Robert Sean Leonard on ‘House’, movies and his happy lack of ambition


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Fans of Dr. James Wilson, Robert Sean Leonard’s character on ‘House,’ have a lot to look forward to in the Nov. 30 episode – titled ‘Wilson.’ Leonard’s screen time has increased this season, since Hugh Laurie’s Dr. House moved in with Wilson, but that’s nothing compared to the upcoming episode.

‘He’s examined more,’ Leonard said, in a phone interview Tuesday morning from Hidden Valley. ‘You see my assistant, who you’ve never met. You see the oncology floor; you see where I work. I have my own patients, my own assistant and 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.’


The episode features ‘The West Wing’s’ Josh Malina as Tucker, a cancer survivor and an old friend of Wilson’s. After Tucker experiences partial paralysis, Wilson seeks out the help of House’s team in diagnosing Tucker’s condition. However, when Tucker takes a turn for the worse, Wilson struggles to separate his work from his personal connection with the patient. ‘I’ve got some moral decisions to make,’ Leonard said of his character. ‘Any time the character is in a moral quandary is interesting. That’s been true from the Greeks on down.’

This isn’t the first time Wilson has struggled with medical ethics. Earlier this season, he wrote a speech about euthanasia, admitting that all doctors do it. Leonard is quick to remind fans that, beneath the surface, Wilson isn’t just your run-of-the-mill nice guy. ‘I don’t know that I’d hang out with House myself, but Wilson’s a really strange man. People seem to overlook this a lot. He has three ex-wives, he lives alone, he’s best friends with House, he deals with death everyday, he has a schizophrenic homeless brother. … God only knows what his parents are like! I think he’s a very strange, dark guy.’

Leonard was eager to discuss the significance of the movie posters in Wilson’s office, which have intrigued ‘House’ fans for many seasons. ‘I didn’t have any input at first,’ Leonard said, but when he mentioned at a press conference that ‘Ordinary People’ was one of his favorite movies, producer Katie Jacobs added it to the wall. ‘We had to get permission from every actor, because they appear on the poster. I think it says a lot about Wilson. I think that movie is a fascinating study of human relations and familial relations and human interaction. The complexity and the difficulty of facing what’s going on inside you and admitting it, letting it inform your relations with other people. I think if you deal with death every day, and people who get the news of their own death, well, [oncology] is not like plastic surgery.’

Though Leonard enjoyed the opportunity to play the title character for once, he’s not interested in making Wilson-centric episodes a regular occurrence. ‘It was my worst nightmare. Are you kidding?’ Leonard joked. ‘When I read [the ‘House’ pilot], Wilson was in about three scenes per episode, and I thought, ‘This is perfect!’ I’m the ‘Carlton the Doorman’ of my show. You know, 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 around too much. I like my role the way it is.’

In fact, when ‘House’ eventually ends, don’t expect to see more of Leonard on your TV screens – unless it’s in reruns. ‘Not in a million years,’ Leonard said when asked whether he’d consider doing another TV show. ‘Los Angeles is a bleached-out, soulless pit. I prefer stage work, as an actor. I’m pretty lazy. With theater, you get to the theater at 7:30 and you’re done by 11, and for me that’s nice. Getting up at 4 in the morning and getting home at 7:30 -- unless you’re William Randolph Hearst -- that’s a little excessive. 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.’

In the meantime, he’s happy to stick with ‘House,’ especially since recent story lines have sent other popular cast members packing. ‘It always [changes the environment on set],’ Leonard said of cast changes. ‘I remember when they first told me Kutner was gonna go by suicide, I was as shocked as everybody else. Perhaps as shocked as Kal Penn himself! I just think that’s the way it happens in life. People surprise you, and I like that about David Shore and Katie Jacobs, our producers. Kal had to go, he had a job, and I like that our writers said, ‘OK, you’re gonna kill yourself.’ It was so shocking and so daring. I like how people come and go. House is a weird, weird show, and I really like it.’

‘House’s’ patient-of-the-week format allows for lots of guest stars coming and going. ‘I want Julie Christie to do the show, but that’s mostly because I think we should get married,’ Leonard, who is happily married with a baby daughter, joked. ‘We can talk about ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller’ every day for the rest of my life.’ When it comes to the future of Wilson’s love life, Leonard isn’t holding his breath. ‘I got to date Anne Dudek as Amber for six episodes; you don’t get any luckier than that. I’m not going to press my luck.’

-- Carina MacKenzie (follow me on Twitter @cadlymack)