PTR Senior Staff Writer
I love my West Coast. I do.
But we don't have anything like Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket.
And we sure as heck don't have anything like the Hamptons.
All three are summer destinations of, among others, the rich, extremely rich, ridiculously rich, famously infamous, infamously famous and everything else in between - including tourists who can really only look, not touch.
Suffice it to say there's an allure, an exclusivity, and an amazing sense (as one local once told me) of extreme wealth on display in all three places - but particularly in the Hamptons. As a West Coaster, I can say I've been, seen, and wished I could stay longer. I'll have to die and come back as an heir to some fortune before I ever truly experience it from the wealthy-not-on-a-budget side of things.
So ironic, then, that Mark Feuerstein might've been born to play the role of Dr. Hank Lawson, concierge doctor to Hampton wealthy-ites, on USA Network's new series, Royal Pains, which premieres June 4th at 10 p.m.
That, or he just grew up in the right city, went to just the right schools and learned just exactly what the allure was of this magical place.
"I grew up in New York City," says Mark, as we joined him on a recent conference call to discuss the premiere season. "[I went] first [to] a public school, then a private school. When I got to the private school in Manhattan, I learned of what we called 'The Promised Land,' which are the Hamptons. I’ve always had an affinity for the Hamptons. I think it is one of the most romantic, beautiful, pristine [and] exclusive places on earth - in a private and kind of meditative way. So, when I heard about a show which was about a doctor set in the Hamptons, I jumped at it."
But it wasn't just the locale that appealed to him about being a part of the show.
"The role of Hank Lawson was a dramatic, comedic and romantic lead with all this dimension and everything that a good cable show has to offer. It was [also] on USA, which supports its shows rather than makes them crazy, as they do sometimes at the networks. I just decided that this was just my new vision quest, and I had to have it. A month later, after a relatively rigorous audition process, I got it and I was in heaven - and I still am."
Being on the call with Mark, it's hard not to find his enthusiasm for character and show contagious. But more than that, it's a closer look at the business of concierge medicine - doctors for hire.
"I had not heard of concierge medicine before [doing the show]," says Mark. "[But] my brother and I both would wonder, when we were sitting in the emergency room for five hours waiting for a doctor after getting banged in the head or breaking an arm in a wrestling match, saying, 'What do rich people do when they get hurt? Are they sitting here for five hours, waiting for some triage nurse to get you?' Here’s the answer: it’s concierge medicine. It’s private physicians for hire .... I just read an article in the New York Times that in this economic crisis of this country lots of things are getting hit, but one of the few things that is not only remaining stable as an industry but actually growing is concierge medicine. I guess it’s because even in times of panic or especially in times of financial crisis, people are still most concerned about their health; and, if there’s anything they would still spend the money on [it] is to guarantee that they don’t get sick. Furthermore, in times of financial crisis, their jobs will depend on their physical and mental well-being, so it will behoove them to protect that above all else. The good thing is the character [of Hank] has evolved, so I’m not just taking care of rich people. I take from the rich and also give to the poor."
Other highlights from the call:
On the challenges and appeal of playing Hank: "Hank is a complicated guy, because as a child his father lost all the family’s money in the stock market. You [also] find him, at the beginning of the pilot, getting fired for not bending over backwards and risking a neighborhood kid’s life to save a rich guy. So, he has a very tenuous and conflictual relationship to money, and [now] he is being asked to take care of people with a lot of it. So, I love the inner conflict built into the situation. I also think he’s just a good guy at heart, who wants to do good and make good on his Hippocratic Oath to take care of people. He's also a good brother. He looks out for people, and his heart is in the right place."
On how Royal Pains fits into the USA Network lineup and what sets it apart from other shows: "I’ve been on my share of network dramas and comedies, and the problem sometimes in a network is they have a single-minded focus on making the show true to whatever genre it is. So, if you’re on a drama, it better be procedural, it better fulfill all the demands of a procedural show, and you better keep those episodes independent so that if I’m watching the show in seven years as its syndicated on some other cable network, I don’t have to know what happened before or after the episode, and everything is meant to support the procedure. If you’re on, say, a comedy, everything has to be funny and wacky and zany. But somehow, USA has found the perfect marriage of procedural drama and comedy. They have it in Psych, they have it in Burn Notice, they have it in Monk, they have it in In Plain Sight; every show manages to somehow blend comedy and drama and tell a story that might be slightly serialized. So, you do have to tune in every week to see [where certain] relationship[s] are at. But at the same time, if you tune in [to our show], you’ll watch a medical drama - a medical story told from beginning to middle to end - [that] will satisfy all the demands of a procedure while giving you all this character, all this story, all this nuance and comedy along the way."
On Hank's less obvious characteristics, and the journey the audience is set to take with him: "Hank doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing there in the Hamptons. You know, he meets a girl he kind of likes - maybe loves - but beyond that, he was meant to be an emergency surgeon in a hospital in Brooklyn, and he lost [that job]. Why wouldn’t he just go to another big city and find another job as an emergency room? Well, he’s landed in the Hamptons, and he’s going to stay to see what it holds for him. He’s taken a turn in his life where he’s decided he’s going to be more impetuous, less planned out. The plan he had of the perfect life didn’t work out. So, really every week, we’re figuring along with Hank what he’s doing there."
On being the "Robin Hood of Medicine": "In [one] episode, there are all these people who are not rich, [but] who have been left behind by the medical care system. [T]here’s this pile of papers of people who all have lost their medical coverage - their COBRA’s have run out, their Blue Cross/Blue Shield premium has gotten too expensive. I steal some of those papers from Jill [administrator at the local Hamptons hospital and potential love interest, played by Jill Flint] and decide to go find these people. I find a guy who works on the docks in Montauk - he has Hepatitis C. I decide he’s going to be my patient, and I’m going to take care of him, even though the system won’t. So, at the end of the episode, Jill calls me the 'Robin Hood of medicine,' because I steal from the rich and give to the poor. When that phrase came out, I said to myself, okay, now I have some sense of what Hank is doing there. He’s going to help use the system out there, all the money out there, to help all the people who don’t have it."
Peaked your interest? It should. Plus, it's like getting a weekly visual vacation to the Hamptons - how could you pass up watching that?
Tune in for the series premiere of Royal Pains Thursday, June 4 at 10 p.m. on USA Network. For the entire scoop on the series and cast, head on over to the show's official site and enter to win a summer getaway to the Hamptons!