House is in the midst of another successful season on Fox and the series will air a special episode that's all about Wilson, played by Robert Sean Leonard, on Monday, November 30. Leonard held a conference call to discuss this new episode and here's what he had to say.
Congratulations on your self-titled episode.
Robert Sean Leonard: Oh, no, it's my worst nightmare. Are you kidding? When I read this pilot, I was going to-the other pilot I was considering was Numbers, when I first got out here five years ago, and I read Numbers and thought, well this is way too many scenes. Its way too hard, and I'm not interested. And then I read House, and the guy was, Wilson was in about three scenes a show, and 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.
Well tell us how Wilson is different in this episode, and why.
Robert Sean Leonard: 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, so there's a whole floor where I work in oncology. I have my own patients, my own assistant, my own day that doesn't include House, so you basically follow Wilson around for a few days and see what his life is like.
And this case hits home for him?
Robert Sean Leonard: Oh, yeah, Josh Malina, this great guy that was on The West Wing, who played Will Bailey on The West Wing, is the patient, and he's an old friend of mine, and 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. If you look you can find her name. She was so great. She came in and just nailed it. But, yeah, it was a lot of fun.
There was a rumor that House and Wilson were going to go apartment hunting sometime soon. Is that going to happen, and how does it go?
Robert Sean Leonard: That is correct. He has a deal with his psychiatrist that released him from his care, it was kind of dependent on him having someone to look after him, that he didn't live alone. So, I think we're in Felix and Oscar mode a little while longer.
I was wondering, what's it like on your average day on the set, and is there a technique that you use to get ready to play your role of Wilson?
Robert Sean Leonard: Well, 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 there about one or two days a week, usually. Lately it's been more because we, our characters have been living together, so you see me a lot more than you used to. A typical day for a TV actor on House is you get up, well I get up at four o'clock because I'm living an hour north of LA, because our call is six. So, I get up at four, and I'm out the door by about ten to five, and I'm in the makeup chair by six, 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, tedious day for me. But having said that, I'm massively overpaid and over praised, and it couldn't be a better gig.
Is there like a certain ritual, or something, you do to get revved up for the role?
Robert Sean Leonard: No, no. I mean, I learn my lines. You work on the scene the night before, usually. You know, 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. You know, there are things you need to learn. If your character juggles, if your character has a limp, 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 and what your character wants, and all that stuff, but that's almost secondary after 26 years of doing it.
There's something I've wondered for a long time regarding the movie posters in Wilson's office...
Robert Sean Leonard: Oh, thank you for asking. I enjoy that topic very much.
Vertigo, Ordinary People. Did you have any input regarding which movies would be enshrined on the Wilson wall?
Robert Sean Leonard: I didn't at first. It was originally Touch of Evil and Vertigo, I think, were behind me.
I believe that's right, yes.
Robert Sean Leonard: I then, my friend Carl, who lives in Vermont, and I-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 Touch of Evil and Vertigo were up there, and I think they're fine movies, and that's cool." The news reporter said, "Well, what movie would you want if you could pick?" and 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, and I said, "Yeah, it's my favorite movie. Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore, Redford's directorial debut," and 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 that died, you don't see him. I think that's right, or maybe it's just the three. Anyway...
What does that say about Wilson with those posters on his wall?
Robert Sean Leonard: Well, I think it says a lot. I think that movie, to me, is a fascinating study of human relations and familial relations and human interaction, and the complexity of the difficulty of facing what's going on inside you and admitting it and letting it inform your relations with other people. I don't know. I think if you deal with death every day, and people who get the news of their own death; you know, it's not like plastic surgery. It's a different kind of life day to day. I mean, you know, whatever. It doesn't matter what poster's behind me. One out of a hundred people would notice, and apparently you're one of them.
If you knew somebody like House in real life, would you be his friend?
Robert Sean Leonard: Well, it's tricky. Probably not. Maybe when I was 20, but at 40, no. I think House is an incredibly intriguing guy--I mean the character--he's incredibly funny. He's, I imagine, great fun to be around; I mean, he's extremely smart, self-deprecating, sarcastic; what's not to like? The only thing is he's self-involved, and has agendas often, and gets you in trouble and screws you over sometimes. I think when you're 20 that doesn't matter so much. At 40, I don't know. I have a wife, and 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, dark guy. That's my take on him.
There's been quite a bit of discussion about medical ethics in the show in general, and 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.
Robert Sean Leonard: Sure. Anytime that the character has a moral quandary, it's interesting. That's been true from the Greeks on down. The character, 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, and 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, so those things are always more interesting for me.
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?
Robert Sean Leonard: I'm trying to remember. That was on location. We had to go on location for it. 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... fungus balls, which I think even before we did the scene, Olivia Wilde said, "Okay, 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.
What do you think about a possible Wilson and Cuddy hookup?
Robert Sean Leonard: I think that wouldn't work.
Robert Sean Leonard: 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. I think they, I don't know, maybe this episode next week 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 a joke of one day that I'll be sick in the hospital dying of something, and basically I send him on a mission to get all the porn out of my house, that has been hidden in the basement, and he comes back with like 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 has three ex-wives, he lives alone, he deals with death every day, his best friend is House; I mean, he's very odd. He's not Mr. Rogers-that's a reference that will go over well in London-he's not the guy next door. I think he's a very dark, strange guy. So, 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, and 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.
When do you think we might see him with a new love interest?
Robert Sean Leonard: 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.
I wanted to ask with all the talk about working on TV, if when House finally ends, do you think you would maybe be looking for TV, or-
Robert Sean Leonard: Not in a million years. I am so, let me tell you, I've been very lucky. I started on stage in New York, and that's all I wanted to do. I had no desire to be-I didn't know. 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, and I'm proud of it, and I like the writing a lot. I like the actors, and I got very lucky. But, I'm not a film actor. I don't enjoy getting up at four in the morning. I don't like working 15 hours. I'm very lazy, and I don't have a publicist. I'm not a very ambitious guy. I'm ambitious when I have a role to play, you know, being good at it, but I'm not career ambitious. So, no, I have a daughter, and I'm so looking forward to skate keys and homework and driving her to soccer and being back in New Jersey, and just being home; and now House, financially, has given me the position to do that. So, no, this ain't my home, and as Neil Diamond once said, "LA's fine, but it ain't mine no more." Oh, no, 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 "I Am, I Said" as we move on through the interview.
You guys have had a stable cast for a long time and over the last couple of years things have been shaken up a bit with Jennifer Morrison's exit, and I was wondering your thoughts on that, and people sort of coming and going from the cast, and whether it's changed the environment on the set at all.
Robert Sean Leonard: It always does, but I do like it. I think 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; maybe as much as Kal Penn. And I thought, "Okay. 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, and I don't have much time." And I like that our writers said, "Okay, you're going to kill yourself." It was just so shocking and so daring, because 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, and 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.
Because of the sort of the format that you have, the cast, you guys have to work with new guest stars every week, and I was wondering if there was anyone in particular that you would love to see guest star on your show? If there are any actors that you really would love to work with?
Robert Sean Leonard: Well, I want Julie Christie 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 and Mrs. Miller" for the rest of my days. But 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 is my wife riding by my window on a horse. It's not something everyone sees every morning. There have been guests on the show that I've never met. James Earl Jones would be one of them, unfortunately. My character rarely interacts with the guests, so I don't actually-I'm probably the last guy to ask that question of.
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 kind of move forward. I mean, I know he had coped with her death, but he hasn't really kind of gotten out there. He's living with House and that sort of thing.
Robert Sean Leonard: Well, I don't know. You know, I know a lot of people in my life, and 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. I know it sort of goes against-everyone seems to think he's, you know, Fred McMurray, -the early Fred McMurray, not like Double Indemnity-I just don't see Wilson as the fuzzy dad in a suburban household. I just don't. I think he's-it may never affect anything else, so I don't know. 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.
You can watch Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson in his special self-titled episode of House on Monday, November 30.