[Photo: © 2009 FOX Broadcasting Co.]
At this point in the interview, Katie Jacobs & David Shore, the executive producers for House joined the conference call. There’s much more info to come…keep reading! It gets more and more interesting. What a great opportunity for Kal Penn!!
Q: Kal, is there any chance that they’ll be having you do commercials or public service spots on behalf of the Administration?
K. Penn: I don’t know. That’s not something that we discussed. I would imagine that my role is not going to be any different than the other talented staffers who are already on that team. So, I would imagine not, but I don’t know for sure.
Q: Okay, and now for the producers, I assume this is going to resonate through the rest of the season, or how long will it resonate?
D. Shore: It’ll resonate at least through the end of this season. The impact on “House” and the rest of the doctors and the people that work there… is what we’re looking forward to exploring.
Q: Are you proud you were able to keep a secret in Hollywood as well as you did?
D. Shore: I’m absolutely startled, yes.
Q: It was a brilliant episode; just stunning. It’s no secret that in this climate, show producers are going to have to tighten their belts. Did Kal’s decision fit perfectly into that? Were you asked at all to bring the show in cheaper?
K. Jacobs: No. We were not asked to bring the show in cheaper. We have an immense amount of support from the studio and network with this show. These are purely creative and personal decisions and it’s just been fantastic the amount of support that we’ve gotten from the studio and network. I’m not saying we’re a cheap show, but you have to figure we’re pretty much on stage most of the time, not on location, but we have a tremendous amount of support. So, this had nothing to do with that.
Q: Now, there are clearly lots of shows violently killing off major beloved characters. I’m not even talking about Lost and 24, which almost kill for sport, but of course Edie on Housewives, Derek on Terminator. What does it bring creatively? I don’t know if you can speak in a more general way for lots of shows, but what does killing a beloved character like this bring creatively?
D. Shore: I don’t know I can speak generally at all. I know what it brought to us. I guess, obviously, stirring the pot brings something to any show. Kal came to us with his issues and his opportunities more specifically and we were very excited for him, but it created a creative problem for us. I’m very happy with the way it worked out. It gave us an opportunity to do something unexpected.
What’s fascinating about it is it’s a question that “House” can’t answer and he’s the man who has the answers to everything. It’s so unexpected for the “Kutner” character and that what was really exciting about it was the unexpected nature of it and the fact that there are no simple answers and not even complicated. I mean they were very complicated, but nothing that “House” can figure out and that’s what was very exciting to us and then, of course, just the very opportunity of dealing with the fallout for any human being, which is, I guess, the general answer because anytime somebody you’re close to dies, people react differently.
Q: Will you bring someone in to replace “Kutner”?
K. Jacobs: There is no replacement for “Kutner”.
D. Shore: Exactly.
Q: Are you going to leave it out there, the question of whether it was in fact a suicide, or is that going to be dropped from here on?
K. Jacobs: It was a suicide. It was a suicide.
Q: So, anybody out there super-analyzing the scene and looking for contradictory evidence, that’s just not going to go anywhere.
D. Shore: They’re being like “House”. They’re looking for more answers where they may not be more answers.
Q: Which individual would you say is going to be most impacted by the aftermath of “Kutner’s” death moving forward?
D. Shore: Everybody is going to be impacted. We are going to see perhaps surprisingly “Cameron” and “Chase’s” reaction to it. We’re going to see more of that. That doesn’t say that they’re going to have a greater reaction to it, but we are going to see more of that and, of course, “House’s” reaction and “Wilson’s” reaction and everybody’s reaction. It was important to us that we be as truthful with this as we possibly could and see how everybody react, but we are going to bring “Cameron” and “Chase” to the forefront a little bit.
K. Jacobs: Yes, I mean everybody feels the impact of such a significant loss and people process it and characters process it in different ways, I think that the greatest impact, correct me if I’m wrong, David, is ultimately with “House” because he is not at peace. He’s unable to rest with the idea that he did not see it coming and cannot explain it. So ultimately, I think it has the greatest impact on “House”.
D. Shore: Yes, he is the one who has the least ability to cope with it and as a result, it has the greatest affect on him.
K. Jacobs: Yes. He has no resources. He has no sort of family to go home to.
Q: I have kind of a chicken and egg question for you in terms of how far back you knew you were going to do this. It seems as if there hasn’t been much done with “Kutner” in quite a while, which allowed you to do this ending where we didn’t know much about him and it was ambiguous why he would have done it. Was this a case of you knew you were going to kill him off and therefore you wanted to put him to the sideline a little bit, or did you look back and realize, “We haven’t done a lot with “Kutner”. Therefore, we have the ability to do this”?
K. Jacobs: That’s not how we felt about it at all. We knew a while ago. David figured out how he wanted to envision this in December and I’m actually surprised. You might be right, but I feel like he’s been an important part– I mean in the very last episode, he solved the case. He solved the case a couple of episodes before that too. He was sort of riding a wave of success in “House’s” team. He had given Kal the go ahead to take credit for it, but I feel like we played him a lot recently. David?
D. Shore: Kal, are you feeling under utilized?
K. Penn: No.
D. Shore: [laughs] You’re free to say it now. You don’t have to kiss my ass any more.
K. Penn: I never felt under utilized. In fact, what I talked about earlier was one of the nice things about having had the chance to do a series that’s an ensemble is you’re constantly learning about your character. So, it’s constantly fresh. It’s fresh in learning about himself, but also learning about the way in which he reacts with the other cast members, the other characters. I think that was especially true in a couple of episodes where you see the banter between “Kutner” and “Taub” or “Thirteen” and “Kutner” talking about something or other that had nothing to do with medicine. Actually, I really enjoyed it. I don’t think I was under utilized at all.
Q: Well, maybe the way I should have phrased it then is that we saw quite a bit of “Kutner” professionally, but not personally to the degree that we’ve seen pretty much every other character this season.
D. Shore: I think it is true that had we seen some major dilemma in his personal life we could not have done this story the way we did because one of the integral elements of this story is that there are no easy answers available. If he married and have an affair, if he just broke up with a girlfriend– Even though the answer would have been much more complicated than that, that would have been something that somebody could just hang on to and feel that that was the answer and we didn’t want that there.
Q: You mentioned a couple of minutes ago about bringing “Cameron” and “Chase” to the fore a little bit. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
D. Shore: No. Again, as Katie said, the impact is mainly on “House”, but of the other people, we do see some fallout with “Cameron” and “Chase” in, I think, an interesting way. Again, I don’t want to spoil it.
Q: Well, it was worth a shot.
D. Shore: I can tell you that everybody has a slightly different reaction and it was important to us that we see varied reactions. Both “Cameron” and “Chase” do not have a unified reaction.
Q: Is there any sort of longer range plan for bringing a new member into the team?
D. Shore: I go with Katie’s answer, that “Kutner’s” irreplaceable.
Q: The “Kutner” memorial site that you put up on the FOX website, how long was that in the works and Kal, do you find it kind of creepy?
K. Jacobs: Do you, Kal?
K. Penn: No, not really. When I heard that it was going to happen, that was the first question I asked. I think what I said was just don’t put any of my real family photos on the website. Make sure they’re the ones from all the photo shoots that we did when we wrapped up episode 20. They said, “Of course. Obviously.”
It’s sad certainly. It’s sad because I loved playing the character and to see that the character is not around and took his own life, obviously, is incredibly disturbing, but I mean it’s very, very clear that’s it’s a “Lawrence Kutner” memorial page.
K. Jacobs: Our motivation came from that it felt like such a significant thing that we were doing that I didn’t want the audience in any way to feel that we took it casually, as if everything can go on the day after the same as it was the day before because we felt profoundly changed and I was thinking if the audience, the fans of the show felt that change, that they would want to know that we thought about it a lot beforehand and that we took it really seriously and that we would want them to have somewhere to turn to express any or all of their thoughts and emotions and feelings about the show and about what we did to the show.
But mostly, we’ve been working on it for a while. It came from the notion of letting our audience know that this was a big deal to us. And so, it felt like a big deal to them that we sort of have that in common.
D. Shore: Let me just add to that. This has nothing to do with the memorial per se, but it relates to what Katie was saying. This was a big deal. I wasn’t on at the beginning of the call when Kal was speaking, and Kal knows this and he’s expressed this same sentiment in reverse. This is not something that would have happened if not for these wonderful opportunities that Kal’s been presented with. We loved him. We loved working with him. Once this happened, we were not going to stand in his way. We were thrilled for him as human beings, but as executive producers we had second thoughts. We were thrilled for him and we found a way that I think is very exciting for us creatively, but it would not have happened if not for this great personal opportunity.
K. Jacobs: It was the only reason why I didn’t want Obama to be the candidate and then– no. I mean seriously, this has been on Kal’s mind for a long time and I remember saying to David, “Well, he hasn’t even won the primary yet. Well, he hasn’t even”– Do you know what I mean? Because I think I was in a state of denial. Just for the record, I obviously was the hugest Obama supporter that there had been, or one of them. I mean I was just trying to avoid the reality that we would actually have to face this moment.
Q: Actually, let me ask a follow-up question because it seems like you’ve been working towards a suicide storyline for a while. From my understanding, this is something that you’ve been planning for a while if not with this character. You’ve had your–
K. Jacobs: Only with this character.
D. Shore: It was only with this character. The plans are this. We were noodling stuff around. We knew that we might have to face this. And so, we had been noodling stuff around since the fall. It really came together concretely, I guess, very early December – right after the election basically, but we had the thoughts in mind and then we mapped out the end of the season at the beginning of December.
Q: You’ve been pulling a bit of a bait and switch though because you certainly made it seem like “Taub” was not in a good way.
K. Jacobs: Everybody has problems and different ways of dealing with it. “Taub” is struggling in his own way. But as I said, I think that’s more close to real life. It’s a little silly to think that we all don’t have our struggles on the inside. It’s how they manifest and how we deal with them.
Q: There’s a point in there where “Thirteen” says, I think, about 25% of people kill themselves with no sign of it at all. I assume from your research that’s a correct number. I just wanted to double check if that is the case.
D. Shore: Yes, that’s not a number we just pulled– Well, we don’t pull any numbers out of our hat. That is something that research supports. I know there is conflicting research, but it’s certainly a surprisingly significant number.
Q: Did you consider any other ways to have the character leave?
D. Shore: We considered many ways to have the character leave. Ultimately, as I said before, this has been the story that allowed us to really have the greatest impact on “House” in particular; have an impact on everybody, but in particular the man who craves answers not having an answer. That is what really excited us about this story.
Q: Okay, and although you said you’re happy for Kal, this obviously threw a wrench into your plans. You hear stories about producers sometimes deciding violent ways for characters to leave when they’re not pleased. Was there any of that?
K. Jacobs: No. We’re, I’m devastated. This phone call is making me more sad than I was the other day when I saw Kal.
D. Shore: If he had come to us and said, “I’ve been offered a great part on CSI,” then yes, we would have had him–
K. Penn: I’m actually going to do Grey’s Anatomy, David.
D. Shore: It would have been auto erotic asphyxiation or something like that. [laughing] No, we’re thrilled for Kal. This is something that as human beings you hear about this and you go– If anybody on our crew had come to us and said, “I need to leave because I’ve had this sort of opportunity,” we would have wished them well and been thrilled for them and gone back into our office and go, “What do we do now?” We would have been thrilled.
Q: Kal, actors/celebrities going into public service goes back as far as Shirley Temple, maybe even earlier. I noticed on the FOX website that there’s a lot of viewer comments, very positive for the most part, but there’s also a strain of cynicism amongst some of the comments; people saying, “Oh, another actor trying to be a celebrity, using a celebrity to go into public service.” How would you respond to that?
K. Penn: I mean I can certainly understand that sentiment, but I would respond to that by just being open about the fact that I’m not a democrat or a republican. I’ve been a registered independent for a number of years. I’ve made it very clear to the White House that I should not be given any special treatment. It’s a privilege to be asked to serve there and I’m looking forward to being just one member of an incredible team that already exists in the Office of Public Liaison. I’m going to be putting acting on hold and it was also made very clear to me that I was being hired because of qualifications that had nothing to do with being a “celebrity.”
So, I certainly understand any of the cynicism that comes along with that. Fortunately, in my particular case, none of the – and I even hate the word – celebrity aspects of this had anything to do with me going into public service.
Q: or when we had the Kal, you’re a funny guy. You’re the kind of person that people– You’re funny. When I see your face, you make me laugh. So, are you going to use humor much at all in your new job? Does humor have a place?
K. Penn: You mean I’m funny when smart writers write witty things for me to say.
Q: I guess.
K. Penn: I always pursue things with a sense of humor. I think it keeps things lively and active, but I also think that there’s a time for humor and there’s a time to be more serious and hopefully life brings a balance of both.
K. Jacobs: Actually, we’ve cut that part of his brain, the funny part of his brain out and we’re holding on to that here at House.
K. Penn: They actually have the right to hold that for I think it’s another four years. So, I can get it back after that.
Q: To the producers, I’ve worked in the newspapers for 20 years and newspapers/media in general are very, very cautious about reporting suicides of any kind because suicides often cause rashes. You’ve seen it in high schools and the native reserves and that kind of thing. I know you put some resources on the FOX website for people who are contemplating suicide, but are you concerned that you may have an incident in the future or that you may precipitate an incident at all involving suicide? Was it a risk that you consider worth taking?
K. Jacobs: I certainly hope that that’s not the case. The intention was to bring to light the fact that this can happen and at the end of the show, we ran a NAMI ad. If you are all contemplating suicide, there’s help out there for you and we placed a number. If anything, we were hoping quite the opposite, that we would have people who are feeling in a desperate way realize that they are not alone and that there’s help out there for them.
D. Shore: I concur. Thank you, Katie. We did not want to glamorize it. We wanted to show that there are alternatives, that you communicate, you reach out to your friends.
K. Jacobs: The other thing is that even if it’s not directly related to everybody, take a good look. If you feel like one of your friends or someone you know is in distress, again, there is somewhere for you to go. So, we were trying to be very responsible about it and very human about it. I think one of the things about mental illness that troubles people so much is that they feel that it’s stigmatized and that they can’t talk about it and they feel very alone. We want to convey that it is a medical illness, because it is, like any other medical illness and there is treatment. So, that was our hope.
Q: Just to be clear, there’s no evil twin brother doctor who’s likely to return in three or four seasons on House.
K. Jacobs: You come up with a great script for it, we’ll consider it.
Q: This is for David. I’m just wondering; will there be a major change in “House’s” character because of this?
D. Shore: Look, “House” says nobody changes and I sort of agree with them. This will prompt him to question some of the choices he makes and it will, perhaps, promote him to try and change. Whether he succeeds or not is a completely different question.
Q: This is for Kal too. I wanted to go back to the cynicism out there. I’ve had people saying, “Has he paid his taxes?” making cracks about Washington. Are you worried that the way the character died will overshadow your new job?
K. Penn: No, and I certainly hope that most of us out there recognize that there’s a big difference between fact and fiction and that the characters that an actor plays are very different than his or her real life. Superman flies and Anthony Hopkins eats people in Silence of the Lambs, but I think we’re all rational enough to know that those are both fictitious. By the same token, the same goes with television.
What I am hoping that folks recognize for all us, no matter what your political affiliation, the last couple of months have been incredibly exciting. It’s definitely a new day. I’m hoping to put that sort of cynicism behind and move forward collectively with something a little more positive. I have a feeling that the majority of folks are in that mindset as well.
Q: I was kind of curious; is “Kutner” going to be the cupid who is going to bring “House” and “Cuddy” together?
K. Jacobs: Another good idea. What do you think, David?
D. Shore: Yes. I think being dead might put a crimp in that, but no, not in the foreseeable future.
The serious answer is this, and what David saying earlier about how everybody reacts differently. I think you’re so right to say that certain people would take the impact of this horrible event and want to be closer and want to sort of couple up and be closer to people. But with “House,” it sends him in the opposite direction. So, no.
Q: Are there any plans to kind of explore more maybe any motive behind “Kutner’s” decision?
D. Shore: No. The issue is it’s unknown. I mean obviously, there ultimately is a reason. Something went on in that man’s head, but it went on in that man’s head and it is ultimately unknowable. I think that in our show is a more interesting question. The question of dealing with that and accepting that is a more interesting issue than trying to put a little pin in the answer.
K. Jacobs: It’s a struggle.
Q: Did you shoot any flashback scenes, or is that really the last time that we have seen “Kutner”?
D. Shore: We didn’t. We actually thought about that and we specifically rejected that because again, any flashback would have to be chosen for it telling us something. This story is about us knowing nothing. The answers are in his head and we can’t get there. And so, we ultimately decided that we should know what we know and not what “Kutner” knows. So, we decided that because this is so unfathomable, we shouldn’t see that.
K. Jacobs: It’s the way that it is. When you lose somebody, it is a shock and there’s such a mix of emotions. You feel sadness. You feel anger and I think the intensity of those emotions are made even greater by the fact that you cannot go back. Once someone is gone, they’re gone. David’s decision to make this happen at the beginning part of the episode and in a way that gave us no clues, I applaud because it’s devastating, but it’s how we feel when something like that happens. You’re just caught off guard. There are no answers and there is no going back. We wanted to put the audience in “House’s” and in our characters’ shoes and feel it in that kind of raw, unexplainable way.
D. Shore: Inexplicable?
K. Jacobs: [laughs] Either way.
Q: I wanted to know how much, if at all, your association with the National Alliance on Mental Illness influenced the choice of the story.
K. Jacobs: It did not influence the choice of the story at all. This is something that, as David said, has been ruminating in his brain and I always find he’s thinking about; David is thinking about ways of telling stories in his head and then on this writer’s retreat that we took in early December, the whole story sort of came out and poured out. Then it just seemed like a natural connection to reiterate our alliance with National Association on Mental Illness. So, the story comes first here and then we try to– Story comes first above all else and then we try to have everything fall in line to follow that.
Q: Was the decision to sort of align with the National Alliance on Mental Illness influenced at all by the story kicking around in your brain, David?
D. Shore: No, that alliance was in there for quite some time.
K. Jacobs: We made that alliance to NAMI years ago.
What do you think of the things they had to say? It was worth the long read, wasn’t it?