Home / Film / House’s Robert Sean Leonard Chats About “Wilson”

House’s Robert Sean Leonard Chats About “Wilson”

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Fans of television’s best bromance, House and Wilson on FOX’s House, will want to circle the calendar on Monday, November 21, as Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson) steps into the spotlight in an episode titled, appropriately enough, “Wilson.” The engaging actor chatted to the media in a conference call about the episode, life as an actor, and those posters in Wilson’s office.

The first question for Leonard was not so much a question as a congratulations for getting a self-titled episode, to which he replied,
Robert Sean Leonard  ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Florian Schneider/FOX  RSL

"Oh, no, it’s my worst nightmare. Are you kidding? When I first got out here five years ago, I read Numbers and thought, well this is way too many scenes. It’s way too hard, and I’m not interested. And then I read House, and Wilson was in about three scenes a show, and I thought this is perfect. You know, I’m the Carlton the Doorman of my show. 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 all around too much. I like my role the way it is."

Leonard was then asked how Wilson is different in this episode and why. He said,

"Well, he’s not different; he’s just examined more. You see my assistant you’ve never met. You see the oncology floor, you see where I work. My office next to House’s is just my office, so there’s a whole floor where I work in oncology. I have my own patients, my own assistant, 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 … Josh Malina, this great guy … who played Will Bailey on West Wing, is the patient, and he’s an old friend of mine. He gets into some trouble and I have some moral decisions to make throughout the show, and yep, it’s a personal case for me."

No doubt to the delight of many viewers, on the subject of House and Wilson house hunting together, the actor said that when House was released from Nolan’s care, “it was kind of dependent on him having someone to look after him, that he didn’t live alone. So, I think we’re in Felix and Oscar mode a little while longer.”

Asked what his typical day is like on House, Leonard explained:

"Well, my average day involves me not going to the set; which is why I like the role so much. You know, Hugh Laurie is on that set 15 hours a day. I’m there about one or two days a week, usually. Lately it’s been more because our characters have been living together, so you see me a lot more than you used to. A typical day for a TV actor on House is you get up, well, I get up at four o’clock because I’m living an hour north of LA, because our call is six. So, I get up at four, and I’m out the door by about ten to five, and I’m in the makeup chair by six, and hopefully we’re done by 6 p.m., but usually it’s a little later than that, and then the week goes on. It’s 12 to 14 hour days, and it’s a lot of filming. I’m used to being on stage, so 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."

He denied having any special techniques he draws on to play Wilson, noting:

"I’m not a big technique person. I think from stage I’m used to pretty much just walking on and getting it done. You know, there are things you need to learn. If your character juggles, if your character has a limp, if your character has an Irish accent, there are things to work on. But if your character doesn’t juggle, limp, or have an Irish accent, you just have to break the scene down as far as motivation and what your character wants, and all that stuff, but that’s almost secondary after 26 years of doing it."

Wilson’s office is notable for having posters on the wall and though he was not responsible for the choices of Vertigo or Touch of Evil, Leonard did choose the Ordinary People poster. Asked what he thinks the choice of movie says about Wilson, the actor replied,

"Well, I think it says a lot. I think that movie, to me, is a fascinating study of human relations and familial relations and human interaction, and the complexity of the difficulty of facing what’s going on inside you and admitting it and letting it inform your relations with other people. I don’t know. I think if you deal with death every day, and people who get the news of their own death; you know, it’s not like plastic surgery. It’s a different kind of life day to day."

Moving on to Wilson’s relationships on the show, Leonard was asked whether he would be friends with House in real life. He responded,
Wilson and House  ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Yarish/FOX

"Well, it’s tricky. Probably not. Maybe when I was 20, but at 40, no. I think House is an incredibly intriguing guy — I mean the character — he’s incredibly funny. He’s, I imagine, great fun to be around; I mean, he’s extremely smart, self-deprecating, sarcastic; what’s not to like? The only thing is he’s self-involved, and has agendas often, and gets you in trouble and screws you over sometimes. I think when you’re 20 that doesn’t matter so much. At 40, I don’t know. I have a wife, and a daughter and two dogs; I hardly have time for people I like, so I don’t know if, myself, I would hang out with him very much, or be close."

"But Wilson, Wilson is a very strange man. People seem to overlook this. They seem to think he’s this normal, teddy bear of a guy. He’s very strange. He has three ex-wives. He lives alone, well now he lives with House. He deals with death every day. He has a schizophrenic homeless brother. God only knows what his parents are like. I think he’s a really strange, dark guy. That’s my take on him."

On the show, Wilson has been facing some medical ethical issues, which Leonard says he enjoys playing. “It’s always much more fun to play a scene where there’s something at stake, or a question that hasn’t been solved yet that you’re burning to find an answer to, so those things are always more interesting for me.”

On a recent episode, House and Wilson took a cooking class together, with predictably funny results. Asked whether that scene was difficult to film because he and Hugh Laurie broke each other up laughing, Leonard replied, "No, the scene was easy. Working with him is very easy for me. Laughing is a problem. We do have a big problem keeping a straight face, but it’s not for reasons you would imagine. It’s usually something simple … You never know what’s going to crack you up, but Hugh and I often find ourselves in great difficulty having to not laugh. Aside from that, everything’s great."

On Wilson’s relationship with Cuddy, the actor is doubtful a romantic relationship would work, saying,

"The problem with all of this speculation to me is who is Wilson? People seem to know who Cuddy is, and people seem to know who House is, but I get very different descriptions of who Wilson is from people. I think people project on him a lot.  Maybe this episode next week will help a little bit, but I think Wilson is a very weird guy. I think he’s dark. I think he’s very lonely. Hugh and I have a joke of one day that I’ll be sick in the hospital dying of something, and basically I send him on a mission to get all the porn out of my house, that has been hidden in the basement, and he comes back with like boxes and boxes of porn, and I look up and say, 'Where’s the rest? Where’s the German stuff?' That’s my joke with Wilson. I think he’s a dark guy. He has three ex-wives, he lives alone, he deals with death every day, his best friend is House; I mean, he’s very odd. He’s not Mr. Rogers … he’s not the guy next door. I think he’s a very dark, strange guy."

"So, in my mind, when I think about him with Cuddy, it doesn’t work.  I think in general people have a view of him that he’s kind of warm and fuzzy, and he’d be kind of an easy guy for Cuddy to boss around, and that might actually be the relationship. I don’t think Wilson would stand it very long. I think he’s a strange man."

On whether Wilson will get another love interest, Leonard said, “Oh, God, I’ve done that. I got to date and do that with Amber for six episodes. You don’t get any luckier than that. I’m not going to press my luck.

Despite his success on House, don’t look for the actor on another television series any time soon. Asked whether he would look for another role on TV, he responded,

"Not in a million years. I’ve been very lucky. I started on stage in New York, and that’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t ever think I would make a movie … I wanted to do stage, and be in New York. I did Dead Poet’s Society, and now I’m doing House, which is great because the money is fantastic, and I have a family now. Also, it’s an incredibly good gig. It’s a very good show, and I’m proud of it, and I like the writing a lot. I like the actors, and I got very lucky. But, I’m not a film actor. I don’t enjoy getting up at four in the morning. I don’t like working 15 hours. I’m very lazy, and I don’t have a publicist. I’m not a very ambitious guy. I’m ambitious when I have a role to play, you know, being good at it, but I’m not career ambitious.

So, no, I have a daughter, and I’m so looking forward to skate keys and homework and driving her to soccer and being back in New Jersey, and just being home; and now House, financially, has given me the position to do that. So, no, this ain’t my home, and as Neil Diamond once said, 'LA’s fine, but it ain’t mine no more.' Oh, no, was it, 'LA’s fine, but it ain’t home?' 'New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.' Well, I’ll just keep quoting 'I Am, I Said' as we move on through the interview."

Noting that House’s cast has been shaken up a couple of times, Leonard was asked if the comings and goings change the set environment. He replied,

It always does, but I do like it. I think I like that about our show — I remember one day when they first told me Kutner was going to go by suicide, I was as shocked as everybody else; maybe as much as Kal Penn. And I thought, ‘Okay. That is the way it happens in life. People surprise you.’ I like that about David Shore and Katie Jacobs, our producers … [Kal] said, ‘Look, I love your show, but I’ve got to go, and I don’t have much time.’ And I like that our writers said, ‘Okay, you’re going to kill yourself.’ It was just so shocking and so daring, because I … heard people thought it was insulting. It’s an easy way out. It took more complex issues. I mean, you just can’t use that angle in storytelling as a device, and I thought, ‘I don’t know. I think you can use anything human beings do.’ I agree that there are devices. You have to be careful as writers. I like our show. I like how people come and go. I like how people are fired and then don’t seem to leave, and then strangely disappear in other ways."

As the call wrapped up, the actor was asked if the audience will see Wilson move forward from Amber this season. He replied, “For [Wilson], I think moving forward is getting a bagel and going to work. I don’t know if getting married and having children would be his nirvana, so for him I’m not sure what moving forward would really mean.”

Robert Sean Leonard is a very entertaining actor to interview and to watch, so Monday's special “Wilson” episode should be well worth checking out. House airs at 8:00 PM (ET/PM) on FOX.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Orange450

    Thanks! Nice job!

    RSL comes across as a great guy. I love his insights, his perspective on himself and his wry humor. I also love the way his intelligence shines through. Probably an important aspect of his great chemistry with Hugh Laurie.

    I love and agree with his position that viewers project a lot onto Wilson. Actually, I think the same can be said for all the other major characters as well. Lots of viewer projection going on, IMHO.

    His take on Wilson as a dark guy under the surface is intriguing. And Ordinary People was indeed a great movie, but Judith Guest’s novel was even better.

  • Gerry

    RSL was a sweetheart on the call and you certainly can’t miss the wry humour! I agree with the projection factor with everyone on House, but most especially with Wilson, I think. It may be because he outwardly appears to be so conventional, in contrast with House, you miss his similarities with House–though his darkness is of course uniquely his own.

    I’ve always thought Wilson is as dark and damaged as House. It’s what makes this friendship so interesting.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Linda

    Thanks for writing up the entire interview. At least it seems like the entire interview. I’ve been catching bits and pieces of it here and there in different articles but never the whole thing. It seemed like there must be more.

    Wilson seems exactly right for House and RSL seems exactly right for Hugh. I remember seeing outtakes from One Day One Room, the last scene where House and Wilson are playing that paddle game and House says that all he really did was make a girl cry. Sad little dramatic scene. But Hugh Laurie and RSL were having a terrible time getting through it because they were laughing so hard. It made me admire them more when I went back and looked at the scene in the episode. Not a bit of a suppressed smile or any other sign that they had been ROFL. It’s nice to see professionals at work!

  • Jodie

    You wrote a MUCH better article than the one on the Sympatico home page one (TV Guide).The article you wrote was much easier to understand and follow.
    Thank you Gerri!

  • Belle

    An excellent interview. So nice to see such a faithful recounting of RSL’s words and thoughts. So many other interviews report things out of context these days that one is usually left confused, I got to the end of you interview and felt pleasantly informed. A complex and interesting man with an interesting point of view. Thankyou.

  • Gerry

    Thank you all for the kind words! I had to edit the interview a bit for length and clarity but I did try and include as much as possible of it, so RSL’s own voice came through. I’m glad you enjoyed it.