Dr. Chris Taub, the scheming plastic surgeon on ‘House,’ has gone through the ringer this season. But the Chicago-native actor who plays him, Peter Jacobson, is just fine with that. He chatted with us about Taub’s tormented existence, tempts us with glimpses of the finale (just a few episodes away!), and dishes on what Princeton-Plainsboro is like without Kutner.
The biggest moment this season was no doubt when Dr. Kutner (who was played by actor Kal Penn) killed himself. How far in advance did you guys know? No one knew. We knew a month or two in advance what was going to happen with Kal [leaving the show for his new job working with the White House]. It was a long, slow evolution with Kal, he was involved with the [Obama] campaign from the beginning, so [his leaving the show for Washington] didn’t come as a shocker for us. How they decided to have Kutner go was a shock when we heard, and it was certainly a shock when they played it. But we had ample time to digest it.
What’s it like with him gone? For me, for all of us, we are mourning the loss of Kal from the show. He and I became very close friends and still are. But it’s also a very wonderful thing too. It’s a very rare occasion when you have a job like this and someone asks to be released to pursue that kind of work. And also very exciting.
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How’s he doing now with transitioning to politics? He hasn’t started out there yet. There’s still a couple weeks before he moves out there and gets going. But he and I are in contact at least a few times a week. We’re good friends. Our friendship, I think for all of us [on House], transcends the show. We’re part of each other lives and I think it’s been very hard for Kal to be off the show and watch from the sidelines because he loved being on it. It’s hard to leave a great show like this. It’s a real eyebrow-raiser. But, he’s got a great thing coming, so…
What do you think this means for House’s team? Is there an ideal character or person you’d like to see in Kutner’s place? I really can’t say. I know so many fantastic people who would be great on the show. Certainly, as the season winds down, as professionals in the hospital we were dealing with the loss of Kutner, as you’ll see in the last few episodes. In terms of how they’re going to fill that space, my sense is they’re not going to fill it right away. My sense is that the whole company sort of comes together more. I think you’ll probably see Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), and Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Foreman (Omar Epps), Thirteen (Olivia Wilde), and Taub really working a little more together than they were over the last two years when we were establishing the new team. I don’t know if Kal’s leaving was the catalyst for that, [the show] was probably heading in that direction anyway. So whether they’ll bring in a new actor is a little unclear to us at this point.
Some people think Dr. Taub would have been a more obvious choice to kill off—what do you say about that? I started reading that stuff too and hearing about that. The rumor was that someone was going to kill themselves and I was seeing a lot [about how people though it was going to be Dr. Taub]. I wasn’t offended by it certainly. It was confirmation that my character’s life and my role on the show has been deepened. People were aware that I had marital problems, financial problems, that the stress between House and I had been increasing. So, in a lot of ways I was the logical choice. I liked that I could be a red herring there.
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Fun to keep people in their toes, right? I enjoyed it. I certainly didn’t do anything to discourage that thought when people would approach me. I wanted it to be a surprise. And now, since he died, I’m beginning to hear [rumors] that I did it, which really makes me laugh. I was walking through the park yesterday and a guy passed me and goes, “Why’d you kill Kutner?” I was about to answer him but he didn’t want an answer–he just kept walking. I think he was mad.
Dr. Taub’s pretty tortured—what has it been like playing him this season? I definitely think the torture increased as the season went on, which I like. I’m not a glutton for punishment but any actor likes when the writing deepens, which [it has] for all the characters on the show. What I really love is how my relationship with House is becoming clearer and clearer each week. He’s abusive and I get under his skin a lot but I enjoy it: it’s fun writing, it’s fun to play, it’s a neat relationship and people certainly seem to be responding.
You walked out on House a couple episodes back—were you channeling something there? Oh yeah, I had some stuff to relate it to. It wasn’t too hard to search for that one! But again, it was really fun stuff to play. [House has no intention of taking Taub back] but that was for Hugh [Laurie] and the writers to know. For Taub, clearly the stakes were really high. He was in another crisis, a deeper crisis, and he had to respond. That’s what’s fun about acting, when you have good stuff to play like this.
What do you want to see happen for Taub, maybe next season? Obviously [he should] take over the teaching hospital and kick House out. I’ve learned over the past two seasons not to have too specific expectations about where I want my character to go because the writers are in control. It’s very clear that they call the shots and we follow. I would just love to see the relationships deepen. It’s so unpredictable as we go, but I’d love to see more exploration of my relationship with my wife. Interestingly mine is the only married character on the show. Having a family, and then having to work at the hospital, especially with House breathing down my neck–there’s a lot of fertile stuff there. As the cases go on, it’s interesting for everybody if our characters are struggling personally as they struggle professionally. That’s what makes for a deep show.
This season Amber came back at the end of the episode entitled “Saviors.” What’s going on there? Well, she is dead, so it’s limited. I don’t think she’s going to hook up with Taub in any way. I’m not at liberty to say where [the writers] are going to go with it, but she is back. How back she’ll be, I can’t say.
What can we expect in the season finale? The finale itself is pretty exciting. It’s also more subtle than a knock-down, drag-em-out, bus-exploding finale we’ve had in the past. It will be a very plot and character-altering finale and will really leave people wanting a whole lot more, which is hard to imagine. Next season the whole hospital, and the characters, will be looking at something different. It’s not a lot of bells and whistles, but it will be pretty intense.
You guys deal with a lot of serious material, who keeps the atmosphere on the set light? We all do. There’s no one clown. We work long hours and we try to get the work done. But because we work long hours and the work is difficult, there are some days where it can get pretty silly. Kal was a lot of fun to have on the set, so that was a bit of a loss. But Omar, Olivia, and I have a lot of fun needling each other, getting each other to crack up. And Robert (Sean Leonard, who plays Dr. Wilson) is always making people laugh. There’s a lot of hard work going, but we’re never so, so serious that we’re not taking the time to really mess with each other.
What’s it like acting while using all the medial equipment? It’s like patting your stomach and rubbing your head at the same time. In the first few takes I’ll have a total meltdown not being able to use the props and actually speak at the same time. I’m always trying to figure out how to work the damn thing, make sure the catheter actually works while I’m saying my lines as opposed to hitting somebody in the face.
So strictly business, no pranks or funny business going on? Work supercedes any desire to mess around, but there are some little [funny things] here and there. I was doing a scene where I had to be covered in scrubs. I had to wear this hair cover, like a hair net. It was late and we were trying to get this last scene done. They gave me this really huge net, and, when they put it on my head, I looked like a clown. [I was like] are you kidding me? They yelled action and of course said ‘Cut!’ right away and we’re all howling because I was pretty embarrassed. I didn’t want to say anything, like “This looks stupid,” or how dumb I thought it looked.
You’ve been on the show for two years, how has being a doctor on TV ebbed into your regular life? When I go to doctors I am much more fascinated with the minutia of what they do moment-to-moment. I could follow doctors around all day. [Because of the show] I can actually take my own blood pressure. I can remove a needle and put the gauze down the right way. It’s interesting to me to watch the procedures and how things are done. I used to look away and now I watch. It’s homework for me to see if I can make it more real.
If you had to be a doc in real life, what field would you choose? Definitely not plastic surgery, for some reason that makes me squeamish. I wouldn’t want Wilson’s job because I wouldn’t want to tell people they have cancer. I’d want to be more of a hospital administrator and be removed from the real grit of it all and the actual pain that can come into it. Or, I would be a cardiologist. That would be cool. All doctors save lives, but cardiology holds a fascination for me.
I know no one likes to think about a show ending, but what would be a satisfying end to the series for you in terms of what you’d like to see happen? I wouldn’t want to see things wrapped up nicely. Some shows try to tie up all the loose ends. But I also wouldn’t want a vague, what-the-hell-just-happened-finale, like in The Sopranos. Something true to all the characters, and certainly something that would be true to House. But, I’m having so much fun doing the show that I won’t let myself fantasize about the very, very end.