In anticipation of Super Bowl Sunday’s very special episode of HOUSE, the TV Addict recently took part in a conference call with guest star Mira Sorvino.
For almost an hour, the academy award winner was kind enough to answer questions about her much anticipated guest spot, what it’s like to work with the incredible Hugh Laurie and the odds of her appearing on her favorite reality TV show DANCING WITH THE STARS.
In the episode, you’re trapped in the South Pole and just have this room of stuff and you’re trying to cure yourself. Did it ever occur to you, “Oh, my God, I’m MacGyver.”?
Mira Sorvino: No, it did not. But it was pretty interesting how we sort of jerry-rigged various instruments to try and mimic the diagnostic capacity of a real hospital. The thing with the egg in the middle of the water was quite inventive.
When I read the description for this episode, I was put back in the mind of the South Pole doctor who had breast cancer in 1999 and had to perform her own biopsy and self-administer chemotherapy treatments. Is that a direct inspiration for this episode?
I don’t know. I’m pretty sure, because of the similarities, that the writers probably drew some inspiration from her. It certainly doesn’t directly follow her story line, but I think the concept of a person trapped in the South Pole with some medical experience, but no hospital to treat herself with, that’s pretty similar.
Did you follow that story with any interest back nearly a decade ago?
No, I was not aware of the story before, actually. Before I did the episode, I didn’t know that there had been such a tale, so it’s even more remarkable knowing it’s partially true.
So what is it that turns you on to this show, this character, and this particular story?
Well, I’m a crazy House fan. It’s my favorite show on T.V. and it’s funny because once I got pregnant with my first child, I ended up watching a lot more T.V. than I had for years and I just became absolutely addicted to House and just thought it was so intelligent and thought Hugh is so fantastic and the writing and the other characters. Everything about it just drew me in every week and continues to do so.
So when I met Hugh at the Golden Globe three years ago, and I was five months pregnant and nominated for Human Trafficking and he was nominated for House and we were all seated at the same table, I just started gushing about how much I loved the show. And I think I might have frightened him.
But then a few years later they called and said “We know Mira loves the show. We think we have one of the best female characters we’ve ever written on it. Would she like to come and do an episode?” I was really excited to do it, entering the world of my favorite show. It’s the equivalent of me as a child getting to go and … in the Six Million Dollar Man.
How funny that you still allow yourself to be a geeky fan instead of totally jaded by it all.
Well, I think the funny things is because when you’re a film actor, you kind of reserve T.V. as the last bastion of suspension of disbelief. You get used to the characters and you don’t really think about the way that it’s made. When I watch movies, I’m a lot more critical about the stunts, the edits, the performances. But on T.V. that’s my little place where, “Okay, I’m just watching.” I’m like everybody else; I’m just a spectator enjoying this.
Hypothetically, if you were ill, would you rather have the doctor who is warm has the great bedside manner and maybe he’s not the top, top, top guy; or would you want a Doctor House even if he were nasty to you and he hurt your feelings?
I would want whomever was the most motivated to cure me. If I were coming in for some kind of out-patient procedure, like I was having a broken bone fixed or something like that, I guess I’d want the nicest. But if I’m dying, or if I think I’m dying, I want the person who’s just going to bend over backwards to figure out what’s wrong with me, be they nice or not.
And he could call you all sorts of bad names…
But, in this episode there’s actually a little bit of chemistry between the two of us, so it’s not just a patient-doctor relationship. It’s more like a meeting of the minds between two somewhat similar people.
You’re this big fan of House and of Hugh Laurie. And then the script comes and it turns out that the characters are like 10,000 miles apart, and acting in different rooms and so forth. Was that kind of a surprise or not situation?
Well, they handled it with a great deal of grace and Hugh was awfully generous and would come and sit off-camera for me, even though we weren’t physically in the same room and I would do the same whenever possible. So whenever the schedule allowed us to be in the same room, we still were even though we’re supposedly just connected visually by a webcam.
But often that gets some of the best acting. When you think of all the performance in old movies that were by two people on telephones, there’s something that you can do with something acting where you’re not physically in the same room as the other person. Somehow your face or voice becomes more expressive or something. Does that make sense?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen the episode, so I can’t comment on whether I’ve a different acting style than usual. It seemed to me to give me more confidence just the fact that I felt like I already knew Hugh from the T.V. show. It’s very bizarre, but the fact that I’m playing a character whose supposed to have an instant repertoire with him, even if at times, it’s argumentative, she has a lot of confidence with him. Somehow that was increased by the fact that I felt like I knew Gregory House from years of watching the show. I can’t explain it, but that’s how I felt.
There’s these two things about Hugh Laurie; he’s this tremendous comedy actor and performer from England and then he came over here and did this pretty serious role. Did you get to meet the comic side of Hugh Laurie off-camera, and is it kind of hard to imagine the two inside the same person?
I don’t find it hard to imagine because I think that House is quite funny. I think he has amazing timing; his delivery is just so spot on and he always knows the best way to hit one of those over-the-top lines that he has, where he’s just saying something kind of shocking or rude. But he knows he can get away with it, kind of like a naughty boy. In person he’s funny too, but he’s also very smart, just like the character. I’ve never really seen his British farcical work, so I’m more exposed to this character than any other work.
Do you feel like to some degree there are parts of the overall House experience that you’ve missed out on because of the episode you had? Were there actors you wanted to work with that you didn’t get to?
Well, I didn’t get to work with Cuddy, and some of the other doctors. I did have interaction with some of the doctors, not all of them. But I have to say, it was pretty great having all these on-on-one scenes with House. So I didn’t really feel like I missed out on anything. I do know that if the opportunity arose for this character to be revisited and for a more intense relationship, perhaps romance, to grow between them – because she’s a teaching fellow at the hospital, so she’s on leave to the South Pole. She doesn’t live there permanently – that would be really neat and fun. And then I would assume I would have more interactions with everybody else as well. And they were all really great, too, to work with. They were all really generous and sweet and talented.
Well, you also mentioned earlier, the distinction between the way film actors view television and vice-versa. Do you feel like that’s a distinction that still really exists at this point?
Sure, there’s definitely a lot of blurring between the lines. I just myself have not done any episodic T.V. besides Will and Grace. So I still allow myself the guilty pleasure of watching it and completely sinking into it and believing it and not being at all professional about it when I watch. When I got to the set and I was inside House’s office to do off-camera for him and the other cast members I was like, “Oh, I’m inside his office” and then they started moving the walls. And I was like, “Oh, it’s not real.” And it was literally like I was a stupid kid. That’s how much I was tickled to be a part of the show. But no, in the broader sense, yes, there’s this huge fluidity now between film and television. I just have never decided to do a series.
Is that where you could see yourself deciding to do a series in the future?
You know, one never says never. But I know that I recently turned down some really nice opportunities, just because I want to spend all my time with my family as much as possible. And films allow me that project-oriented lifestyle where I can work or a month or three months on something and then not work for five months and spend all my time with my kids.
So my kids are the most important thing to me now and I have put them ahead of my career. Maybe when they’re older, I could see taking on a more full time responsibility. But at this moment I’m just trying to minimize my commitment, so that I am available for them because they amaze me and delight me and I want to raise them; I don’t want nannies to raise them.
Could you talk a little bit about the relationship, that kind of chemistry you mentioned between Cate and House?
Sure. At first I think it’s more founded on a little bit of skepticism on both sides. He doesn’t really believe in psychiatry at all and sort of mocks her for that, doesn’t think of her as a real doctor. She is the only medical professional on site to help the whole Arctic exploring team, or Antarctic exploring team down there, so she doesn’t want to use up any of the medical supplies on theoretical diagnoses. You’ve seen the show, I’m sure, where he’ll basically say “Well, treat her with steroids, if she gets better, we’ll know it’s that.” She doesn’t want to do that because she feels that that will hurt her colleagues’ chance of surviving some illness or accident because they’re all trapped down there for a good season because of the weather.
So does he come to you?
So it starts out that way, and then as they start communicating for some reason, I think he feels sympathy for her when she’s really all alone and has to diagnosis herself constantly and things go from bad to worse. They understand each other. I feel that she gets him in a way that none of the actual people in his world get him. They’re similar in that they’re both loners and strong-willed and there’s this nice little subplot, chemistry, sexual tension. There’s actually a bizarre co-mingling of that.
And the medical mystery side when she has to give herself a self-exam nude with a webcam, and he’s watching from the comfort of his living room with a roaring fire going on and he starts playing “Let’s Get It On”. But it’s kind of odd because she’s looking for cancer. It’s a pretty interesting, really well written episode.
So he goes from seeing her just as another patient to like on an equal level almost?
Yes, maybe. At least as a human being that he is somewhat intrigued by and has some degree of feeling for. Like you feel like he is concerned about her.
And she comes to connect to him as more than just a doctor, too?
Yes, you definitely feel that if they were not separated by thousands of miles and glaciers that maybe something would happen.
I wanted to ask you a little bit about, you mentioned before about being such a fan of the show and being able to watch the show. Now that you have been on House, do you think the show will have the same resonance for you? Will you still be able to enjoy it as that guilty pleasure, although you’ve been on it and seen how it works?
Yes, I think I’ll still be able to do it, because I’m an actress still. I know how they make things; it’s not like it was the secret peek into the toy shop and now it’s all gone. I’ve seen a couple of episodes since then and enjoyed them. I don’t think it’s going to ruin anything.
What was the biggest challenge? As you’ve said, you haven’t done a lot of television. What was the biggest challenge for you working on the episode set compared to, let’s say, a day on the film set?
I think that the pace is faster; you shoot more pages per day. You have less time to get it right in and I think that was a lot of pressure to feel like the performance had to be dead on within a couple of takes and then move on, although that’s not that different from independent film. But they still just shot more pages then you shoot in a film, so you just felt this crazy pace and the work still had to maintain the same high quality.
You also mentioned the fact that your character was alone a lot, but you mentioned the fact that as actors you really helped each other out by being in the same room when you could for the web monitor. How important was that to this role, and what did you take away from being able to work with an actor who was able to be that generous?
Well, I super admired it, because he was actually shooting two episodes at once while I was doing my episode. They have such ambitious plans for those shows. They’re really like a movie, one per week, and I don’t think that they’re able to physically finish them in the normal way a television show is shot. So they’ve actually started sometimes doubling up and having two crews at once shooting different parts of two consecutive episodes. And so, of course, Hugh, being the lead, is running around doing the lion’s share of the acting in both episodes, hopping from sound stage to sound stage, and he still found the time to come around and do off-camera with me. So I was really impressed with that.
In addition to House, which T.V. shows do you like to watch?
I love So You Think You Can Dance. I love that show. It’s so silly, but I love dancing, and it’s one of the only shows on T.V. that I feel like I can watch with my three year old and my one-and-a-half year old because there’s nothing violent about it, nothing scary, even the criticism is not really mean. Sometimes I feel like American Idol, they’re so vicious, that it almost sets up a bad message for kids that they have to be perfect otherwise people are going to mock them painfully.
And I think Dance has such a spirit of fun to it and my daughter calls them princesses, because of the sparkling dresses they wear, and she gets very excited when one of them is wearing pink. So that’s a totally different kind of show then House, but that’s something that I can watch while they’re awake.
And I also really like Without A Trace and Special Victims Unit. Those procedural shows I like a lot.
Okay. Any talk of a follow up visit to House?
There’s talk of it, but because of the writer’s strike, no one knows what’s going to happen. No one knows the plot lines because the writers have been unable to work since then, and they’re obviously the ones who will decide what happens to this character and to House. But I would love it. I would love to come back for an extended story arc, it was fun.
I’m very well, thank you. Could you just tell me how flattering it was for you that they called you and said we’ve got the best role written for a woman, and this is your favorite show? How did you feel about that?
I was very excited about that because when you’re a fan and then you feel like the compliment is returned, it’s a really nice thing. I had no idea that they were interested in me doing the show. I knew that I had told Hugh how much I loved it three years ago and then I thought, “Well, I’m never going to be on it.” And then to get that call that they had been sort of saving the best for me which was really nice and great. So I was very flattered.
Given your love of dancing shows, would you consider something like Dancing with the Stars?
Yes, I would, but my management would not let me do it. I think the problem is that the way that they have sort of categorized the contestants, you know the way that people can sometimes be sort of mean about them. I did Jimmy Kimmel when I was promoting Reservation Road and they always do the kick off that night and Mark Cuban came on and I met him and he was very nice. I was talking about how I was a fan of the show and Jimmy Kimmel was like, ‘Oh you mean, dancing with the D list celebrities?” and that was so mean and not fair.
But at the same time, unfortunately, that’s the way people look at the actors who do it, which isn’t right or fair, but it’s just sort of the way that it is. You can be like the biggest sports figure in the world, the best boxer and do it and no harm, no foul. But something about doing it as an actor right now seems to send out a message that there are problems in your career, which shouldn’t be the case, but that’s just the way people regard it. As soon as that goes away, I’m there. As soon as other people do it and there’s like a kind of a “Hey it’s for everybody now”, I’m on it that second. I love that show that much.
When you were shooting this, did you know that it was going to be the episode that aired after the Super Bowl?
There was a little talk of it halfway through. They said, “Oh, maybe this will be the Super Bowl episode”, and that was very exciting to me; but it wasn’t really confirmed until I was done, so that was a definite great piece of news.
I’m a fellow House geek, just to let you know. Some of the best House episodes in the three-and-a-half years, it’s been on have been those where House makes that connection with the patient and it sounds like this is going to be one of those. Maybe less silly, but more of that connection between House and your character. Is that pretty true?
Yes, I think so. I definitely feel that she understands his loneliness as he gets her solitary stubbornness as well. You feel like there’s a potential for more, and that if they weren’t million of miles away, something might happen.
Don’t miss Mira Sorvino’s episode of HOUSE this Sunday February 3rd, following the Super Bowl at approximately 10:15 (EST)
Photo Credits: ©2007 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX.