Royal Pains' Ben Shenkman on Being the New Guy: He's Being Thrown Into the Deep End
Reshma Shetty, Ben Shenkman
The name on the masthead is still HankMed, but there will be a very different doctor checking in when Royal Pains returns this Wednesday (9/8c on USA).
After last season's finale shakeup, in which Hank (Mark Feuerstein) quit after clashing with his brother and CEO Evan (Paulo Constanzo) over the direction of the business, Evan hires Dr. Jeremiah Sacani (Ben Shenkman) to help fill the vacancy. "It's a fluke that he even gets the job. He only gets it because of Evan's desperation to get the ball rolling," Shenkman says. "It's always fun to play characters who are out of their comfort zone. This guy doesn't have a comfort zone."
"For [Jeremiah], it's all about the science, so concierge medicine is 180 degrees from what he's experienced in professionally," he says. "Personally, he is clearly wrestling with some major social deficits of some kind, so he is absolutely being thrown into the deep end in every way."
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When he signs on for the gig, Jeremiah is blissfully unaware that he is replacing someone — specifically the outgoing and quick-on-his-feet Hank. However, he soon gets to know his predecessor and becomes enamored with the original HankMed doc. "My character slowly puts together that there's been a rift between the brothers," Shenkman says. "And then very quickly he begins to admire Hank and tries to emulate him in a way because he's so insecure about his own ability to perform in this role."
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Jeremiah may seem an unlikely choice for the job, but for Shenkman, guest-starring on Royal Pains has been in the works for quite some time. He has been friends with executive producer Michael Rauch since graduating from college. "But it had to be something that would really help him and it had to be a role that he really needed," Shenkman says. "It just had to line up right and it did." The timing also worked out on a personal level for Shenkman, who recently welcomed his second child with his wife, Lauren. "I happened to have stumbled upon one of the warmest and most supportive workplaces you could possibly imagine just at the moment when that's happening in my personal life," he says. "It made it quite special."
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But can someone as socially inept as Jeremiah last long at HankMed? "He does perform as a physician, so there are a-ha moments for the other characters of seeing this guy's potential," he says. "All the comedy and the fun is in watching this guy flounder, but then occasionally seeing him perform hyper-competently and save the day. That's a really fun thing to have as an actor, to play someone who is absolutely vulnerable and uncomfortable, but then has moments of real power."
With time, these moments of power become especially noticeable to Evan. "After some doubts, Evan quickly sees Jeremiah's usefulness to the business despite his deficits and Jeremiah quickly sees what he has to learn from trying to satisfy the requirements of this job. That's where we begin to see the bond between these two guys," Shenkman says. "Very quickly, Paolo and I began to enjoy that dynamic of two people whose skills are almost entirely opposite from each other's."
Evan's influence may rub off a little, but Shenkman is enjoying playing up Jeremiah's social quirks. "That's really where the life of it is right now — is in this guy who is out of his element," he says. "Despite his social awkwardness, I find him to be one of the most soulful characters that I have played recently. His awkwardness is very vulnerable and I find it very endearing."
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Producers seem to agree. Although Shenkman was originally signed on for four episodes, he has already appeared in seven and is scheduled for at least one more. "Once we began shooting, everyone could see that there a lot of possibilities for someone like this," he says.
That extra time may also give fans a chance to dive into Jeremiah's unknown backstory. "He's not a kid, so there's an element of mystery to who he is, how he got to where he is and what his life has been like up to this point," Shenkman says. "Clearly the writers have been thinking about where he came from."
The new season of Royal Pains premieres Wednesday at 9/8c on USA.