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When I learned I'd be visiting the set of USA's new summer show Royal Pains, I was thrilled, with images of chic Hamptons boutiques and wide, sandy beaches racing through my mind. You see, Royal Pains isn't your usual doctor show, nor is it the typical show about deluded rich people partying their days away. It's sort of a combination of both. Set in the tony beachside refuge known as the Hamptons, 90 miles away from New York City, the show follows the adventures of a no-nonsense doctor (Mark Feuerstein) who finds himself tending to the every whim of the rich and famous who want to keep their medical emergencies very hush-hush.
How the doctor, Hank Lawson, winds up as a concierge doctor after a successful career as an ER physician, is one of the adventures of the pilot episode that I'd rather not spoil. Just know that, by the end of the hourlong pilot, Hank and his brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo), along with comely and strong-willed physician's assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty), have set up Hank MD, ready and willing to cater to the Hamptons elite. But Hank is also a bit smitten by local emergency room doctor Jill (Jill Flint), who tends to the working people of the Hamptons while being ignored by the moneyed set.
It's all a setup for an entertaining, breezy summer show, and I was expecting that same beachy vibe when I hopped on the bus with a gaggle of other journalists to visit the Royal Pains set. And soon we pulled up... in beautiful Greenpoint, Brooklyn! For the non-New Yorkers, Greenpoint was once the Polish enclave and industrial heart of Brooklyn, and while it's been slowly gentrifying lately, it's still a pretty gritty place to set a beach show. But inside the large production studio we found not only the cast done up in their summertime best, but a series of sets that capture the local Hamptons hospital, the guest house that the brothers Lawson live in, and even a little touch of the beach.
We spent much of the morning around the conference room table you see at the left, meeting with a long series of cast members-- Mark Feuerstein, Paulo Costanzo, Reshma Shetty and Jill Flint, along with guest star and Tony winner Chrstine Ebersole, who pops up in the pilot as an heiress type sporting a "flat tire" on her chest. We also spoke to series executive producer Paul Frank, co-executive producer and frequent director Jace Alexander, and even the show's resident medical consultant Irv Danesh, who seemed really happy to be on set rather than at his usual emergency room in Massachusetts.
But we also had a chance to witness filming on the show's extensive hospital set, which has everything from a nurse's desk to a plaque denoting all the donors who made the hospital possible. I'll tell you more about that particular part of the visit tomorrow; right now, check out our interview with the show's star, Mark Feuerstein, as well as a few photos from the guest house set. Tomorrow I'll be back with a description of the filming experience, plus a few more interviews, including Paolo Constanzo and Christine Ebersole. We'll be running all the interviews leading up to the big Royal Pains premiere this Thursday, June 4, at 10 p.m. It all starts below!
Warning! In our conversation with Mark, he immediately starts by revealing information about where the show will go after the pilot episode. So if you don't want to know what happens, skip the first two questions! After that you're safe.
Can you start by telling us about your character?
Sure. That’s an easy way to begin. All right. So, I am playing Hank Lawson. I guess the conflict of Hank is that he’s somewhat—I mean there’s one thing that you don’t know from the pilot, which is that in his past, his father lost all the family money in the stock market. And they had to downsize from a nice house in maybe Passaic, New Jersey to a little two-bedroom apartment, and so money is fraught for Hank. And so now he’s got to take care of rich people while resenting them too.
And so as the show evolves, he by force of will, kind of ends up taking care of people who are not so rich as well. Every week, we tell a story about a rich person and a story about a not so rich person. And it’s been great for the show because in Episode Three, Jill and I become kind of like a Bonnie and Clyde team where she’s got all these patients who’ve been left aside by the system. They’ve lost their health care. And I steal one of these pages and find a guy on the docks, which was great, because we got to use the docks and shoot what would be Montauk but really it was like Bayside, New Jersey.
Would you say this show is about a guy who considers himself an advocate for the underdog, learning to appreciate the people who are wealthy or just learning to tolerate them, just kind of like, “Okay, this is what I’ve got to do now.” Or he is really saying, “Okay, these people are worth something?"
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 kind of inherently bad? And 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 complicated as well 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.
So, the kid in the pilot, Tucker, we don’t just leave it there. I go back to his house and there’s a whole thing with me and his dad who’s played by Andrew McCarthy.
Yeah, he’s great. He’s perfect. It’s kind of like a nice homage to the Brat Pack. And he plays sort of the rich—a little more of the jerky rich character. But his son is the one we care about. And we realize it’s not just—it’s not so—the grass is not always greener. This kid has no dad really. He’s never there. And I become sort of a surrogate father figure to the kid.
The producers have said about the show, “You can look at it as a classic fish out of water story, but in the end it’s not that the Hamptons change Hank; it’s that Hank changes the Hamptons.” And I thought, “Wow! That’s a pretty tall order.”
Yeah, that is a pretty tall order. I did not realize that was what I was doing. That’s great. Could you tell me how to do that?
The funny thing is the term ‘fish out of water’. I mean, Hank is a guy like me in my own life. I’m sure he wasn’t surrounded by privilege [growing up]. But then here he is like able to hold his own. And he clearly is well educated and whatnot in a world of sophistication and whatnot.
And so by straddling these two worlds, I think he’s able to bring something to this world that may not already be there, which is heart and a sense of you know, social responsibility. And he and Jill kind of discover that in each other, which is why I love that relationship because it’s not based in, “Oh, I’m cute, you’re hot. Let’s get this on.”
So, yeah, I think he does bring that to the Hamptons—a superficial world, he brings some substance. But I think some substance is also brought to him along the way.
Can you talk about how you got involved with this show?
Yes, with pleasure. I actually knew 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. I invited him to a party I was having. And we became fast friends. And we stayed in touch over the last 10 years. But then I was with a friend of ours who told me that Andrew’s pilot was picked up to be made for USA. 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.”
And then after the pilot got picked up, they had to put together a staff. And the guy who got the role of Executive Producer running the writers room is someone who I had played football against in high school when he was at Fieldston and I was at Dalton, and then in college, when he was on the lightweight football team at Penn and I was on the lightweight football team at Princeton, and who’s one of my boys from New York. Like we’re all part of a group of guys who are really good friends.
And then Jace Alexander who is our Directing Co-Exec EP, had been a board member of Naked Angels in New York, the theater company, where I had done this play called Funky Crazy Boogaloo Boy like 10 years ago. So, yeah, that’s me—funky crazy and boogaloo. So it’s like this ‘meant to be’ kind of team that was put together.
When you're doing television, how do you as an actor devote yourself to a project knowing that literally it could be on the air for 30 minutes before getting cancelled?
It’s hard. It’s hard. And it’s even harder when you love it because there’s no guarantee that you get to go back to work the next day. But I just—I have a body of experience and work in this business. You try to grow a thicker skin. And you just say, “I am grateful for this moment that I get to be on this set with these amazing people. This crew is unbelievable.” You take every episode as it comes. You learn as you go. And everything changes and grows along with the show. At least at USA, I know we have 12 episodes. With 3 Lbs. [Feuerstein's previous show] they said, “We’re going to make eight.” They put three on the air and, “Goodbye. Thanks. Have a nice day.”
I can only imagine how frustrating that is on your end.
It’s very frustrating. But the most frustrating part is being on a network and having your entire support system, your entire infrastructure, constantly nervous and hedging their bets. With CBS, you’re like, “Did they show a promo once this week for our show? Do they know we’re coming on the air?” At USA, they are sending the message to us, “We believe in you. We didn’t choose to make your show because we wanted to hedge it against five other bets, and hope that maybe someone out there likes it enough for us to justify giving you more money.”
Below: all of us on the set of the guest house where Hank and Evan live at the largess of Boris (Campbell Scott), a mysterious Hamptons figure who has the brothers on call to serve as concierge doctors.
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