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Q&A: Amber Tamblyn of 'House'

Posted 11:13am on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010

Actress Amber Tamblyn, who has become a temporary member of the House medical team, initially wanted nothing to do with Fox’s hit medical investigation drama. "I had never seen the show before," the former Joan of Arcadia star admits. "As soon as they came to me, I went, 'Oh, I don't want to do a medical show. That doesn't sound very fun to me.' " Then Tamblyn's friends set her straight. "They all went, 'Are you an idiot? It's not a medical show. You've never seen it?' I went, 'No.' I felt very stupid for ever thinking that. So I rented a bunch of the seasons. I watched it. I was blown away." And it wasn't just Hugh Laurie, who plays that obnoxious diagnostic genius Dr. Gregory House, who impressed Tamblyn. "It's the idea that you learn so much about these doctors and about these characters, not through long monologues about their backstories or through their lives and what they've been through, but you learn about them based on how they're tested in their work environment," she says. "Put them in a certain environment, it creates a certain kind of person. That's how you learn who they are. To me, that's incredibly interesting and smart writing." So Tamblyn joined the team, which has been down a doc while costar Olivia Wilde is away making movies, as med student Martha Masters. "It's a lot of fun," she says. House airs at 7 p.m. CT Monday.

How much input did you have about your character?

"The part of Martha Masters was originally just an idea. David Shore and Katie Jacobs, the executive producers, had come to me and said, 'We want to write a character for you. Are you interested?' I said, 'Yes.' It wasn't until I had signed on that I finally got to see a script. It was a very personal thing to me, because the character is based on my real-life best friend, who is a med student. Her real name is Martha Meredith Masters. In fact, they had made her sign a release saying she wouldn't sue Fox. Pretty hilarious. She is a med student. She's very much like this character. I'm not saying anything out of turn or mean about her, but she's incredibly brilliant, but sometimes she can be very socially awkward. The fact that David Shore still has never met the real Martha Meredith Masters and has written this character so perfectly, so much like her, is pretty amazing. When they do meet, I think a giant black hole will form in the sky where all human brains will get sucked up into."

Martha is an interesting character to be placed in the same room with House, don't you agree?

"She's someone who had been so much in the world of academia and knowledge and accumulating knowledge that she never progressed or matured in a social sense. So you're seeing someone who has a hard time communicating on some of the most basic levels, which I think is very common for people who are highly, highly, intelligent-functioning people. I think that Martha may even have Asperger's. It's something that we've talked about. I know that Hugh's character does. So it's potentially like she's a young version of him, only she believes so strongly in the ethics of truth telling to the point of a fault. Just in the same way that he believes so much that lying can help you find the truth to a fault. So the two of them have distinctive ideas about how to get to the same thing."

Did you fit immediately on the set or did you feel like an outsider in the early going?

"I wish I had some crazy story about how mean Jesse Spencer was to me or something, but I just fell right into it naturally with them. Maybe they even were a little relieved. Because I can imagine, being such a well-oiled machine like that, if you have someone come in and it slows down the machine a little bit, it can be maybe frustrating. But we just clicked instantly, all of us. I've always preferred working with large groups of guys. So it's a perfect work environment for me."

Did you do any medical research to prepare for your role?

"I didn't do any medical research. I did episode-by-episode research. So if something was involving smallpox, then I would look that up. If there was a specific word I didn't know, which is about 90 percent of the words, I would look up that and see what it meant. As far as the on-set training, when you're trying to do something like draw blood and do IVs, they have a woman there who's incredible who was a nurse for many, many years. She retired to come be on the show and help us learn how to do anything that we're doing on that episode. So if we're giving someone a tracheotomy, if we're taking blood, anything that we do, she teaches us and shows us how to do it and makes sure it's the right way. That's the training."

Are you squeamish at all when it comes to blood and needles?

"No, I'm not squeamish at all. It's fun. It's very fast-paced. You get very good at doing it. Then you feel like, 'Man, one of my friends, if something happened to them, I might be able to actually help,' which is not a smart thing to think, but I do think that way. I feel, in an emergency, I could probably give CPR now."

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