Now in its sixth season, Fox’s drama House has won three Emmys (nominated for seventeen), received two Golden Globes, a Peabody Award and was honored by the American Film Institute as one of the TV Programs of the Year.
The series spotlights Gregory House (Hugh Laurie), a doctor devoid of a bedside manner but a brilliant diagnostician whose unconventional thinking and flawless instincts afford him a great deal of respect.
House’s only confidant is oncology specialist Dr James Wilson, played by Robert Sean Leonard. In his eclectic career Leonard has distinguished himself on stage, screen and TV. He has starred on Broadway in such classics as Long Day’s Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh, Breaking the Code and appeared in the West End production of Our Town. At the age of 19, he made his film debut in the acclaimed Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke.
Recently a special episode of House (6.09) entitled Wilson was broadcast and Leonard spoke with us about it and the series that made him a TV star.
Congratulations on your self-title episode
Oh, it’s my worst nightmare. When I read the pilot for House the other pilot I was considering was Numbers, and I thought, ‘This is way too many scenes. It’s way too hard, I’m not interested.’ And then I read House, and the guy was Wilson and he was in about three scenes a show, and I thought it was perfect. 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 like my role the way it is.
There was a rumor that House and Wilson were going to go apartment hunting sometime soon. Is that going to happen?
That is correct. House has a deal with his psychiatrist that released him from his care, it was 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 (of The Odd Couple) a little while longer.
What’s it like on your average day on the set?
My average day involves me not going to the set; which is why I like the role so much. Hugh Laurie’s on that set 15 hours a day. I’m there about one or two days a week usually. Lately it’s been more because 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 12 to 14 hours, 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.
You’ve had a stable cast for a long time and over the last couple of years things have been shaken up with Jennifer Morrison’s exit, and Kal Penn leaving the show abruptly (his character Dr Kutner committed suicide). Has it changed the environment on the set at all?
It always does, but I do like it. I remember the 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.’ It was just so shocking and so daring. 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.
If you knew somebody like House in real life, would you be his friend?
Probably not. Maybe when I was 20, but at 40, no. I think House is an incredibly intriguing guy, I mean his character, he’s incredibly funny, extremely smart, self-deprecating and sarcastic. The only thing is he’s self-involved, and has agendas often, and gets you into 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’s a very strange man. People seem to overlook this. They seem to think he’s this normal, teddy bear of a guy. 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.