When House, MD airs its first new episode in weeks this Tuesday (January 29), fans of the show will greet it with some anxiety, as “It’s a Wonderful Lie,” originally scheduled to coincide with Christmas, will be the first of the last three remaining unaired episodes. All writing stopped when the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike in November.
Although the writers and the conglomerates who own television are once again talking, the status of the 2007-8 House season is still up in the air. Some in the know have intimated that if the strike is settled soon (read: mid-February), there might yet be time to salvage some of the season. So, let’s hope they’re right.
When last we saw House and company, he had finally formed his new team after weeks of reality TV-esque game playing. “At least the games are over,” sighed a relieved Cuddy in the final scene of “Games.” “How well do you know me?” retorted perpetual game-player House, a self-satisfied grin on his face. Cuddy smirked back appreciatively, leaving House alone to turn out the lights on this chapter of the season. And so it stands until Tuesday.
When we rejoin the season, already in progress, it will be to, rather belatedly, celebrate Christmas. “Of course,” suggested Olivia Wilde (“13” on the show) “it’s a pretty House-like thing to delay the joyous holiday.” Yesterday, Ms. Wilde was kind enough to participate in a conference call with journalists and bloggers in advance of next Tuesday’s episode.
The episode, a Housian pun on the title of the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life, features a side plot in which the new team — and the normally Grinch-like House — play “Secret Santa.” The main medical mystery plot has House and the team treating a woman who suffers from “sudden paralysis of the hands.” The ever-cynical House, true to form, believes that the key to the case involves the patient’s lies regarding her own life and relationship with her daughter.
Although it may be slightly surprising that the often-miserable doctor would want to play a game so sweetly prosaic as Secret Santa, Wilde suggested that House is always a game player, and his participation in Secret Santa allows him to continue playing with his staff — although the dynamics between him and the team are now changed. “He no longer controls their future, and their relationship has now changed,” she said. She said that House does his thing and there’s lots of humor, but also, like most episodes it is also “heartbreaking.”
Wilde was among the three actors chosen to be part of the permanent House cast from the original 40 fellow-wannabes who auditioned beginning in episode two, “The Right Stuff.” She said that none of the actors knew until very close to the end who would be chosen for the three new spots on House’s staff. This sense of insecurity, she believes, helped to keep all of the young actors on their toes and the performances at a high level, although she added there was never any competitiveness between them and all became good friends. She said that all of them were grateful for the opportunity to be cast for even one episode. She feels that being featured on (even) one episode of a huge hit like House is an enormous break for any young actor. “There was really was no jealousy on the set.”
Wilde called the work ethic on the House set “wonderful. Everyone is there for each other, which enables everyone to relax and trust each other.” That environment allows everyone to take risks with their portrayals that they otherwise might not.
“Watching Hugh and the risks he takes raises the bar,” she said. “That’s how great performances happen.” Wilde is a long-time fan of Hugh Laurie, having been familiar even before her involvement on his series, with his earlier British work in A Bit of Fry and Laurie and BlackAdder. “He is immediately disarming. He’s brilliant at drama, but humor permeates the room and makes it easy (for us).”
She praised the House star, pointing to his on-set generosity, despite his monumentally long hours and the pressure he must feel carrying the series. She remarked that when she is unsatisfied with a scene, Laurie encourages her to re-shoot it if she wants to do so, despite the pressure to move on to the next scene. “He’ll say ‘I know they’re pressuring us, but let’s take the time you need…’” Hugh’s on-set generosity with fellow actors and crew is famous among the House gang.
Like the rest of the cast, Wilde has been professionally idle, awaiting a settlement to the strike. In the interim, she is to begin filming a new movie on Monday in Louisiana. The movie, Year One, is directed by Harold Ramis and stars Jack Black. The movie is about “Biblical times” according Wilde, calling it “Monty Pythonesque.”
“It’s a Wonderful Lie” airs January 29 at 9 p.m. EST/8:00 p.m. Central.