Character actor Beth Grant is one of those people you just recognize, even if you can’t place her name. She has over 90 feature film roles to her name, and almost as many TV credits, in a career that has spanned 40 very successful years. It was her five-year stint on The Mindy Project, in which she starred as former nurse turned receptionist Beverly Janoszewski, that made her synonymous with a hit, but way back in 1994 Grant was identified with a then-new show called Friends. “I was in [one of] the first episodes,” she happily recalled when MediaVillage quizzed her on the role. “I went off to do the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and was supposed to come back to do another episode or two, but I wasn't available. It kills me to this day. I'm glad I did To Wong Foo, though, as it was a great movie and the right thing to do.”
In the episode, titled The One with the Thumb, Grant appeared as Lizzy, a homeless woman Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) knew from her days of living on the streets. Annoyed with her bank for giving her a mysterious $500 credit, and because of her strong moral fiber, Phoebe informs the bank of the error only to have them credit her with another $500 and the gift of a free football phone. Determined to use the phone and the $1,000 for good, she gives it all to Lizzy, who won’t accept charity, and repays Phoebe by buying her a can of soda. But when Phoebe opens it, she discovers a human thumb inside, only to be compensated by the soda company to the tune of $7,000 for her trouble. It’s all money she believes doesn’t belong to her.
According to Grant, she knew she was onto a good thing guest-starring on the freshman series. “I did have a good feeling about it,” she told me. “First of all, James Burrows was directing. The script was great, and [series creator and executive producer] Marta Kauffman, who I knew through mutual friends, and I had worked together before on Dream On. I knew how funny she and the other writers were. And the talent! It was pretty obvious watching them work. I thought it was a good group. I remember Jennifer Aniston was on another show [at the time] so she couldn't be a regular in their first or second episodes, as she had to finish that [other show]. We did the movie Rock Star together years later, and I said during that, ‘You weren’t a regular, and I wasn't, so what happened to me?’ We made a joke about it. She's really sweet!”
Reminiscing about her brief time as Lizzy started the actress thinking about a possible connection between her The Mindy Project and Friends characters. “You may have just pulled off an amazing connection here," she laughed. "Beverly did get some money on Friends. It was $1000. Beverly could have been Lizzy! Beverly had so many different names, because both a police officer and an inmate recognized her as someone named Susan Robinson, so she'd obviously been jailed.
“She had five husbands and went to executions for entertainment …” Grant continued. “It's quite possible that Phoebe put her in business and got her off the streets so that she could get her nursing degree, get to punch Mindy Kaling in the nose, and then get rehired in an age discrimination lawsuit.
“I remember the first Mindy show,” she added. “I had no idea I’d become a regular. I remember telling Ed Weeks during a scene in a park we had together, ‘This reminds me of my Friends shoot.’ I didn't want to jinx it, but it had a similar feeling to me.”
Grant also told me she has caught Lizzy in re-runs since becoming a friend of Friends. “I haven't seen it in a long time, but I do watch reruns of Friends, as it’s such a great show,” she said. “I have caught her once or twice. It's a very cool thing to have been a part of and pretty awesome!”
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