Mark Feuerstein got his start in acting when he played a recurring character in the daytime soap Loving. Now the star of Royal Pains,a medical drama set in the Hamptons, he also starred in the 2000 flick What Women Want, as well as Practical Magic and several TV series. In a far-ranging interview with WebMDthe Magazine, Feuerstein talked about his show, his native city, his family, his best and worst health habits,and the two foods he hates the most.
On Royal Pains, which kicked off its new season June 29 on the USA Network, you play Dr. Hank Lawson with a boutique practice in the Hamptons. And you film on location. Tough gig! But you grew up in New York. Was it a homecoming for you?
Royal Pains has been a huge homecoming for me. And by that I mean, I've literally come to the home I grew up in. I sleep in the crash pad next door to my parents. My mother invites me in for a salad after a long day of shooting, and my father wakes me up every morning to see how I want my eggs.
You're not a doctor, but you play one on TV. How did you prepare for this role?
We have an amazing emergency doctor on set, Dr. Irving Danesh, who not only supervises, with vigilance, the medical accuracy of the show, but who actually comes up with all of the unique, creative, completely credible yet insane medical scenarios that my character has to address. For research for the role, I met with Dr. Keith Black, head of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and was lucky enough to be invited to watch the removal of a brain tumor. To stand over a man's head and watch as a doctor fiddles around in the epicenter of who that man is -- his brain, his emotions, his motor skills -- it's beyond cool.
What's your favorite mystery ailment you've solved on the show to date?
I've relieved the pressure in a man's brain by drilling with a 1.5 inch drill bit into his head, I've performed a tracheotomy on a dog and, in a wine cellar, I've saved a woman from drowning by securing her neck and spine to a surfboard with a life-jacket. I've also created a Bair Hugger [a device used to warm patients in a trauma situation] out of what I could find in a restaurant kitchen (hair dryer, blanket, napkins). And what's most insane about these situations is that they've all really happened, and the protocols have been performed by emergency doctors in the field.
You're 40 now. What's your best health habit? Your worst?
What are your guilty pleasure foods?
Black-and-white cookies at Pick A Bagel, Crumbs cupcakes, Reese's Big Cup and a Fast Break, which is a phenomenal candy bar by any standards.
Is there one food you absolutely refuse to eat?
Liver! Though in its chopped, more Jewish incarnation, I quite enjoy it -- particularly on a piece of well-baked, heavily seeded Rye bread. And cilantro -- hate it!
In a Sex and the City episode, you infamously played the guy who couldn't satisfy Miranda. Luckily, life doesn't imitate art -- you've been married for six years. What's your secret to making it work?
Apologizing. Whatever negative energy, stress, and blame you can absorb without running the risk of imploding from resentment, do it and then pretend it's all good until it actually is -- because it always gets back to good if you're patient. I believe in honest, open communication -- the more angry and uncomfortable, the more it probably needs to get out. You won't know what challenges your relationship can handle until you put it out there. That said, and because of it, we have a wonderful marriage filled with joy, honesty, humor, and deep faith in and support for each other.
You have three kids, ages 5, 3, and 1. What's the most important lesson you're trying to instill in them?
The Dalai Lama said, "My religion is kindness," and that's a good one, but I think Pinkalicious' mom [a popular kids' book character] said it best, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."
How do you unwind when you're not working?
My favorite way to unwind is watching TV with my best friend from 4th grade, Eric Diamond. Once a week we get together, talk about life, and watch our favorite shows.
You solve medical mysteries on your show. In your personal life, your youngest daughter, Addie, has a rare heart condition. Did your TV character help you when you were working with her doctors?
Playing a doctor on television did not help me at all when I was working with doctors to figure out what was happening with her; it simply made me realize how far I am from an actual doctor. Addie recently underwent two open-heart surgeries, and it was the nurses and doctors of the CT-ICU at Children's Hospital LA who knew exactly what to do in all situations -- who knew how to adjust her meds and put in PICC lines and her NG tube, and it was Dr. Vaughn Starnes who knew how to navigate and rearrange the intricate highways of the human heart in order to save her life. She's doing great today. She's off all her meds, she's gaining weight, and learning how to walk -- it's a miracle. All those surgeons, doctors, and nurses who helped her remind me what an honor and privilege it is to get to pretend to be one of them.
How do you stay healthy while on set?
Luckily we shoot on the pristine beaches of Long Island, so every once in awhile I'm able to squeeze in a jog. I try to avoid the crafts services table, but sometimes that dried fruit just beckons.
You're a dad of three kids. What's the best parenting advice you ever got?
We've done RIE (Resources for Infant Educaring) with all of our 3 kids. It's a way of respecting your child from day one and listening more to who they are than to who you want them to be. Our incredibly wise RIE teacher, Liz Memel, once said, "It's never a bad idea to slow down." I believe in this wholeheartedly with parenting.
What's the most challenging part of being a working parent?
It's just hard to leave the kids at all. And they're going through so many changes without my leaving that I try to stay in their lives as much as I can. We Skype, and I fly back on weekends, but it's still not the same. Before I left to start work on season three of Royal Pains, I made a "Daddy's Leaving for NY" book with the kids, with pictures of the things we love to do together, descriptions of where I'll be and what I'll be doing, things they can do to make themselves feel better, ask for extra hugs, hold their babies, ask to call Daddy. It was great and they read it every day.
Has Addie's heart condition changed your family healthy habits in any way?
I don't think so. We're an active, healthy-eating family. We have been trying to get her to gain weight, so, as opposed to all the self-reliance we're trying to inculcate in our children, we've also been shoving food down her gullet for months. I think now we can back off and let her determine how much she wants to eat at a given meal.
What's the one incurable disease you most wish could be solved?
Heart disease. Congenital heart defects are the No. 1 birth defect. But cancer has been devastating to many friends and family so I would say I wish they could find a cure for both cancerandheart disease.
Not to mention HIV/AIDS, which is even more devastating on a global level. So many people are suffering and dying from so many incurable diseases it's very difficult to pick just one. And lest we forget: influenza, lupus, polio, Ebola, the common cold, and asthma.
You work in the Hamptons, a vacation paradise. Where do you and your family go to get away from it all?
We went to Legoland as a family and that was fun. But this summer my wife and the kids will join us here in New York and we will rent a house in Bridgehampton. The kids will go to a camp and the beach every day and their grandparents will be around. It will be heaven.
If you had to give up one of the five senses -- sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch -- which one would you pick?
I would say smell, but they're all so precious. I love the smell of my wife, my children, flowers, food. My mother unexpectedly lost her sense of smell for a period of time, and it was hard on her, but she's gained some of it back now, and I'm so happy because she's the one who taught me how to "smell the roses."
If you weren't an actor, what other career path might you have taken?
I'd have been a lawyer like my brother, my father, and most of my uncles. It's in the blood. But I took the path less traveled and oh! the difference to me. It's been a blast.