In the latest medical comedy to hail from US shores, Mark Feuerstein (pictured) plays protagonist Henry ‘Hank’ Lawson, a former ER doctor dismissed after one of his hospital’s wealthy benefactors dies on his watch. He is soon offered a job in the affluent Hamptons community, where he finds himself ethically conflicted while tending to both the incredibly rich and desperately poor.
So, Mark, how did you get involved with this show?
I actually knew [Royal Pains co-creator] Andrew Lenchewski prior to my auditioning for this show. About 12 years earlier, his father, who is an oral surgeon in Manhattan, took out my wisdom teeth. You know that story. And he said, ‘Mark, you should meet my son. He’s a good guy. He’s a writer in LA. You should talk to him.’ I called him up and invited him to a party I was having. We became fast friends and we’ve stayed in touch over the past 10 years. I was with a friend of ours who told me that Andrew’s pilot had been picked up to be made for USA Network, so I, in my typical cocky fashion, called him and said, ‘Hey, congratulations on your pilot getting made. And congratulations that I’ll be starring in it.’
What can you tell us about your character?
I’m playing Hank Lawson and I guess the conflict of Hank is that, well… There’s one thing you don’t know from the pilot, which is that in his past, his father lost all the family money in the stock market. They had to downsize from a nice house in maybe Passaic, New Jersey to a little two-bedroom apartment, so money is fraught for Hank. And now he has to take care of rich people while resenting them too.
So he’s the Robin Hood of medicine – the guy who doesn’t turn his back on the real person for someone who’s super-rich.
That’s the pilot episode. That’s the concept of the show… The guy who’s willing to go out there and give you the meds you need for free. The network is smart. [NBC Universal cable entertainment chief] Bonnie Hammer is in the zone. She said, ‘We’re hitting a recession and people may want to escape, and we’re showing them a clean, elegant, architecturally savvy world, but they may also resent people who have so much more than they do right now because they’re losing their shirts. So let’s represent the other half as well.’ We run the gamut of the economic spectrum.
How does it feel now being in a successful show that has been picked up for a second season?
Any of you who have ever seen some of the shows I’ve done or have been aware of me in the course of this 12 years, there have been good shows that haven’t been discovered and there have been average shows that just didn’t make it. This is a blue-skies show with depth and dimension and character. It’s amazing. It’s heaven. I just feel like the luckiest kid in town to have landed on this great show, after having had many misadventures.
What keeps challenging you about this role?
I find that balancing all the elements – the romantic element, the dramatic element, the comedic element and the medical aspect of the show – forces me to constantly have to shift gears. And tonally, the show manages to balance so many different colours and musical notes.
Do you consider your character a champion for the underdog? Is he learning to appreciate the people who are wealthy, or is he just learning to tolerate them?
It’s a great question, really, because it’s so easy. Is it so simple or so black and white that rich people are just inherently bad? It’s obviously not the case. And we wouldn’t write a show or present a show to you
that said that. So the rich are as complicated as the not-as-rich in our show. And Hank is not necessarily just doing it as a means to an end, taking care of the rich people; he actually gets to know them.
Your family made up of doctors and lawyers…
And then there’s me.The guy who plays a doctor on TV.
How does that go down at home?
My parents are very proud that I’m a working actor, but they would have been equally proud if I weren’t working as much as I am right now, because they just want me to be happy, like most parents. My mother carries around her little portfolio of magazine clippings and you’d be hard-pressed not to be shown one or two of them even though you might be a stranger in line at the supermarket.
Royal Pains premieres on September 11 at 9pm on America Plus