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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actors > Feature Interviews F to J > Mark Feuerstein

 

ROYAL PAINS -- Pictured: Mark Feuerstein as Dr Hank Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Justin Stephens

Mark Feuerstein

Pains Bring Gains

by Jay S. Jacobs

 
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 3, 2009.

Hollywood has never seemed to figure out how to use Mark Feuerstein. 

Different producers have seen potential stardom in the handsome, funny and likeable actor, however the series they have hired him for have not always been quite worthy of his talents. 

He has had starring roles in the short-lived sitcoms Good Morning Miami, Fired Up and Caroline in the City.  Feuerstein has also done fine dramatic work in recurring roles in the critical favorites The West Wing and Once and Again Ė however he was not the main focus of either show.  He has played supporting roles in a slew of movies, including In Her Shoes, Abandon, Rules of Engagement and What Women Want. 

It looks like the studios may have finally found the perfect starring role for Feuerstein, as a Brooklyn trauma doctor who becomes a fish out of water as a concierge doctor in the USA Network series Royal Pains.  He plays Dr. Hank Lawson, a surgeon who finds himself blackballed from his hospital when he allows a major benefactor to die while saving a street kid.  His fast-talking brother (played by Paulo Costanzo) talks him into a weekend vacation in the rich beach vacation spot, the Hamptons, and finally pulls him out his unemployed torpor. 

When Dr. Lawson saves a modelís life at a party, a mysterious rich man (Campbell Scott) offers him a place to live and a gig treating the rich and famous.  At first, Lawson resists, but eventually he realizes that he can use the money he makes to help the less fortunate workers on the island. 

A week before the showís debut, Feuerstein did a conference call with us and several other websites to discuss the new series, life in the Hamptons and his surprisingly strong fan base in both the gay and the Jewish bubbe communities. 

What made you want to be a part of the show? 

Well, first of all, I grew up in New York City, going to first a public school, then a private school.  When I got to the private school in Manhattan, I learned of what we called ďThe Promised Land,Ē which are the Hamptons.  Iíve 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.  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.  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 it was on USA, the number one cable network Ė which supports its shows rather than makes them crazy, as they do sometimes at the networks Ė 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. 

ROYAL PAINS -- Pictured (l-r) Jill Flint as Jill Casey, Paulo Costanzo as Evan Lawson, Mark Feuerstein as Dr. Hank Lawson, Reshma Shetty as Divya -- USA Network Photo: Justin Stephens What about the role do you find challenging? 

Well, Hank is a complicated guy, because as a child his father lost all the familyís 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 kidís life to save a rich guy.  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.  I love the inner conflict just built into the situation, but I also think he is 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 heís a good brother. 

What have you liked about working with Paulo Costanzo? 

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.  I love that about him and I love the way that translates into his portrayal of Evan Lawson.  Evan Lawson as a character is someone who is sort of on some level the opposite of Hank.  He doesnít think about anything before he does it.  He loves money.  He loves the good life.  He is sort of living the Dionysian fantasy, and we have put him the perfect place to live it out.  Paulo Costanzo only is perfect to play a part like that, because he is Dionysus himself. 

How does Royal Pains fit into USA Networkís hit lineup of character-driven dramedies, and what makes this show and your character appropriate additions? 

Well, it could not be a more perfect network to have Royal Pains on it.  Iíll begin by telling you that Iíve 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.  If youíre 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 Iím watching the show in seven years as itís syndicated on some other cable network, I donít have to know what happened before or after the episode.  Everything is meant to support the procedure.  If youíre on a comedy, everything has to be funny and wacky and zany.  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, [the] relationship with me and Jill, the romantic relationship that Iím involved in, where weíre at with those.  But at the same time every week if you tune in, youíll 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. 

ROYAL PAINS -- "Pilot" Episode 1001 -- Pictured: Mark Feuerstein as Hank Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Barbara Nitke What do viewers need to know about your character, Dr. Hank Lawson, that might not be so obvious from the premiere episode? 

Youíre saying what characteristics are there in the character of Hank that might not be so obvious? 

Yes, in the premiere. 

What you donít get to learn in the premiere, which frankly Hank doesnít know, is what the heck heís 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 wouldnít he just go to another big city and find another job as an emergency room.  Well, he has landed in the Hamptons, and he is going to stay here to see what it holds for him.  He has taken a turn in his life, where heís decided heís going to be more impetuous, less planned out, because the plan he had of the perfect life didnít work out.  So really every week weíre figuring along with Hank what heís 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.  He and his love interest, Jill, end up becoming like a Bonnie and Clyde type of team, where thereís this pile of papers of people who all have lost their medical coverage, their COBRAís have run out, their Blue Cross/Blue Shield premium has gotten too expensive.  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 heís going to be my patient and Iím going to take care of him, even though the system wonít.  At the end of the episode, Jill calls me the ďRobin Hood of medicine,Ē 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.  Heís going to help use the system out there, all the money out there, to help all the people who donít have it. 

ROYAL PAINS -- "Pilot Day 4" -- Pictured: (l-r) Jill Flint as Jill Casey, Mark Feuerstein as Hank Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Barbara Nitke Hank seems like a very cool, nice guy.  I was wondering, is there anything about him that you did not like or that you would like to change? 

Wow.  First of all, in television oftentimes the character that youíre seeing portrayed is not so far from the people who are playing them.  In other cases, thatís not so true, especially in the case of serial killers.  In the case of Hank Lawson, I wish I were as noble and altruistic as he is, but thereís definitely things about who I am that I try to bring to the table.  Off hand, my answer is no, thereís nothing that I donít like about Hank Lawson, because heís me and heís perfect.  I will say that Hank might fall prey to the tendency to think too much, to overanalyze a situation.  There are many situations where professionally he doesnít 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 heís trying to do the right thing or plan too much, so that could be one thing that he could work on. 

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? 

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 thatís how it got that smell.  But Iíve since changed my ways and now itís just elk. 

Oh, gosh.  Iím laughing over that image. 

Thank you.  Sorry to put that in your brain.  I wish I had a switch or a vacuum to take it out, but you know, it happens. 

ROYAL PAINS -- "Pilot" Episode 1001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Mark Feuerstein as Hank Lawson, Paul Costanzo as Evan Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Barbara Nitke 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 thatís going to unfold? 

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.  Evan is the one that, we both watched our father lose his shirt in the stock market, but what you bring away from that depends on who you are.  My younger brother watched that and said, ďWell, if my father got lost in the shuffle, Iím going to make the money that he never made.  Iím going to figure out a way to live the good life that he was never able to live.Ē  Thatís a perfectly valid way to approach it, and a perfectly valid response.  Hank watches what happened and says, ďYou know what, my father put too much premium on money.  It was superficial, and it was fleeting.  Screw that.  Money is not the be-all and end-all.  Itís about taking care of people and living a somewhat stable existence.Ē  Thatís exactly the life he was trying to build for himself before he lost his job and his fiancťe and all of it went to hell in a hand basket.  So, 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 thatís what keeps us together. 

Well, thatís 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 accounting practice? 

Well, first of all, you will learn in an episode, maybe the fourth episode, you will learn something about why he left his practice. It may have something to do with certain dealings on his part that were not entirely kosher.  Thatís 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 heís far more dependent on HankMed than maybe I amBut you will also watch him flourish in the Hamptons, because this is his Promised Land.  Itís where everyone has the thing that he fantasizes about most: money and nice cars and nice clothing and beautiful women.  He is just in heaven and heís making every moment count and loving life.  Itís great to watch, because Pauloís 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 Iím trying to get in there and bring some substance to the table. 

ROYAL PAINS -- "Pilot" Episode 1001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Paul Costanzo as Evan Lawson, Mark Feuerstein as Hank Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Barbara Nitke When I was talking with Andy and Michael last week I noticed in the pilot that itís really structured oddly.  You love the guy right off the bat, Iím talking about Hank here, for doing the right thing, and then thereís that epic self-pity montage that kind of reaches a point where you could hate him, but then he rebounds.  What Iíd 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 itís really pushing the edge like that? 

Thatís a very well crafted question, and I appreciate it.  Thank you.  First of all, itís 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 can make it slightly more so.  For me, like when thereís the moment where Iím sitting by the table, ice cream is dripping off my chin and Iím watching the movie Mask.  In the middle of my depressed [state]Ö the odd kiss between Eric Stoltz and Laura Dern, where sheís trying to kiss him through his weird catcher-mask face, kind of look at them and though Iím sitting there wallowing in my own pity, itís kind of haunting to me that Iím noticing that.  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 heís back in action, saving the model who drops on the floor at Borisí party.  Youíre watching a guy whoís basically, heís a human being, you know, he loses his dream job and his dream fiancťe and suddenly has to realize that his dreams are not all they were cracked up to be.  I feel like heís 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 showís other major coup, as far as Iím concerned, besides getting you to play Hank is having Campbell Scott want to play Boris, who is a very mysterious character.  Iím just wondering what kind of a relationship builds between Hank and Boris, and how much fun is it to work with Campbell Scott? 

I am 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.  Itís a dream to work with him, not just because heís 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.  Somehow in his person and in his delivery every line comes out in the most nuanced, unique, original way.  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 is just one of the best actors we have.  When he says a word, like my name, ďI have plans for you, Hank,Ē or when we are talking about the scene where he has a shark in his basement, thatís all Iíll say for now, and heís looking at it and he talks about how sharks have buoyancy, and he just has fun with the word.  He just says, ďYes, these sharks, they have so much buoyancy.Ē  Then there is a line where Iím doing a scene with Paulo, and he says, ďBecause Hank, the best things in life are free.Ē  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, ďCut,Ē you go, ďIím dealing with the most brilliant actor Iíve ever gotten to work with.Ē  So, in conclusion, itís pretty good.  I like working with Campbell Scott.  He is amazing. 

ROYAL PAINS -- "Pilot" Episode 1001 -- Pictured: Mark Feuerstein as Hank Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Barbara Nitke You were talking before how Royal Pains is not like a medical drama, it is not a comedy like on many other networks, and USA is good at having realistic and multidimensional characters.  I was just wondering, what kind of demographic you feel would like this show? 

I always believe that my greatest audience will come from 70-year-old Jewish men and Jewish women, but thatís from my experience of going to High Holiday services and being adored by the women with free candy in the back.  I think we should have a large following from the gay men of America; Iíve certainly noted their appreciation and fascination with me.  Beyond that, itís hard to say, but Iím 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.  You never really know whoís going to respond, but I hope everyone does. 

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 is a real thing. 

I was not aware of it at all.  My brother and I both 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, ďWhat do rich people do when they get hurt?  Are they sitting here for five hours, waiting for some triage nurse to get you?Ē  Hereís the answer: itís concierge medicine.  Itís private physicians for hire.  The good thing is the character has evolved, so Iím not just taking care of rich people, that I take from the rich and also give to the poor.  I had not heard of concierge medicine before.  Now Iím realizing, not just because Iím doing this show and everyoneís 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.  One of the few things that is not only remaining stable as an industry but actually growing is concierge medicine.  I guess itís because even in times of panic or especially in times of financial crisis, people are still most concerned about their health and if thereís anything, they would still spend the money on is to guarantee that they donít 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. 

ROYAL PAINS -- "Pilot Day 4" -- Pictured: (l-r) Mark Feuerstein as Hank Lawson, Reshma Shetty as Divya Sharma, Paul Costanzo as Evan Lawson -- USA Network Photo: Barbara Nitke 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 doesnít really seem like the type to put up with the rich peopleís foibles. Do you think that heíll be able to sort of balance doing all of his good work with dealing with sort of spoiled heirs and people who have flat tires and stuff like that? 

You watched the pilot very well.  I appreciate your viewing comprehension.  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 doesnít give the son the father that he needs.  Heís 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.  Hank becomes more than a doctor, and the rich people become more than just superficial and pedantic. 

I couldnít 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.   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 doesnít have in common with him. 

What a great last question, I have to say.  I love it.  My answer has seventeen parts that Iíd like to address, so weíll 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 thereís one tracking shot that though it doesnít advance the story as much, it creates this beautiful picture of the world.  I think they had to fight to keep that shot.  But itís such an awesome tracking shot through the whole party, as everyoneís looking at me wandering through the party, you get to see the faces of the people who live in the Hamptons, the hot ladies, the rich men, the plastic surgeons, the kind of characters who live in the world.  You get to see it through this very cool, very slick camera move that says to the viewer, ďThis show is going to move along at a fast clip, and itís going to be fun, and youíre going to get characters and stories along the way.Ē  I think thatís part of USAís entire aesthetic.  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 theyíve actually managed to sort of create this universeÖ [In some ways, we] live in the same universe.  Theyíve done that in a crossover promotion, where Michael Westen, the character from Burn Notice, is actually sending a letter off.  In the letter he says, ďHey man, I know what itís like to come to a new place and set up shop when you donít anybody and you donít know the lay of the land.  So, here are a few things that might help you.  Hereís a bottle of suntan lotionĒ Ė which is perfect for him in Miami and me in the Hamptons.  ďHereís a pair of sunglasses.Ē  Perfect.  ďAnd hereís some C4 explosives.Ē  So, here I am at the end of the promo, staring at a package of clay explosives, not knowing what to do with it.  That, of course, is where our characters diverge.  On all other fronts theyíre quite similar.  They have a sense of humor, itís slightly dark, and theyíre in this very beautiful place Ė in the case of him, Miami, and in our case, the Hamptons Ė to do a job.  Somehow USA managed to create this very uniform, very diverse but sort of well-tied-together world.

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2009 Justin Stephens. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#2 © 2009 Justin Stephens. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#3 © 2009 Barbara Nitke. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#4 © 2009 Barbara Nitke. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#5 © 2009 Barbara Nitke. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#6 © 2009 Barbara Nitke. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved. 
#7 © 2009 Barbara Nitke. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#8 © 2009 Barbara Nitke. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.

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