Mark Feuerstein ‘93 grew up in New York City. He attended The Dalton School from 6th grade to 12th where he was captain of the football and wrestling teams and senior class president. While at Princeton University, he started acting in plays such as Orphans, Henry IV, Twelfth Night, Kiss of the Spider Woman, King Lear, and A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1994, he received a Fulbright scholarship to study acting in London for a year, in addition to a month of clown class. He made his Broadway debut in The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Television credits include Fired Up, Caroline in the City, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, Once and Again, 3Lbs and Good Morning, Miami. His movies include Woman On Top, Practical Magic, The Muse, Rules of Engagement, What Women Want, In Her Shoes, Defiance, Life Partners, In Your Eyes, Meadowland and most recently, Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant, which he produced and starred in. Mark co-stars in the hit series Royal Pains which will be completing its eighth season this September. Mark and his wife Dana reside full-time Los Angeles with their three kids, Lila, Frisco and Addie.
When did you first experience the arts?
I grew up as the son of a New York lawyer and of a teacher of teachers, my father and mother respectively. My parents are avid theatergoers and wanted to instill in me the value of an artistic education. As a kid, I was exposed to all of the arts: the great musicals, from Cats to Starlight Express, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables; MoMA; The Nutcracker; and operas. I loved the arts, but none of them really spoke to me. I wanted to be a lawyer, not an actor. The arts came to me not instantaneously, but slowly, through schooling. In kindergarten, I played a strong man in the circus at Horace Mann School Nursery Division. I was as big a ham as they’d ever had. It took me a good half hour to raise my paper machete dumbbell from the floor up to its full height. As I stood there in my blue leotard, pushing that thing up with all my might, my face turning red, the audience of lawyers and doctors erupted into applause. That may have been the beginning of the addiction.
As a high school student at Dalton, I had an awareness of the track that I imagined we were all supposed to be on: Go to a great private school; get into a good college which, if you do well, leads to a good law school, after which you enter the standard parental workforce, which means being a lawyer or a doctor or an investment banker. I did all the requisite things to make that track possible. In Mr. Mason’s modern drama class, I also got to read the roles of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire and Jean in Miss Julie, parts I eventually got to play in full productions. At one point, Mason came to me and said, “Mark, if you ever have the urge to become an actor, you should really think about it.”
How did you end up at Princeton?
I first came to Princeton as a sports prospect and while on campus visited all the kids who had come from Dalton. I found them to be really cool, so welcoming. That’s when I thought, “I love Princeton.” My parents weren’t necessarily thrilled that I chose Princeton, because Harvard is etched on every New York parent’s brain as the place you’re supposed to go.
What were some of your most memorable experiences with the arts at Princeton?
At Princeton, I began by continuing my career as a jack-of-all-trades, a builder of resume, an extracurricular guy. I organized a dance for the steering committee of the class of ’93 and bussed in all of these good old southern boy freshmen to a club called Mars in New York, where I think drugs and hypodermic needles were being used on the third floor. I protested with Hillel against Stokely Carmichael, holding up signs that said “Stop the Hate.” I was on the lightweight football team and that led me to being a pledge in the Zeta Psi fraternity. Then, somewhere in the middle of freshman year, something happened on the way to football practice. I saw a sign for auditions for a play called Burn This. I don’t know what it was on that fateful day that inspired me to audition. I think it’s because Princeton is the kind of place where the arts are not so intimidating that they keep a guy like me, who’s thinking of being a lawyer, from trying out for a play.
I auditioned for the role of Pale, the part that John Malkovich had made famous. The character cursed a lot, so during my audition, I put on my best Andrew Dice Clay impression, grabbing my crotch as I yelled “Burn this!” When I’d finished, the director, Sarah Colby ‘90, a petite girl from Connecticut, sat there in shock, her mouth agape. She said, “Thank you very much.” I did not get that part. But the assistant director, Lewis Anthony Martin ’91, saw something in me and asked me to audition for Lyle Kessler’s Orphans and I got it.
Orphans was my first play ever. I got to be this tough guy, Treat, who was a pickpocket and carried a butterfly knife. It was me, Josh Klausner ‘91 and Johnson Garrett ’91 playing two brothers and a father figure, relationships I’ve experience in my own life so it felt very personal. It’s an amazing play and I completely fell in love with the whole experience of being on stage. Something I’ll never forget: during one performance I forgot my gun, a key prop in Act II. Johnson was playing Harold, the father figure. From the far end of the stage, he turns to me and says, “Give me the gun, Treat.” This is the moment where I’m supposed to produce a gun. So I did what any moron who’s new to acting would do, which is to become Marcel Marceau and mime a gun. No, not even mime, which would have been cleverer. My thumb and pointer finger become a gun. I covered it, eked my way across the stage and tried to slip my fingers off into his jacket, hoping he’d just let it go. But of course, John C. Garrett, rigorous, authentic neorealist that he was, turned to me and said, “Ah. No gun.” I just looked at him, and if my eyes could speak, they would have been saying to him, “Yes, Johnsie—no gun, which is why I fucking mimed it to you!” We stood there for the most painful 15 seconds of my life until somebody else on stage found a line and got us back on track. But ouch, that hurt.
After Orphans, I did something like 15 plays at Princeton. In the thesis production of Eugene Jarecki ‘91, Shakespeare’s Henry IV, I got to play Hotspur alongside Josh Klausner’s Prince Hal. Eugene was a brilliant director. Both Eugene and Josh were so smart, I loved learning from them about acting and directing and writing. Another production was Divorcasaurus, written and directed by Rob Melrose ’92 who was such an auteur at that time. That’s where I met my buddy Bill Dawes, and Melinda Hamilton who would later be my Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. We did Kiss of a Spider Woman, and I remember saying this line, “Guava Paste,” which got a big laugh, and that all my buddies remember quoting back to me. It became this running joke, this ridiculous thing, but it created a coalescence of my two Princeton lives, my now established theater career, and the world of my buddies who I lived with and loved and who had nothing to do with the theater.
Who are some of the teachers or mentors who inspired you?
After Orphans and Henry IV, I wanted to learn more about what it was that I was diving into. Enter Michael Cadden. I took his class in contemporary theater. He was an incredible teacher and raconteur. He shared personal stories and experiences of his own life working on productions at Yale. He created such a romantic picture backed up by a deep and specific knowledge of the theater, not just from an historical perspective, but also from an anthropological one. His excitement, brilliance and enthusiasm for great plays and great theater in general was so compelling. He had sort of a cult following who just loved him, and he made himself accessible to us, allowing us come up to him and talk about our love of the theater and the plays that we were doing.
During my sophomore year, Michael recommended that I intern in a production of Chekov’s Three Sisters at the McCarter Theater. Emily Mann, the director, was kind enough to give Jeff Glass and I very small parts. So over winter break I stayed and played in a production that starred Mary Stuart Masterson, Linda Hunt, Laura San Giacomo, Frances McDormand, Edward Herrmann, Josef Sommer, Myra Carter, Paul McCrane, Peter Francis James, Mark Nelson ‘77–this incredible cast of New York theater and film actors. I was so lucky to be a part of it and to get to watch their process: Mark Nelson tearing through academic studies of these characters; Frances McDormand, as Masha, rehearsing the scene where Vershinin leaves her over and over again, rapt with emotion and dropping to the floor every time. It was amazing and I’ve never been happier to give up a Christmas vacation in my life.
Another significant learning experience was with Richard Schechner, in a class I took junior or senior year. He introduced us to the Living Theater, the theater of the 1970’s. He screened the Brian de Palma film of his own production of Dionysus in 69 with The Performance Group. It was incredible to see in a play all these naked hippies fucking in the aisles. It wasn’t surprising that when Richard Schechner came to our very traditional version of House of Blue Leaves, he was asleep in the 20th row. Just dead asleep. He was not afraid to comment on it later in a panel discussion with Liz LaCompte and Richard Foreman arranged by Michael Cadden. He said, “You guys are doing such standard stuff. Why are you here? Why aren’t you exploring?” For me, and for many of my peers, we had just come to the theater. We needed exposure to the basics. We weren’t ready to be doing Guerilla Theater.
Michael Cadden continued to help facilitate all of my artistic dreams by allowing me to use my production of The Cherry Orchard as my junior paper. He also wrote me a recommendation for my Fulbright–in fact, I believe he suggested I apply. To this day, I’m so proud of that scholarship. I went to London to study Restoration Comedy, Jacobean Tragedy, Shakespeare. Then, I got to study with this French clown teacher, Philippe Gaulier, who changed my life. He was just so incredibly funny and brilliant. He would break a person down so they lost their poseur persona, becoming a naked raw performer before an audience, stripped down to the most basic essentials of what theater is. I learned so much from him.
Melissa Smith was another great supporter of mine at Princeton. She asked me what my fantasy role would be to play. Having been a huge fan of Marlon Brando all my life, I told her that I would like to play Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire. That production became my thesis. I had the idea to create an actor’s journal modeled on Antony Sher’s The Year of the King in which he recounts his experience creating the role of Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Sher writes about the ghosts of Olivier and others and how one can’t not acknowledge legendary performances. For me, there was the ghost of Marlon Brando. I had to navigate the things that came before me and create a performance that wasn’t just a copy, a museum piece, but alive, fresh and real. My written thesis included an academic study of acting, a history of the play, diary entries about performing in the production, all with the support of both 185 Nassau and the Department of English. Melissa Smith was so helpful. I had this idea to play my dream role, and she helped me realize it.
Describe your professional journey since graduating from Princeton.
After Princeton, I was looking around for what to do next, and my father recommended I go see the niece of his allergist, which is how all great careers get started. I did what my father told me to with some resentment, only because I didn’t know better. She took me into her office and said, “I’ve got Alec Baldwin’s voice right here!” She set up meetings with two casting directors, one who represented commercials, the other with a larger and more established agency who represented commercials, theater, TV and film. Both were interested in me, which was very fortunate, so I said to the more legitimate one, “Listen, I could go with these other guys, but if you represent me for theater, TV and film, I’ll go with you.” I guess I seemed somewhat confident in that moment, because I remember J. Michael Bloom, the head of the agency, looking at me in my chair and saying, “Listen, kid, if you look up the word ‘cocky’ in the dictionary, you’ll see my picture there, not yours.” But they ended up representing me, and that was a huge step in the right direction.
I started doing Off-Off-Off Broadway Theater and at the same time I did a production of Macbeth at Classic Stage Company, which is how I got my Equity card. I got a play at A.C.T. in San Francisco called Dark Rapture. During the run, a couple of us would drive down to LA every week on our day off to meet with whoever we could meet with. I got a meeting with the VP of talent at Paramount. She took me into a room of producers where I tested for a sitcom called Fired Up, and I got it. Literally the first TV role I landed was a recurring role. It was like pressing hyperspace in Asteroids. Suddenly I was in LA doing two sitcoms at the same time, Caroline in the City and Fired Up, and living the Hollywood dream. That led to other TV shows and to movies; it was the beginning of my legitimate career.
The sitcoms were a great jumping off point and led to the things I’m most proud of, shows like The West Wing, where I got to work with Aaron Sorkin. I remember being on the set of Practical Magic on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle at the end of a long week and having a glass of wine with Sandra Bullock and Griffin Dunn, thinking, “Holy shit! I’m living this dream!” I did Rules of Engagement with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel Jackson. As I sat between them at the desk of the courtroom, Tommy Lee Jones was giving me shit because I went to Princeton, talking about plays he ran as a key member of the Harvard football team, being roommates with Al Gore, all of that. While I was doing that movie, I auditioned for Woman on Top with Penelope Cruz, which took me to Brazil for three months to shoot in Rio and Bahia. That led to shooting What Women Want with Mel Gibson. Mel used to cook steaks on the lot of Culver Studios. I remember I was complaining about shaving, and he brought me these special bump-fighting razors. He couldn’t have been nicer to me.
One of my favorite comedic roles was in The Muse, working with Albert Brooks. He was like a kid in a candy store, so happy to be working on a movie. He was brilliant and neurotic and so funny. At one point during shooting he swore he could hear a buzzing sound. He just kept saying, ‘There’s a buzzing! There’s a buzzing! There’s a buzzing!” And, they found it—a refrigerator, two sound stages away—he was right!
Another highlight was shooting In Her Shoes with Cameron Diaz and Tony Collette, directed by Curtis Hansen, who’s so brilliant. He said to me, “Listen Mark, you do a lot in life, and it can come off as confident and cocky, but it can also come off as masking a certain insecurity. And this guy you’re playing, Simon Stein, is simple. He’s Simple Simon. He does what he says and he says what he thinks. So you can lose all of that.” I remember as we wrapped, standing on the set and Curtis saying, “Congratuations, Mark, you really found Simon Stein.” The fact that he said that meant a lot, it meant that I had done well and that he was right to put his faith in me.
Royal Pains has gone for eight seasons, the job any actor dreams about finding. And I got it through a funny happenstance. I went to New York to have my wisdom teeth out and the prosthodontist said, “You should meet my son Andrew, he’s in LA, he’s a writer, maybe you would like him.” So I met up with Andrew, we made friends and hung out for years. I was in Canada shooting an episode of John Carpenter’s show, “Masters of Horror” when producer Adam Goldwin shared with me that Andrew, whom he knew from UCLA, had a show being made about a doctor in the Hamptons. So I called Andrew up and said, “Congratulations that your show is being made, and congratulations that I’ll be starring in it.” After two months of testing for the network, including getting rejected once, I actually was starring in it.
I’m forever grateful to executive producers Andrew Vancehstci and Michael Rausch and the USA network who let me perform the lead in Royal Pains. We got to tell the full story of Hank Lawson, this comedic, dramatic, romantic medical MacGyver, and so many other personal stories, human stories, stories about character that weren’t just about hitting plot points. I’ve gotten to work with the best co-stars, directors, designers and technicians. We had at least 100 incredible guest stars join us, mostly New York TV and stage actors, and we got them to play the person who had symptoms of anaphylaxis or some abdominal issue. Once, when a particularly great role came up, I let my good friend from Princeton, Bill Dawes, know about it. He came in for it and crushed it. I also got to direct a couple of episodes, which was a scary thing, but such a gift to be able to tell the story of not just one character, but all of the characters. On top of that, I wrote and directed four rap videos as promotions for the show. One great thing about directing was that I got to see all of the amazing chefs that came together to make this magical soup that was our show. I wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about the fact that, though the credits may say, “Directed by Mark Feuerstein,” that is basically a lie, because though I’m directing and picking shots, I’m dead without our set designer, our costume designer, our grips, our electricians, all of whom are a part of that family. And we are like an adoptive family. We’ve been together for eight years and that’s the rarest of rare in our business. It’s surreal, because when it ends, I may not see these people again. Or many of them. I hope that’s not the case.
Royal Pains Official “Wrap Rap” Music Video
Royal Pains was this incredible gift on every front except for the fact that I was leading a bicoastal life, having to fly back every weekend to be with my family in Los Angeles. It was really hard, especially on my wife, who was creating TV shows while raising three children. I was the absentee dad, coming home every weekend and being as present as I could thanks to Facetime, but that was hard. I got married 10 years ago. My wife is an amazing writer. She’s written for shows like Friends, Jessie, and Becker, and is currently writing on “Fresh off the Boat.” We have three beautiful children: Lila is 9, Frisco 7 and Addie is 6. Lila is a sensitive, sweet, kind, soulful young woman who is really growing into herself as an artist, an academic. Frisco is an athlete, a storyteller and illustrator, and a fan of the WWE. I took him to Hell in Cell, and he lost his mind. Addie is just the funniest person I know. She lights up every room she’s in, makes amazing friends, is artistic and is fascinated by letters and words right now.
Addie had a congenital heart defect. Had we waited another week or two, she would not be with us. We are so grateful to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, particularly Doctor Starns who performed two open heart surgeries on Addie in her first year that saved her life. It was the worst time of our lives. Addie was in the ICU for 89 days. My wife was with her every night at the hospital. I was in every scene of Royal Pains then, so I could only take a day off here and there. The crazy thing about our business is that it doesn’t take a hiatus when emergencies come into the mix. I was shooting a scene with Henry Winkler and Christine Ebersole at some gorgeous house in the Hamptons when I found out that Addie would have her second heart surgery. I remember staring out at the Atlantic Ocean and yelling an expletive at the top of my lungs, then getting back on the phone with my wife, coming to terms with what was happening, and getting on a plane that night for LA so I could be there for the surgery. All this is just to say that life can get complicated, yet we were able to make it through that.
Now I’m facing the next phase in my career. As I say this, I’m hearing a line from the movie I did with Albert Brooks, where I’m firing him from the studio: “I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that says we have three careers. So, go! Find your next career!” I’m sitting opposite myself in that scene right now. The possibilities are exciting. I’m talking to agents and finding out if I can procure the opportunity to direct other TV shows while also hunting down acting work. I’m auditioning, talking to showrunners, all kinds of ideas are percolating–any moment could bring feast or famine. Luckily the feast of Royal Pains was so filling that the famine can be staved off for at least another week or two.
Royal Pains Season 8 Teaser