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Interviews: Kal Penn, David Shore, and Katie Jacobs Talk About Kutner's Suicide in House Episode 20, "Simple Explanation"

What Does That Shocking House Death Mean For the Show?

As I mentioned in today's rundown, Kal Penn has decided to trade House for the White House. Today, the actor-turned-political outreach liaison and his former bosses, House executive producers David Shore and Katie Jacobs, hopped on the phone to talk about Penn's decision, Kutner's death, and what it all means for the show going forward. Here are some key things to know:

  • Penn's interest in politics is nothing new. "Growing up, I always had two passions, one being public service and the other being the arts and acting," said Penn, who described himself as "formerly a very cynical independent" (now less cynical, but still an independent). During President Obama's campaign, he worked on outreach for young voters, Asian Americans, and the arts, and he'll now be doing something similar in an official capacity.
  • He was surprised to hear about Kutner's suicide, too. "I loved playing Kutner, and there was more than a little bit of shock and loss when I found that out," he said. And he said he liked the mystery with which his character went out: "People did feel types of loss and anger and confusion about [Kutner]," he said. "I don't think you would have gotten that same feeling if it had been a very Kutner-heavy episode where you see his trials and tribulations. . . . I asked if there was anything in his background that might have indicated [he'd be suicidal] or any warning signs. The answer generally was no. It's kind of tough [as an actor] to know that he was obviously tormented by something but didn't share it with anyone."
  • Kutner's death will have a lasting impact: "It'll resonate at least through the end of the season," Shore said. "It's a question House can't answer, and he has an answer for everything. That's what was really exciting, the unexpected nature of it."
  • The element of mystery was key to Kutner's exit: "Had we seen some major dilemma in his personal life, we couldn't have done this story the way we did," Shore said. "If he'd just broken up with a girlfriend, even though the answer would have been much more complicated than that, that would have been something that somebody could just hang on to."

For which characters will have a significant reaction to Kutner's death, just


  • Cameron and Chase's reaction will be in the spotlight: "We are gonna see, perhaps surprisingly, more of Cameron and Chase's reaction to it — and of course House's reaction and Wilson's reaction," Shore said. Ultimately, though, the producers said House will have the hardest time coping: "He has no resources," Jacobs said. "He has no family to go home to."
  • We'll probably never know what made Kutner do it: "Something went on in that man's head, but it went on in that man's head, and that is ultimately unknowable," Shore said. "Knowing that and accepting that is a more interesting issue than trying to put a little pin in the answer."
  • As for Penn, he's not retiring from acting for good. "I'm not packing up and saying I'm leaving Hollywood and all this sort of stuff," he said. "I'm just pursuing another passion right now." He plans to spend at least a year or two in Washington, and he'll be on a total break from acting during that time — which, he acknowledged, probably means no more Harold and Kumar sequels.

Photo courtesy of Fox

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