Interview: Robert Sean Leonard of Hugh Laurie’s ‘House M.D.’ on Self-Titled Episode ‘Wilson’

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CHICAGO – Robert Sean Leonard, who plays Dr. James Wilson on “House M.D.” (and the best friend of Golden Globe winner Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House), describes himself as less than ambitious with his career and even “lazy” in an interview with’s presence. He’s also remembered for his role on “Dead Poet’s Society”.

Tonight’s self-titled episode “Wilson,” which is episode nine of season six, puts Robert Sean Leonard more in the spotlight than fans are used to seeing him. The episode, which airs on Nov. 30, 2009 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX, is an intense examination into Wilson’s world when it’s not involving House.

“House M.D.” stars Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison, Jesse Spencer and Olivia Wilde from creator David Shore. Tonight’s episode synopsis follows and then the Robert Sean Leonard interview follows thereafter.

When an old friend and former patient (guest star Joshua Malina) of Wilson’s exhibits paralysis in his right arm, Wilson puts himself on the case. House wagers Wilson that the patient’s symptoms are attributed to new cancer cells and Wilso , with the help of the team, works to diagnose the patient with more optimistic results.

But when things take a turn for the worse, Wilson must address his inability to separate patient from friend. Meanwhile, Cuddy seeks advice in her search for real estate in the all-new “Wilson” episode of “House” airing Nov. 30, 2009 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.

Robert Sean Leonard (left) and Hugh Laurie on House M.D.
Robert Sean Leonard (left) and Hugh Laurie on “House M.D.”.
Photo credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer: Congratulations on your self-titled episode.

Robert Sean Leonard: Oh, no. It’s my worst nightmare. Are you kidding? The other pilot I was considering was “Numbers” when I first got out here five years ago. I read “Numbers” and thought, well, this is way too many scenes. It’s way too hard and I’m not interested.

And then I read “House” and … Wilson was in about three scenes a show. I thought this is perfect. You know, I’m the Carlton the Doorman of my show. I’m not the most ambitious guy. I like playing the best friend. It’s good to be the lead of a show for a week, but I wouldn’t spread it all around too much. I like my role the way it is.

Interviewer: Tell us how Wilson is different in this episode and why.

RSL: Well, he’s not different. He’s just examined more. You see my assistant you’ve never met. You see the oncology floor. You see where I work. My office next to House’s is just my office. There’s a whole floor where I work in oncology. I have my own patients, my own assistant and my own day that doesn’t include House. You basically follow Wilson around for a few days and see what his life is like.

Interviewer: And this case hits home for him?

RSL: Oh, yeah. Josh Malina – this great guy who played Will Bailey on “West Wing” – is the patient. He’s an old friend of mine. He gets into some trouble and I have some moral decisions to make throughout the show, and yep, it’s a personal case for me. The girl who plays my assistant is great. She was so great. She came in and just nailed it. It was a lot of fun.

Interviewer: There was a rumor that House and Wilson were going to go apartment hunting sometime soon. Is that going to happen? If so, how does it go?

RSL: That is correct. He has a deal with his psychiatrist who released him from his care. It was kind of dependent on him having someone to look after him and him not living alone. I think we’re in Felix and Oscar mode a little while longer.

Interviewer: What’s it like on your average day on the set? Is there a technique you use to get ready to play your role of Wilson?

RSL: My average day involves me not going to the set, which is why I like the role so much. You know, Hugh Laurie is on that set 15 hours a day. I’m usually there about one or two days a week. Lately it’s been more because our characters have been living together, so you see me a lot more than you used to. As for a typical day for a TV actor on “House,” I get up at 4 a.m. because I’m living an hour north of Los Angeles. Our call is at 6 a.m.

I get up at 4 a.m. and I’m out the door by about 4:50 a.m. I’m in the makeup chair by 6 a.m. and hopefully we’re done by 6 p.m., but usually it’s a little later than that. And then the week goes on. It’s 12- to 14-hour days and it’s a lot of filming. I’m used to being on stage, so it’s a long and tedious day for me. But having said that, I’m massively overpaid and over praised and it couldn’t be a better gig.

Interviewer: Is there like a certain ritual or something you do to get revved up for the role?

RSL: No. I mean, I learn my lines. You usually work on the scene the night before. You’re shooting one page at a time, so it’s not like you’re doing King Lear. The lines aren’t the problem. You can always learn those the night before, the morning you’re there or before shooting. You have so much time on the set.

I’m not a big technique person. I think from stage, I’m used to pretty much just walking on and getting it done. There are things you need to learn. If your character juggles, if your character has a limp or if your character has an Irish accent, there are things to work on. But if your character doesn’t juggle, limp or have an Irish accent, you just have to break the scene down as far as motivation, what your character wants and all that stuff. But that’s almost secondary after 26 years of doing it.

Hugh Laurie (left) and Robert Sean Leonard on House M.D.
Hugh Laurie (left) and Robert Sean Leonard on “House M.D.”.
Photo credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer: Do you enjoy the difference between the stage and being on the set?

RSL: It is different. I prefer stage work as an actor. I’m not very ambitious. I’m pretty lazy. I like the hours. You get to the theater at 7:30 p.m. and you’re home by 11 p.m. For me, that’s nice. That’s a good day. Getting up at 4 a.m. and getting home at 7:30 p.m. is, you know, unless you’re William Randolph Hearst. It just seems a little excessive to me. I have a daughter, my dogs and my wife. I like reading. I like the hours of stage a lot better.

Interviewer: There’s something I’ve wondered for a long time regarding the movie posters in Wilson’s office…

RSL: Oh, thank you for asking. I enjoy that topic very much.

Interviewer: “Vertigo” and “Ordinary People”. Did you have any input regarding which movies would be enshrined on the Wilson wall?

RSL: I didn’t at first. Originally “Touch of Evil” and “Vertigo,” I think, were behind me.

Interviewer: I believe that’s right, yes.

RSL: Then my friend Carl, who lives in Vermont… Well, our favorite movie is “Ordinary People,” so we were having a press conference and somebody mentioned that and I said: “You know, I don’t have any say. I walked in the set and ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Touch of Evil’ were up there. I think they’re fine movies and that’s cool.” The news reporter said: “Well, what movie would you want if you could pick?” I said: “Oh, I don’t know.

If I walked into an oncologist’s office and ‘Ordinary People’ was on the wall, I’d feel very good. I’d like that. I’d like the guy who had that on his wall.” My producer was there, Katie, and the next day she said: “Were you serious about ‘Ordinary People’?” I said: “Yeah. It’s my favorite movie. Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore and Robert Redford’s directorial debut.” She said: “Let’s see what we can do.”

We had to get permission from every actor except Judd Hirsch because they all appear on the poster. The poster is a picture frame of three little frames of Sutherland, Moore and Hutton. And then the brother who died. You don’t see him. I think that’s right or maybe it’s just the three.

Robert Sean Leonard (left) and Hugh Laurie on House M.D.
Robert Sean Leonard (left) and Hugh Laurie on “House M.D.”.
Photo credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer: What does that say about Wilson with those posters on his wall?

RSL: Well, I think it says a lot. That movie, to me, is a fascinating study of human relations and familial relations and human interaction. It’s about the complexity of the difficulty of facing what’s going on inside you, admitting it and letting it inform your relations with other people. I don’t know.

If you deal with death every day and people who get the news of their own death, well, it’s not like plastic surgery. It’s a different kind of life day to day. I mean, i t doesn’t matter what poster’s behind me. One out of a hundred people would notice and apparently you’re one of them.

Interviewer: If you knew somebody like House in real life, would you be his friend?

RSL: Well, it’s tricky. Probably not. Maybe when I was 20, but at 40, no. I think House is an incredibly intriguing guy. The character is incredibly funny. He’s great fun to be around. I mean, he’s extremely smart, self-deprecating and sarcastic. What’s not to like? The only thing is he’s self-involved, has agendas often, gets you in trouble and screws you over sometimes.

When you’re 20, that doesn’t matter so much. At 40, I don’t know. I have a wife, a daughter and two dogs. I hardly have time for people I like, so I don’t know if, myself, I would hang out with him very much or be close.

But Wilson, Wilson is a very strange man. People seem to overlook this. They seem to think he’s this normal, teddy bear of a guy. He’s very strange. He has three ex-wives. He lives alone. Well, now he lives with House. He deals with death every day. He has a schizophrenic homeless brother. God only knows what his parents are like. I think he’s a really strange and dark guy. That’s my take on him.

Hugh Laurie (left) and Robert Sean Leonard on House M.D.
Hugh Laurie (left) and Robert Sean Leonard on “House M.D.”.
Photo credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer on cities to live in…

RSL: I’m from New York. I’m not happy [in Los Angeles] at all. This place is deadly.

Interviewer: Not many seasons, huh?

RSL: It’s just a soulless, bleached-out pit. That’s what it is. No offense to Los Angeles.

Interviewer: Sounds like the occasional patient on House: the soulless pit.

RSL: A soulless, bleached-out pit. Yeah. Probably.

Interviewer: I have a question about the material in season six. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about medical ethics in the show in general and with your character specifically. I’m wondering, as an experienced actor, whether that’s really fruitful material for you to dig your teeth into and really get a lot out of for a performance with the upcoming episode with Josh Malina and also your conference tape scenes that you had with House.

RSL: Sure. Anytime the character has a moral quandary, it’s interesting. That’s been true from the Greeks on down. The character and what makes a scene interesting is struggle, difficulty and something to overcome. So, yeah. I don’t often on the show get to do very much.

A lot of the time I’m sort of the side man to Hugh. I’m the guy who says: “Let’s go get a burger” and “What’s wrong with Cuddy?” and then I go home. So, yeah, it’s always much more fun to play a scene where there’s something at stake or a question that hasn’t been solved yet that you’re burning to find an answer to. Those things are always more interesting for me.

Interviewer: As for the scene you got to do with Hugh Laurie at cooking class, the scene was probably the comedic highlight of the season. Was that one of the 12-hour days because you were breaking or was that an easy day because you two work so well together?

RSL: I’m trying to remember. That was on location. No, the scene was easy. Working with him is very easy for me. Laughing is a problem. We do have a big problem keeping a straight face, but it’s not for reasons you would imagine. It’s usually something simple.

The other day I had to ask about fungus balls, which I think even before we did the scene Olivia Wilde said: “OK, before you even start, I’m having trouble with this. I’m laughing before you even say it.” So, you never know what’s going to crack you up, but Hugh and I often find ourselves in great difficulty having to not laugh. Aside from that, everything’s great.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House for the sixth season of House
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House for the sixth season of “House”.
Photo credit: George Holz, Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer: I know there are a lot of Cuddy fans out there. What do you think about a possible Wilson and Cuddy hookup?

RSL: I think that wouldn’t work.

Interviewer: Why not?

RSL: The problem with all of this speculation to me is: Who is Wilson? People seem to know who Cuddy is and people seem to know who House is, but I get very different descriptions of who Wilson is from people. I think people project on him a lot. Maybe this Wilson episode will help a little bit, but I think Wilson is a very weird guy. I think he’s dark. I think he’s very lonely.

Hugh and I have this joke: One day, I’ll be sick in the hospital and dying of something. Basically I send him on a mission to get all the porn out of my house that has been hidden in the basement. House comes back with boxes and boxes of porn and I look up and say: “Where’s the rest? Where’s the German stuff?” That’s my joke with Wilson. I think he’s a dark guy. He’s very odd.

He’s not Mr. Rogers. He’s not the guy next door. In my mind, when I think about him with Cuddy, it doesn’t work. But I think in general people have a view of him that he’s kind of warm and fuzzy, that he’d be kind of an easy guy for Cuddy to boss around and that might actually be the relationship. I don’t think Wilson would stand it very long. I think he’s a strange man.

Interviewer: And when do you think we might see Wilson with a new love interest?

RSL: Oh, God. I’ve done that. I got to date and do that with Amber for six episodes. You don’t get any luckier than that. I’m not going to press my luck.

Interviewer: When House finally ends, do you think you would maybe be looking for TV work or…

RSL: Not in a million years. I’ve been very lucky. I started on stage in New York and that’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t ever think I would make a movie. I didn’t really think. I didn’t want to. I didn’t dream. It wasn’t a big thing I wanted to do. I wanted to do stage and be in New York. I did “Dead Poet’s Society” and now I’m doing House, which is great because the money is fantastic and I have a family now.

Also, it’s an incredibly good gig. It’s a very good show. I’m proud of it. I like the writing a lot. I like the actors. But I’m not a film actor. I don’t enjoy getting up at 4 a.m. I don’t like working 15 hours. I’m very lazy. I don’t have a publicist. I’m not a very ambitious guy. I’m ambitious when I have a role to play and being good at it, but I’m not career ambitious.

So, no. I have a daughter. I’m so looking forward to skate keys, homework, driving her to soccer, being back in New Jersey and just being home. House, financially, has given me the position to do that. So, no. This ain’t my home. As Neil Diamond once said: “LA’s fine, but it ain’t mine no more.” Oh, was it: “LA’s fine, but it ain’t home.” “New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.” Well, I’ll just keep quoting as we move on through the interview.

Interviewer: Are you going to maybe get a bit of a break or are you locked in now to lots of time?

RSL: No. It comes in waves. I’m in every scene of this Wilson episode, so that was hard. It wasn’t hard. Digging coal is hard. It was just long hours. And in the next show, House and I are sharing an apartment. Once you start getting into the next few episodes, you do see me more than usual. But right now, we’re shooting an episode that is all about Cuddy. I think I’m in three scenes. It ebbs and flows, except for Hugh Laurie. There is no ebb or flow for Hugh Laurie.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House for the sixth season of House
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House for the sixth season of “House”.
Photo credit: George Holz, Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer discusses Los Angeles…

RSL: You know, Los Angeles is a lovely town. I didn’t mean to say it was a bleached-out pit.

Interviewer: You guys have had a stable cast for a long time. Over the last couple years, things have been shaken up a bit with Jennifer Morrison’s exit. I was wondering your thoughts on that, about people coming and going from the cast and whether this has changed the environment on the set at all.

RSL: It always does, but I do like it. I like that about our show. I remember one day when they first told me Kutner was going to go by suicide. I was as shocked as everybody else and maybe as much as Kal Penn. And I thought: “OK. That is the way it happens in life. People surprise you.” I like that about David Shore and Katie Jacobs (our producers). I like that Kal had to go. He said: “Look, I love your show, but I’ve got to go. I don’t have much time.”

And I like that our writers said: “OK, you’re going to kill yourself.” It was just so shocking and so daring. I even heard people thought it was insulting. It’s an easy way out. It took more complex issues. I mean, you just can’t use that angle in storytelling as a device. I thought: “I don’t know. I think you can use anything human beings do.” I agree that there are devices. You have to be careful as writers. I like our show. I like how people come and go. I like how people are fired and then don’t seem to leave and then strangely disappear in other ways. I find it kind of amusing.

Interviewer: With Kal’s exit, I thought it was interesting that they never really felt the need to give too many reasons for his suicide.

RSL: No.

Interviewer: Because that’s how it is in real life.

RSL: I know. The other night I was watching and there’s a scene where Jessie’s character, Chase, has left. And Taub, Peter Jacobsen’s character, invites him to Thanksgiving dinner. He says: “Wre you worried about me? I’m not Kutner, you know.” And I thought: “Oh, God. Right. Of course.” And Taub says: “No, you’re not, but he always turned down my invitation as well.”

House is a weird show. It’s a weird, weird show, but I really like it.

Interviewer: Because of the format you have with the cast and you guys having to work with new guest stars every week, I was wondering: Is there anyone in particular you would love to see guest star on the show? Are there any actors you really would love to work with?

RSL: Well, I want Julie Christy to do the show, but that’s mostly because I think we should get married. Aside from that, and also so we can just talk about “Heaven Can Wait” and “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” for the rest of my days, no. (Pause) My dad’s visiting. And my wife just rode by on a horse. I’m in Hidden Valley.

This is something I see in the morning: my wife riding by my window on a horse. It’s not something everyone sees every morning. There have been guests on the show I’ve never met. James Earl Jones would be one of them, unfortunately. My character rarely interacts with the guests, so I’m probably the last guy to ask that question of.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House for the sixth season of House
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House for the sixth season of “House”.
Photo credit: George Holz, Fox Broadcasting Co.

Interviewer: Just a couple of questions about this upcoming episode. From the previous episode, we know House is struggling with the whole Cuddy/Lucas thing. Now that they’re moving to the next step in their relationship, is Wilson going to have to step in and play mediator again or is he ever going to reach his wit’s end with this?

RSL: Well, I am contractually obligated not to say, but yes. Any time House has trouble with Cuddy or Lucas, Wilson is certainly going to be around to referee. Also, we’re sharing an apartment, so we have the Felix and Oscar thing going on. That’s always there. Yeah, I’m finding there’s a lot more this season than there used to be. That’s obviously because of the living situation, I think.

Interviewer: There is one thing I noticed about what you were saying before about how you find Wilson to be kind of not normal and he’s a lonely kind of guy. You did say that Wilson did get lucky when he was with Amber, but are we going to see him move forward? I mean, I know he has coped with her death, but he hasn’t really gotten out there. He’s living with House and that sort of thing.

RSL: Well, I don’t know. I know a lot of people in my life. When you say “move forward,” does that mean a wife and a house or a child? For some people that is forward, but I don’t think it is for everybody. I don’t know if Wilson is cut out for that. Everyone seems to think he’s Fred McMurray (the early Fred McMurray rather than like ‘Double Indemnity’), but I just don’t see Wilson as the fuzzy dad in a suburban household.

I just don’t. For him, I think moving forward is getting a bagel and going to work. I don’t know if getting married and having children would be his nirvana, so for him, I’m not sure what moving forward would really mean.

Interviewer discusses where Robert Sean Leonard grew up…

RSL: I grew up in Ridgewood. My family and my parents live in Waldwick. My sister lives in Allendale. My brother lives in Midland Park.

Interviewer: From growing up in Bergen County, did you feel at home or did you not really feel at home until you got to New York City?

RSL: No. I loved Bergen County. We’re moving back. When I’m done with House, we’re moving back to Jersey with my wife and my daughter. I have a new daughter, born in Jan. 2009. We’re very much looking forward to heading back to Jersey. That’s where we’re going to be after the show’s over.

Interviewer: In Bergen County?

RSL: I’m not sure. I like Mount Clair, but only because of the train line. They’ve got that great train line. The train has to stop in Secaucus. All of them change in either Secaucus or Hoboken to another train to New York (except that line from Mount Clair). I don’t know why the other trains can’t follow whatever track they’re on. Let the other trains use it because it cuts about 15 minutes off.

As for the Mount Clair, the train is about 26 minutes to New York. So, since I’m going to be doing theater hopefully for the rest of my days, we’re looking around Mount Clair because it just really would help. Once you get involved in winter and stuff, having a train nearby is just great.

“Wilson,” which is episode nine of season six, airs on Nov. 30, 2009 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX. “House M.D.” stars Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison, Jesse Spencer and Olivia Wilde from creator David Shore.

StarRead our 2009 “House M.D.” season-six premiere review.
StarRead viewership numbers on the 2009 “House M.D.” season premiere.
StarRead our news on Jennifer Morrison of “House M.D.” leaving the show.
StarRead more “House M.D.” content. editor-in-chief and publisher Adam Fendelman


© 2009 Adam Fendelman, LLC

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Blog is superb!!!!!!!

Blog is superb!!!!!!! Pictures are so amazing…I am the huge fan of James Hugh and Jennifer Marie…Both are fantastic…This show is interesting..

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