beginning to end. But it was just too taxing. It was so difficult because of everyone's schedules: I was working on MadTV, Seth Green was always doing stuff, Mila was on That 70s Show... So after we were cancelled and we came back we started doing things separately.
A lot of times I'll do things with Seth McFarlane because we'll have a lot of runs where we play off each other or improvise a little bit and so it works really well if we're both in the booths at the same time. Other than that, everything is done separately which can make it really difficult. You're kind of acting off nobody, it's like green screen. Sometimes it's a little challenging doing that.
The latest Family Guy DVD to come out is a 'best of'. Let's take a look back at some of your favourite bits from the series. First, which is your favourite of the show's minor characters? (asked by TSR member pinda.college)
I love Mike Henry when he plays the Spanish maid Consuela. And Drew Barrymore played Brian's girlfriend Gillian who was always an idiot and she was really funny doing it.
TSR member mikeyd85 asks: how about your favourite line?
It kind of falls in line with my favourite moment from the show, which is where Peter, Bryan and Stewie are sitting around and they're drinking Ipecac to see who will throw up first. They all start throwing up violently and just cannot stop vomiting and vomiting and vomiting, and it goes on and on and on and - just when they finally come to a standstill and they can all take a moment and breathe - Lois comes in with a giant pot and says "WHO WANTS CHOWDER?" That's one of my favourite scenes from the whole series.
What's your favourite scene that hit the cutting room floor?
Oh, there are so many. The jokes, cutaways and flashbacks that we do, we call those gags. There's a whole separate room of writers that go off to write those gags, whether it's a TV gag or a historical gag or a flashback to Peter's life gag, and there are easily 600 gags written in one day. They are so funny and there's not enough room for all of them and our executive producers are so picky, so every day there are probably hundreds of those that do not get in the show. It breaks my heart because they make me laugh so hard. There's so much material we don't use.
Family Guy is well-known for its parody gags - which is your favourite of those?
I don't know if you'd say it's a parody, but I enjoyed the moment where Chris Griffin is wondering what happens behind the dairy aisle where the milk is in the supermarket. He falls behind it and he's suddenly sucked into the A-ha video Take On Me. That has always made me laugh my ass off - it's random and weird and all of a sudden all the artwork on the show became exactly like that sketchy Take On Me video. I love those moments where we don't even really explain what it is, it's just you either get it or you don't.
There's long been talk of you working with Seth McFarlane on a new animated series. Is that still happening?
There's no new news on it. We're hoping to do it but, as you may have noticed, Seth's schedule is insane, and I'm also producing something else for Fox and working on a show that was a British series - Shameless. So it's really difficult because of the timing. We'd still love to do it, but when? It's still a backburner but it's pretty far back on the stove.
Is that the same story for the Family Guy movie as well?
Yeah, it's the same thing. It's on the list and everybody wants to do it but when?
TSR member Confirmation asks: would you step into Lois' life for a day?
Right now I have a newborn who it feels like is trying to kill me, so right now I feel like I am in her life... But I don't know if I could handle it. Peter is such an idiot, I'm just not sure I could trade lives with her. I don't know that I'm ready to deal with a douche bag like Peter.