House Preview: Jeffrey Wright Talks 'Challenging' Role and Going Toe-to-Toe with Hugh Laurie

Jeffrey Wright doesn’t frequent the small screen often — his Emmy-winning work in HBO’s Angels in American was a rare exception — so his casting in tonight’s House (Fox, 8/7c) made the episode, in an instant, very special.

And the hour was already generating buzz, given its storyline (House’s controversial diagnostic process gets put under the microscope like never before) and its pedigree (it marks longtime House exec producer Greg Yaitanes’ final directorial effort on the show).

Bottom line: It’s a big episode, and in the following Q&A, Wright — who plays Dr. Cofield (a.k.a. the arbitrator of House’s fate) — explains what convinced him to check in to Princeton-Plainsboro, what he really thinks of Dr. House and why there’s a decent chance his neurosurgeon’s services will be needed again before the series ends.

TVLINE | What was it about this character, this role, that hooked you?
My friend, Mos Def, did an episode of House not very long ago, and he was really excited about it. He described the show as the best acting on television — the best acting happening anywhere — and that really kind of pulled my attention to the show. I was drawn to the writing; it’s fairly dense and complex stuff… challenging stuff for an actor. That combined with them [being] really enthusiastic about me coming on board was enough to draw me in. I [also] have a great deal of respect for Hugh [Laurie]; I’ve admired his work for some time. My wife is from London, so I understood a little bit about his career through her eyes.

TVLINE | What opinion did you walk away with of House the character?
[Laughs] There is an interesting contrast between his character and [mine] in that they are similarly talented doctors but from very different backgrounds, and [they] have had to follow different pathways and take on similar behaviors as practitioners. I think that House has far more freedom than a character like Cofield.

TVLINE | Would you let a doctor like House treat you?
I think there are probably certain patients that might have a non-productive reaction to certain parts of House’s… charm. I think [all] great doctors have a very healthy sense of their own importance and I’m not sure if…well, I don’t always get along so well with doctors, honestly. [Laughs]

TVLINE | What was it like working with Hugh?
It was pretty challenging stuff in that the workload is pretty impressive, and Hugh, in many ways, is at the helm of [many of] the scenes. He handles the mission and the responsibility that comes with it in a really impressive way. I’m used to making movies; it’s a very different pace. [With House], you are essentially shooting half-movies in nine or 10 days. And at times, you’re shooting two episodes at once. To do that over the course of eight years is no small task and he handles it with aplomb.

TVLINE | This was a fairly pivotal episode of House that you walked into. Did you feel the weight of that while you were shooting?
They described it to me in that way and, obviously, that was part of the reason that I was compelled to come on board. They had expectations for the episode in terms of the narrative and the style and the impact of the episode, so that was attractive to me.

TVLINE | Without giving too much away, did you agree with Cofield’s final ruling?
I should ask you that. What did you think?

TVLINE | I was not surprised by the ruling; I was, however, surprised but what House did after the ruling.
Yeah. I think that Cofield’s presence and the disciplinary procedure that is overtaken is impactful on the [hospital] and particularly on House. Without giving too much away, I think [the ruling] made good sense and was very satisfying from my perspective.

TVLINE | Is this role the beginning of a trend for you? Might we see more of you on the small screen?
Oh, gosh. I don’t know… It’s a pretty grueling pace. [Laughs]. I’m not sure if I’ve been conditioned over my career for that type of pace, but I certainly enjoyed the time spent working on it.

TVLINE | Might we see Cofield again?
There is certainly that possibly. I guess it’s certainly true that from this point on he’s out there lurking in the shadows, waiting to be revealed once more. [Laughs] So we’ll see how everyone behaves!