When she debuts Thursday in NBC’s "Coupling," perhaps the raciest show on network TV, Rena Sofer will have come a long way since her days as a yeshiva girl in New Jersey.
Based on a British show by the same name, "Coupling" centers on the sex lives of six young Manhattanites. Sofer’s character, Susan, is "a beautiful and sexy go-getter with an uninhibited attitude toward life and the world of romance," according to network publicity.
It’s not a likely career path for a former student of Achei Temimim, a Lubavitch grade school in Massachusetts, or the Frisch High School in Paramus. Sofer’s father, Martin, is an Orthodox rabbi, as anyone who peruses her online biography or recent media interviews will learn.
But the strictly observant lifestyle wasn’t in the cards once she took up acting at 15. "It wasn’t for me," Sofer, 34, told The Jewish Week. "I don’t think my father ever meant for me to be Lubavitch. I’m sure he would love for me to be more Orthodox than I am, but that wasn’t part of my lifestyle choices." The California native, who grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, adds that she continues to light Sabbath candles and goes to temple with her husband, director Sanford Bookstaver, and 7-year-old daughter, Rosabel. "My father knows that God is important to me, Judaism is important to me. The level of religiousness is not that important to him."
In an interview from Los Angeles, just after filming the sixth episode of "Coupling," Sofer said a trip to Israel when she was 15 changed her life: but not in the usual way. She was hanging out in Greenwich Village with friends she made on the American Zionist Youth Foundation summer trip when an agent approached her on the street and handed her a card. After a brief flirtation with modeling, she decided to try acting instead, and wound up with stints on the soaps "Another World," "Loving," and "General Hospital." She’s since appeared on "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Spin City," as well as in recurring roles on "Melrose Place" and "Ed." She won a daytime Emmy for her "General Hospital" work.
In a departure from the British version of "Coupling," Sofer’s "Susan" character is Jewish, and an early episode has her unable to celebrate her boyfriend’s birthday with him because it’s on Yom Kippur. "He mistakenly thinks it’s one of those holidays when you buy a present, like Chanukah," she explains.
As for the content of the show, Sofer says, "Sometimes it makes us blush when we read the scripts. But we’re not doing nudity or simulated sex. We need to live up to the British show, and NBC is pretty supportive of that."