Kal Penn says that he was as surprised to read about the death of his character, Dr. Lawrence Kutner, on “House” as everyone else was to witness it on Monday night.
“I was shocked by it — but I think that was the nature of what they were going for,” Penn said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters. “When they told me about it, I asked if there was anything in his background or any warning signs, and the answer was generally no. It was something that was as shocking to the team as it was to the audience, something no one sees coming.”
Kutner’s suicide was brought on by Penn’s real-life opportunity to work in the Obama administration, where he’ll be an associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Executive producers David Shore and Katie Jacobs say they’re thrilled that Penn is moving on to something he’s passionate about (and Penn, by the way, says he’s not through with acting but wants to pursue public service for a while) — but that by having Kutner kill himself, they can explore how such an inexplicable event affects the rest of the team.
Here’s some of what Shore and Jacobs shared on how Kutner’s death impacts the rest of the season.
How long will Kutner’s death resonate?
Shore: It will resonate at least through the end of the season. The impact on House and the rest of the people at Princeton-Plainsboro is what we’re looking forward to exploring.
Who’s going to be most affected?
Shore: Everyone is going to be impacted. You’re going to see, perhaps surprisingly, Cameron’s and Chase’s reactions to it — you’re going to see more of that. That’s not to say they have a greater reaction, but you are going to see more of it. … It was important to us to be as truthful to this as we possibly could and see everyone react. But we are going to bring Cameron and Chase to the forefront a little bit.
Jacobs: Everyone feels the impact of such a significant loss, but people process it in different ways. I think the greatest impact … is ultimately with House. He’s not at peace. He’s unable to rest with the idea that he didn’t see it coming and he can’t explain it.
You mentioned Cameron and Chase. Can you talk more about bringing them to the fore?
Shore: No. As Katie said, the effect is mainly on House, but of the other people, we do see some fallout with Cameron and Chase in, I think, an interesting way, and I don’t want to spoil it. I can tell you that everyone has a slightly different reaction, and it was important to us that we see varied reactions. Chase and Cameron do not have a unified reaction.
Will you bring someone in to replace Kutner?
Jacobs: There is no replacement for Kutner [at least not for the remainder of the season].
Did you consider other ways for Kutner to leave?
Shore: We considered many ways for the character to leave. Ultimately, this was the story that allowed us to really have the greatest impact on House in particular. And in fact on everyone, but particularly the man who craves answers not having an answer, that is what really excited us about this story. … If [Penn] had come to us and said, “I’ve been offered this great part on ‘CSI’ …”
Penn: I’m actually going to do “Grey’s Anatomy,” David.
Shore: … then it would have been autoerotic asphyxiation or something like that. We’re thrilled for Kal.
Might Kutner turn out to be the Cupid that brings House and Cuddy together?
Jacobs: Another good idea.
Shore: I think him being dead might put a crimp in that. Not in the foreseeable future.
Jacobs: The serious answer is that … I think you’re so right to say that certain people would take the impact of this horrible event and want to be closer, to sort of couple up and be closer to people. But with House, it sends him in the opposite direction.
Will you explore Kutner’s motive more?
Shore: Obviously there ultimately is a reason — something went on in that man’s head. But it went on in that man’s head, and it’s ultimately unknowable. I think that, in our show, is the more interesting question. The question of dealing with that and accepting that is a more interesting issue than trying to put a little pin in the answer.