Mark Feuerstein Dishes on Royal Pains
The star of the new USA Network series talks about his new role
USA is the network where characters are welcome, and they have found a new character in Hank Lawson, which is played by Mark Feuerstein on the new series Royal Pains, which premieres on Thursday, June 4 at 10 PM ET on the USA Network. Feuerstein recently held a conference call to talk about his new show and character, and here's what he had to say.
What made you want to be a part of the show?
Mark Feuerstein: Well, first of all, I grew up in New York City, going to first a public school, then a private school, and when I got to the private school in Manhattan, I learned of what we called "The Promised Land," which are the Hamptons. I've always had an affinity for the Hamptons. I think it is one of the most romantic, beautiful, pristine, exclusive, in a private and kind of meditative way, places on earth. So, when I heard about a show which was about a doctor set in the Hamptons, I jumped at it, then I found out it was my friend, Andrew Lenchewski, who had written the script, and then I found out that the role of Hank Lawson was a guy who was a dramatic, comedic, and romantic lead with all this dimension and everything that a good cable show has to offer, and that it was on USA, the number one cable network - which supports its shows rather than makes them crazy, as they do sometimes at the networks - and I just decided that this was just my new vision quest and I had to have it. A month later, after a relatively rigorous audition process, I got it, and I was in heaven and I still am.
What about the role do you find challenging?
Mark Feuerstein: Well, Hank is a complicated guy, because as a child his father lost all the family's money in the stock market, and then you find him at the beginning of the pilot getting fired for not bending over backwards and risking a neighborhood kid's life to save a rich guy. So, he has a very tenuous and conflictual relationship to money, and there he is being asked to take care of people with a lot of it. So, I love the inner conflict just built into the situation, but I also think he's just a good guy at heart, whose heart is in the right place, who wants to do good and make good on his Hippocratic Oath to take care of people. But also he's a good brother, and I don't know, he looks out for people and his heart is in the right place.
What have you liked about working with Paulo Costanzo?
Mark Feuerstein: Paulo Costanzo is insane, and I love every part of his insanity. He is someone with no filter, whatever is appearing in his brain will come out of his mouth, and I love that about him and I love the way that that translates into his portrayal of Evan Lawson. Evan Lawson as a character is someone who, I don't know, he's sort of on some level the opposite of Hank. He doesn't think about anything before he does it. He loves money. He loves the good life. He's sort of living the Dionysian fantasy, and we've put him the perfect place to live it out. So, Paulo Costanzo only is perfect to play a part like that, because he is Dionysus himself.
How does Royal Pains fit into USA Network's hit lineup of character-driven dramedies, and what makes this show and your character appropriate additions?
Mark Feuerstein: Well, it could not be a more perfect network to have Royal Pains on it, and I'll begin by telling you that I've been on my share of network dramas and comedies, and the problem sometimes in a network is they have a single-minded focus on making the show true to whatever genre it is. So, if you're on a drama, it better be procedural, it better fulfill all the demands of a procedural show, and you better keep those episodes independent, so that if I'm watching the show in seven years as its syndicated on some other cable network, I don't have to know what happened before or after the episode, and everything is meant to support the procedure. If you're on, say, a comedy, everything has to be funny and wacky and zany. But somehow USA has found the perfect marriage of procedural drama and comedy, and they have it in Psych, they have it in Burn Notice, they have it in Monk, they have it in In Plain Sight; every show manages to somehow blend comedy and drama and tell a story that might be slightly serialized. So that you do have to tune in every week to see, say in our case, the relationship between me and my landlord, Boris is at, where my relationship with me and Jill, the romantic relationship that I'm involved in, where we're at with those. But at the same time every week if you tune in, you'll watch a medical drama, a medical story told from beginning to middle to end, and it will also satisfy all the demands of a procedure, while giving you all this character, all this story, all this nuance and comedy along the way.
What do viewers need to know about your character, Dr. Hank Lawson, that might not be so obvious from the premiere episode?
Mark Feuerstein: What you don't get to learn in the premiere, which frankly Hank doesn't know, is what the heck he's doing there in the Hamptons. You know he meets a girl he kind of likes, maybe loves, but beyond that, he was meant to be an emergency surgeon in a hospital at a good job in Brooklyn, and he lost it, but why wouldn't he just go to another big city and find another job as an emergency room. Well, he's landed in the Hamptons, and he's going to stay here to see what it holds for him. He's taken a turn in his life, where he's decided he's going to be more impetuous, less planned out, because the plan he had of the perfect life didn't work out. So really every week we're figuring along with Hank what he's doing there. In episode three, it turns out that there are all these people who are not rich who have been left behind by the medical care system, and he and his love interest, Jill, end up becoming like a Bonnie and Clyde type of team, where there's this pile of papers of people who all have lost their medical coverage, their COBRA's have run out, their Blue Cross/Blue Shield premium has gotten too expensive, and I steal some of those papers from Jill and decide to go find these people. I find a guy who works on the docks in Montauk, and he has hepatitis C, and I decide he's going to be my patient and I'm going to take care of him, even though the system won't. So, at the end of the episode, Jill calls me the "Robin Hood of medicine," because I steal from the rich and give to the poor. When that phrase came out, which was actually the result of last-minute rewrites between Michael Rauch, our executive producer, and Don Scardino, our director, but when that phrase was born I said to myself, okay, now I have some sense of what Hank is doing there. He's going to help use the system out there, all the money out there, to help all the people who don't have it.
Hank seems like a very cool, nice guy. I was wondering, is there anything about him that you didn't like or that you'd like to change?
Mark Feuerstein: Wow. First of all, in television oftentimes the character that you're seeing portrayed is not so far from the people who are playing them. In other cases, that's not so true, especially in the case of serial killers. But in the case of Hank Lawson, you know, I wish I were as noble and altruistic as he is, but there's definitely things about who I am that I try to bring to the table. So, off hand, my answer is no, there's nothing that I don't like about Hank Lawson, because he's me and he's perfect. But I will say that Hank might fall prey to the tendency to possibly think too much, to overanalyze a situation. There are many situations where professionally he doesn't think at all, he just goes with his gut, and it works out for him. But there are moments in his romantic life and moments with his brother where he has a tendency to be either too good or too thought out and might possibly forego certain experiences in his life because he's trying to do the right thing or plan too much, so that could be one thing that he could work on. Sure.
I also wanted to know, back in the day when you were a young bachelor; did your apartment ever smell like a moose mixed with Chinese food?
Mark Feuerstein: All the time. It was hard, because at the time I was in fact a moose hunter, and I let all the carcasses just sort of lie there, then I would pour the beer on all of it, so that's how it got that smell. But I've since changed my ways and now it's just elk.
Well, you know, that sense of humor is something that I saw watching the pilot episode between you and Paulo as Hank and Evan. Can you talk to us a little bit about the relationship between these two brothers and how that's going to unfold?
Mark Feuerstein: Yes. I have an older brother myself, and I think the relationship between Evan and Hank is very similar to my own real relationship with my brother. I mean, the beauty of brotherhood, brothers having several different people representing a generation of a family, is that each member represents a different point of view. So, Evan is the one that, you know, we both watched my father, our father lose his shirt in the stock market, but what you bring away from that depends on who you are. So, my younger brother watched that and said, "Well, if my father got lost in the shuffle, I'm going to make the money that he never made. I'm going to figure out a way to live the good life that he was never able to live." That's a perfectly valid way to approach it, and a perfectly valid response. Hank watches what happened and says, "You know what, my father put too much premium on money, and it was superficial, and it was fleeting, and screw that. Money is not the be-all and end-all. It's about taking care of people and living a somewhat stable existence." That's exactly the life he was trying to build for himself before he lost his job and his fiancée and all of it went to hell in a hand basket. So, you know, I think the relationship between me and my brother is the yin and the yang of life, and as a result of that we have a lot of conflict, but at the end of the day, we have more love and that's what keeps us together.
Well, that's going to be a lot of fun to watch, and especially I think in this setting, whereas you said earlier, Evan is something of a Dionysus individual. So, is he just going to flourish here? Is he ever going to go back to his accountant practice?
Mark Feuerstein: Well, first of all, you will learn in an episode, maybe the fourth episode, you will learn something about why he left his practice, and it may have something to do with certain dealings on his part that were not entirely kosher. So, that's one part of the backstory that comes out in episode four, and it makes one believe that he might never return to being a CPA, and why he's far more dependent on HankMed than maybe I am. But you will also watch him flourish in the Hamptons, because this is his Promised Land. It's where everyone has the thing that he fantasizes about most: money and nice cars and nice clothing and beautiful women. So, he is just in heaven and he's making every moment count and loving life. It's great to watch, because Paulo's fabulous and the enthusiasm and giddy joy he gets out of all these rich houses and beautiful cars and beautiful women, is just a joy to watch. You always want to see someone appreciating all the artifice of the world while I'm trying to get in there and bring some substance to the table.
When I was talking with Andy and Michael last week I noticed in the pilot that it's really structured oddly. You love the guy right off the bat, I'm talking about Hank here, for doing the right thing, and then there's that epic self-pity montage that kind of reaches a point where you could hate him, but then he rebounds. What I'd like to know is, going into that, how do you prepare and how do you work it so that you remain sympathetic to the audience, even though it's really pushing the edge like that?
Mark Feuerstein: That's a very well crafted question, and I appreciate it. Thank you. First of all, it's the ... of the pilot that determines how the character handles his actions and his choices after he makes certain decisions. In the playing of it, I think at that moment in time self-pity is not necessarily appealing, but the humor with which we ... can make it slightly more so. So, for me, like when there's the moment where I'm sitting by the table, I don't know, ice cream is dripping off my chin and I'm watching the movie Mask, and in the middle of my depressed ... the odd kiss between Eric Stoltz and Laura Dern, where she's trying to kiss him through his weird catcher-mask face, kind of look at them and I'm just ..., and though I'm sitting there wallowing in my own pity, it's kind of haunting to me that I'm noticing that. So I love that little montage just for that moment. Then you watch a guy, at least by not protesting, just agree to go out to the Hamptons and have a good time, and then suddenly he's back in action, saving the model who drops on the floor at Boris' party. So, you're watching a guy who's basically, he's a human being, you know, he loses his dream job and his dream fiancée and suddenly has to realize that his dreams are not all they were cracked up to be. I feel like he's entitled to a moment of depression, but he quickly bounces back and then kind of goes with his gut and I hope audiences will sympathize with that and appreciate that.
The show's other major coup, as far as I'm concerned, besides getting you to play Hank is having Campbell Scott want to play Boris, who is a very mysterious character. I'm just wondering what kind of a relationship builds between Hank and Boris, and how much fun is it to work with Campbell Scott?
Mark Feuerstein: I'm so glad you asked that question, because I love Campbell Scott. Before we did the show I only loved him as an actor, and really admired his work; now I love him as a person. It's a dream to work with him, not just because he's so professional and he shows up and he is like beyond perfection on the first take and then the second one is even more brilliant than the last, but also because nobody else could perform this very odd role of a German baron named Boris in the Hamptons. But somehow in his person and in his delivery every line comes out in the most nuanced, unique, original way. And Paulo and I, who are already living the male fantasy in the show, are living out the actor fantasy when we get to perform with Campbell, because any actor would dream to do a scene with Campbell Scott, he's just one of the best actors we have. And when he says a word, like my name, "I have plans for you, Hank," or when we're talking about the scene where he has a shark in his basement, that's all I'll say for now, and he's looking at it and he talks about how sharks have buoyancy, and he just has fun with the word. He just says, "Yes, these sharks, they have so much buoyancy." Then there's a line where I'm doing a scene with Paulo, and he says, "Because Hank, the best things in life are free." No one can do the delivery the way he does it, but it makes you stand there, wonder what the hell just happened, why am I scared, and who am I dealing with, and then when you stop and they yell, "Cut," you go, "I'm dealing with the most brilliant actor I've ever gotten to work with." So, in conclusion, it's pretty good. I like working with Campbell Scott. He's amazing.
You were talking before how Royal Pains is not like a medical drama, it's not a comedy like on a lot of other networks, and USA is really good with having realistic and multidimensional characters. I was just wondering, what kind of demographic you feel would like this show, like what shows on USA are kind of similar, do you have any idea, or do you think it works for anybody?
Mark Feuerstein: I always believe that my greatest audience will come from 70-year-old Jewish men and Jewish women, but that's me from my experience of going to High Holiday services and being adored by the women with free candy in the back. But then beyond that I think we should have a large following from the gay men of America; I've certainly noted their appreciation and fascination with me. Beyond that, it's hard to say, but I'm hoping that all women are enticed by our charm, wit, and our whimsy, and all the men are appreciative of the beautiful women and intense medical drama that ensues. Beyond that, it's hard to say because you never really know who's going to respond, but I hope everyone does.
Now, were you familiar of the concept of a concierge doctor before getting this project? I have to admit, when I first heard of it I thought it might be made up, but apparently it's a real thing.
Mark Feuerstein: I was not aware of it at all. And my brother and I both, like we would wonder when we were sitting after getting banged in the head or breaking an arm in a wrestling match, sitting in the emergency room for five hours waiting for a doctor, we would turn to each other, going to a private school in New York like good, superficial children, saying, "What do rich people do when they get hurt? Are they sitting here for five hours, waiting for some triage nurse to get you?" Here's the answer: it's concierge medicine. It's private physicians for hire. The good thing is the character has evolved, so I'm not just taking care of rich people, that I take from the rich and also give to the poor. But I had not heard of concierge medicine before. Now I'm realizing, not just because I'm doing this show and everyone's talking to me about it, but the truth is I just read an article in the New York Times that in this economic crisis of this country lots of things are getting hit, but one of the few things that is not only remaining stable as an industry but actually growing is concierge medicine. I guess it's because even in times of panic or especially in times of financial crisis, people are still most concerned about their health and if there's anything, they would still spend the money on is to guarantee that they don't get sick. Even furthermore, that in times of financial crisis their jobs will depend on their physical and mental wellbeing, so it will behoove them to protect that above all else.
Now, also, in the pilot, you sort of explained, I was wondering, I had only seen the pilot and I was wondering if he would use the rich people to help the poor, and you did answer that. But it just was interesting to me because Hank doesn't really seem like the type to put up with the rich people's foibles, do you think that he'll be able to sort of balance doing all of his good with dealing with sort of spoiled heirs and people who have flat tires and stuff like that?
Mark Feuerstein: You watched the pilot very well. I appreciate your viewing comprehension. I think that Hank as far as ... world, like any stereotype, if you believe that rich people are inherently bad in such a general way you will eventually be corrected, and our show is totally not trying to say that people with money are evil. Our show is trying to paint a detailed and specific world filled with nuance and accuracy. So, instead of just superficial rich people you have a character like Tucker, who is the child of wealth, but who has an absentee father who doesn't give the son the father that he needs. So, he's constantly in pursuit of an example, a role model, a male companion, and Hank comes in in episode three and provides that much-needed support to this kid. So, you know, Hank becomes more than a doctor, and the rich people become more than just superficial and pedantic.
I couldn't help but notice there were a lot similar, kind of visual elements, as well as just kind of overall style between Royal Pains and Burn Notice. So, I was curious what you thought other than being a spy and killing people, your character might have in common with Michael Westen and what things he certainly doesn't have in common with him.
Mark Feuerstein: What a great last question, I have to say. I love it. My answer has 17 parts that I'd like to address, so we'll be on the phone for a couple of hours. No, I like the question because, first of all, I love Jace Alexander, who is one of our co-executive producers, and Jace directed the pilot of Burn Notice and he directed the pilot for Royal Pains, so, another A for viewing comprehension. What I love about the way he shot Royal Pains, like there's one tracking shot that though it doesn't advance the story as much, it creates this beautiful picture of the world, I think they had to fight to keep that shot. But it's such an awesome tracking shot through the whole party, as everyone's looking at me wandering through the party, you get to see the faces of the people who live in the Hamptons, so, the hot ladies, the rich men, the plastic surgeons, the kind of characters who live in the world. And you get to see it through this very cool, very slick camera move that says to the viewer, "This show is going to move along at a fast clip, and it's going to be fun, and you're going to get characters and stories along the way." I think that's part of USA's entire aesthetic. So, the camera work is consistent with sort of the message of the entire network, which has its own sort of personality and brand at this point. The other thing that I wanted to say is that USA is so smart in the way that they market our shows that they've actually managed to sort of create this universe ... who could in some ... live in the same universe. And they've done that in a crossover promotion, where Michael Westen, the character from Burn Notice, is actually sending a letter off and in the letter he says, "Hey man, I know what it's like to come to a new place and set up shop when you don't anybody and you don't know the lay of the land. So, here are a few things that might help you. Here's a bottle of suntan lotion"-which is perfect for him in Miami and me in the Hamptons. "Here's a pair of sunglasses." Perfect. "And here's some C4 explosives." So, here I am at the end of the promo, staring at a package of clay explosives, not knowing what to do with it, and that, of course, is where our characters diverge. But on all other fronts they're quite similar. They have a sense of humor, it's slightly dark, and they're in this very ... and beautiful place, in the case of him, Miami, and in our case, the Hamptons, to do a job. So, somehow USA managed to create this very uniform, very diverse but sort of well-tied-together world. I think that's it. So, I want to say to everybody thank you for the time you've spent, and we're really excited about our show. So, we really appreciate all the time and all the information and all the support that you guys have given us. Thanks.
You can watch Mark Feuerstein in medical action when Royal Pains premieres on Thursday, June 4 at 10 PM ET on the USA Network.