For Alex Borstein, ‘Getting On’ Is the Icing of Her Acting Career

by Stacy Lambe 11:49 AM PDT, October 30, 2015
Photo: HBO

Most actors might not want a TV series to come to an end. Especially one such as HBO’s Getting On, a critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated comedy about medical professionals working to keep life together at a Long Beach, California geriatric ward, which is finishing its run after three short seasons. The series returns for its final six episodes on Sunday, Nov. 8. But for Alex Borstein, who plays head nurse Dawn Forchette, it’s not entirely an unwelcome situation. 

“My preference really is to be able to move around,” the 42-year-old actress tells ETonline. While sad the show itself is drawing to a close, Borstein is comfortable shifting her focus on new projects, such as Fox's upcoming animated comedy, Bordertown, and the holiday film, Love the Coopers.

During her 20-plus years in Hollywood, most of which has been spent off-camera voicing popular animated characters, Borstein has built a career as a character actress, appearing for a scene (or episode) or two on any given project. Fans will also remember seeing her bid on John Goodman in Coyote Ugly, take down Will Ferrell in Kicking and Screaming, as the harpist on Gilmore Girls, or her various characters on MADtv.

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Sure, she’s not the marquee star, but Borstein is usually stealing all the laughs -- even if she doesn’t always view it that way. “The term ‘scene stealer’ supposes that you are taking something that’s not yours,” she says, relishing more in being able to impress directors with what’s been handed to her.

“The joy of being a character actor is that you usually get to come in and do a beautiful piece of icing -- and there are a lot of other people, structurally holding up the cake -- and you get to come and accent it wonderfully,” Borstein adds.

Of course, she’s most popular for lending her voice to Lois Griffin for 14 seasons on Family Guy. It’s the one role that seems to contradict her preference to keep things moving. But there is an appeal to the part, which she’s helped write over the years.

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“Lois is one of the greatest sitcom moms of all time,” Borstein says, “because she plays the voice of reason, she has to sometimes harp and be a mom, but she’s also got this dark underbelly, this wonderful sexuality and great heaving relationship with her husband, and you don’t get to see that a lot in sitcom moms or female characters.”

Returning as a writer for the series in season 14 renewed Borstein’s creative instincts, keeping things fresh for her as she creates new layers for the personality she’s developed for nearly two decades. “I love being part of the guts of something,” she says. “It’s so much fun to be on the inside and watch it kind of flourish. It’s like planting seeds -- you feel so invested.”

Photo: HBO

But it doesn’t seem to satisfy her in the same way acting does. “Being on screen affords me the ability to use my entire body, to throw myself completely into a character, and I get to work opposite real, live humans next to me,” Borstein says of acting opposite her Getting On co-stars Laurie Metcalf, Niecy Nash, and Mel Rodriguez.

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The show itself is also something of a masters class in restraint, especially for an actress like Borstein, who has become known for her sometimes loud, broad characters. “It’s so challenging as an actor,” she reveals. “Every single time I came to set, I would kind of throw myself into the hands of [show creators] Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer and say, ‘Please, direct me, let me know where I am. What’s too much? What’s too little? How does this read?’”

"You really lose yourself in it,” she continues. “It’s so hard.”

Having overcome the hurdles in front of her, she’s caught the attention of Hollywood. The show, like it has for Nash, has opened new doors for her. It was what inspired director Jessie Nelson to cast Borstein in Love the Coopers, opening on Nov. 13. “I didn’t even have to read for it,” she reveals. “That’s never happened in my life.”

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And for Borstein, that’s really the icing on her acting career.

“It provided a little key to something that I hope continues, but that’s not really the goal,” Borstein says. “For me, Getting On was the goal, and I achieved it, that was my magnum opus really. I think that’s the best project for me as an actor.”

To see how much Borstein and her co-stars have to hold back on Getting On, watch an exclusive, sh*t-filled gag reel of them making season two, which is available on Blu Ray/DVD on Nov. 3. Warning: NSFW language.