If Stanley Tucci didn't know the weight of the human brain, he does now.
It's right in the title of the actor's new series. Premiering Tuesday, Nov. 14, the CBS medical drama "3 LBS" casts the Emmy winner (for HBO's "Winchell") as neurosurgeon Doug Hanson, whose expertise in the brain's workings makes up for his lack of bedside manner -- displayed in the pilot episode as he treats a young violinist (guest star Madeline Zima) stricken during a performance.
Mark Feuerstein ("The West Wing") also stars as a more empathetic newcomer to the same New York hospital, with Indira Varma ("Rome") as another neurologically savvy doctor on the team. Cynthia Nixon ("Sex and the City") makes recurring appearances as the resident psychiatrist, who's also Hanson's ex-wife.
Renowned as a chameleon on screen ("The Devil Wears Prada," "Road to Perdition," "Shall We Dance?") and stage ("Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune," "The Misanthrope"), Tucci admits it was "a little nerve-racking" to make a series commitment.
However, he notes, "The writing was very good, the role is fascinating, and CBS was willing to do it in New York. It allows me to stay home and be with my family, and it also affords me the opportunity to do things like direct a movie again."
Tucci shared that job with Campbell Scott ("Six Degrees") on the acclaimed 1996 restaurant drama "Big Night."
Peter Ocko, the creator and executive producer of "3 LBS," has given Tucci a part the actor believes will "allow me to go a number of places. It would be terribly boring just to play the good guy or the bad guy for an extended period of time. I try not to take those roles anyway. You just want someone who's complex, so that you can explore all the facets as deeply as possible."
Thanks largely to Hugh Laurie's "House" portrayal on FOX, prickly doctors are on television's radar now. Tucci claims he hasn't seen that show, "and now, I may never see it. I happen to think Hugh is a wonderful actor, and if [CBS is] looking for something similar to something that's a hit, I can understand that. We know how it is in show business: Whenever something is successful, people want to copy it, but you can't. And I don't believe that's what's going on here."
Neither, when the cameras are off, is Tucci's on-screen animosity toward Feuerstein. "The lucky thing," Tucci says, "is that we get along so well personally off the set, I don't think that can help but affect what we do on the set. If you have to do this for a long time, it would be torture to do it with someone you don't like and respect."
Also potentially grueling is the terminology Tucci must wrap his tongue around, but he's grateful the scripts have been light on "medicalese" thus far. "It's getting easier. At first, we were all a little daunted, but there's only so much of that you can speak before it becomes speechy: 'Look how smart I am that I did all this research and found out what these terms and diseases are.'
"Ultimately, it doesn't really mean anything," Tucci adds. "You can just copy it out of a book. There's a very fine line between showing these people know what they're talking about and just showing off."
Has Tucci ever run across a doctor as arrogant as Doug Hanson? "Oh, yes. I've encountered doctors that make him look like a little lamb." At least initially, "3 LBS" isn't as graphic as some other medical dramas, but the premiere still shows Hanson poking around in his patient's brain. "On the set, it is so distinctly fake, it doesn't upset me," Tucci says. "It's just kind of gross, more than anything. I'm not thrilled by the sight of blood."
Originally intended for a 2007 debut, "3 LBS" was moved up by CBS' early cancellation of the crime drama "Smith." As it has turned out, production on the first set of episodes wraps the same day the show debuts.
"Four more scripts are being readied," Tucci reports, "and that's probably the most we'd do this year since this is a midseason show. I think I speak for everyone when I say we'd just like to finish up and get it on the air, have the spring to do whatever, then come back next year."
Tucci has had other brushes with series television, most notably as enigmatic Richard Cross in the Steven Bochco-produced "Murder One," which played out a trial over an entire season.
"That was kind of a dream come true," Tucci recalls. "I really loved the structure of that show, I loved the people, and the writing was superb. That was one of the best roles any actor could ever be offered. It was a one-year contract, which also was a dream, and it came at a great time for me.
"We had just started preparing to shoot 'Big Night' when I did the pilot, and we shot the series while I was editing the movie. I didn't make a lot of money on 'Big Night,' and 'Murder One' allowed me to support my family while I was making this independent film. Not only did I have good money coming in, I was playing this amazing part, and it remains one of the best experiences I've ever had."
Thanks to other recent movies including "Lucky Number Slevin," "The Terminal" and the animated "Robots" -- and a guest shot on USA Network's "Monk" opposite "Big Night" cohort Tony Shalhoub -- Tucci always seems to be working.
He counters, "You can do four movies a year but, especially if you're doing supporting roles, those can all be done in two months, and you might not work for the other 10. If those movies all come out at the same time, it might seem like, 'He never stops!'
"It's not always like that, though. Sometimes, you sit around thinking you'd better check your phone lines."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times