Acting wasn’t what Mark Feuerstein’s parents thought their high-achieving son would do after graduating from Princeton University. But he did earn a Fulbright Scholarship and chose to study acting.
He honed his craft on the soap opera Loving and was in several television series, including Caroline in the City and Good Morning, Miami, as well as the films Two Weeks’ Notice and What Women Want. He stars in the USA Network summer series Royal Pains, playing Dr. Hank Lawson, who runs a concierge medical practice in the Hamptons of Long Island. The 42-year-old is married with three children. Royal Pains airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q. Do you get a lot of jokes about I’m not a real doctor. I just play one on TV?
A. Kelly Ripa was just making them on national television. I was a guest and she kept saying, We’re here with Dr. Mark Feuerstein. I just explained if the acting thing doesn’t work out, I have this other profession.
Q. Speaking of that, you have a stellar academic résumé. Did your parents ever suggest being a lawyer or doctor as backup when you said you wanted to act?
A. My parents were definitely of the mind that I would be a lawyer, maybe a doctor, probably not an accountant. Lawyer, for sure. But when I got to Princeton and started doing plays, I think they secretly became terrified. To my face, they were incredibly supportive, which I will always appreciate and cherish. I think it was a combination of seeing me do good work and then eventually seeing me on television that gave them some confidence that I might actually be able to make a living at this.
Q. So they never gave the impression they were worried.
A. They never gave me the impression that they were scared, even though I know at the beginning they were.
Q. Did you ever question the value of your chosen profession?
A. There was a moment. My daughter was very sick three years ago, so that was the hardest time of our lives when she was ... undergoing two separate heart surgeries in March and May 2010. In the course of those 89 days, there was no good day to miss work and no sense of when it was appropriate to leave the show and be with my wife. Of course, on the days of the surgeries, they found a way to shoot around my schedule, but other than that I was at work.
You know, there would be nights texting the nurses at 3 in the morning trying to find out the status. Having to be on a set to shoot a TV show where I pretend to be a doctor didn’t seem all that important compared to the nurses and doctors who were saving our daughter’s life. That’s where the value of being an actor did not seem so great, as you asked.
But when I think about my most comfortable moments at home watching TV on the couch with my wife or going to the movies, some of the greatest moments we experience are when we are entertained, when people take us out of our humdrum existence. So on one hand, it can seem not valuable, and on the other, it can seem like the greatest escape.
Q. So what was it like the first time you were recognized on the street?
A. It’s funny. For probably 15 years, once I had been on Caroline in the City, I was that guy from that thing. You know? I would pass people on the street and they would say, Hey, you’re that guy from that thing, or, What are you on?
I would have to list my résumé, and I would say, Caroline in the City. They would say, No. I would say, Good Morning, Miami. They would say, No. At one time, someone even said, Wait, isn’t your father Harvey Feuerstein? Don’t you go to Park East Synagogue? I said, Yes, that’s me. He said, Oh, OK, that’s how I know you. So it’s run the gamut.
I am very happy to say now that Royal Pains is such a staple on the USA Network and well known, that no longer happens much. People know me as Dr. Hank from Royal Pains, and I am very proud to be Dr. Hank.
Q. Have you ever had any trouble maintaining your confidence as an actor?
A. Confidence and relaxation as an actor are the most prized commodities. Every day on set is a different combination of things that can throw you or things that make you feel more comfortable and more at home.
I am as susceptible as anyone to the whims and arrows of relaxation fortune because we are sensitive souls. When you are on set and you are feeling good about life and your show’s picked up for season five and six, it gives you a big boost of confidence and makes you feel great about life. It makes it easier to do your job. When you are on a sitcom and trying to be funny and the network is breathing down your neck and making you nervous that you are about to be canceled, it is a little harder to relax. So I am very lucky. Still, there are days where you lose your confidence as with anything.
Q. You’ve talked about how, to be a good actor, you have to let down your defenses and be vulnerable. When you do that on the job all day, do you come home more open or more closed up?
A. I think – to be funny – it’s a big shift when you go from being number one on the call sheet and people are grabbing you a nice cold seltzer every hour and serving you food when they have snacks and checking on your makeup and hair and you get primped and taken great care of, to come home and your wife is handing you one of your three children and saying, Get back to work. This ain’t the set of your TV show.
In terms of the emotional transition, I can’t say it’s a big difference. One is my job, where I try to tap into all of the things that make me human and convey them in the role of Hank Lawson or whatever role I am playing. And when I’m home, I’m similarly trying to access all of my serenity. In one, you are trying to summon the eternal emotions of anger, sadness, sweetness, humor and charm to play a character. At home, you are trying to avoid summoning anger and sadness and mostly trying to summon your patience.