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Sela Ward brings heart to ‘House’

‘I loved the challenge,’ says the former ‘Once and Again’ star
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sela Ward has won two Emmys for playing heartfelt roles on relationship shows. So what’s the star of the emotional family dramas “Sisters” and “Once and Again” doing on the cynical medical drama “House”?

She’s guest-starring on seven episodes as Dr. Stacy Warner, who reveals a possible chink in the acerbic armor of Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant diagnostician with an appalling bedside manner.

“I think Stacy is like a window into him, his vulnerability, his heart, because he does have one somewhere,” Ward says, discussing her appearance in nine episodes of the hit series (9 p.m. ET Tuesdays on Fox).

“The show is not about his personal life,” says series creator and executive producer David Shore, “but you get curious about that, so we wanted to get a greater glimpse into who this guy was. It’s really tricky to find someone to play opposite him, to stand up to him, somebody that you would believe this sort of character would be interested in, and would be interested in this character.”

Shore says Ward “does that emotional stuff really well. She’s just plays it in a simple way, in a convincing way. Without turning things into melodrama, she sucks you in and makes you want to cry for her.”

“I loved the challenge of doing something I had never done,” says Ward. “I’d never done a medical show, a procedural show. ... There is not much time to really delve into the emotions. It’s very quick-paced and clipped. It’s not about sitting on a sofa and talking about how we’re feeling.”

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Because “House” in a medical drama, focused on doctors trying to cure infectious diseases, Shore didn’t want to take its lead character out of that environment. So Warner was introduced in two episodes last season as a now-married lawyer who accepts a job at the hospital, where her husband has come for treatment. Her presence disturbs feelings House thought he’d securely buried.

After graduating from the University of Alabama, Ward moved to New York, where she worked first as a commercial artist and then as a successful model, before segueing into acting. But she’s never severed her small-town roots. In 2002 she wrote the memoir “Homesick.”

“I was not interested in doing an autobiography or a tell-all of any sort, but I felt that a memoir of a time and place might resonant with people like myself, who had a very strong sense of community, a sense of place and belonging growing up. When you leave to go out into the world, as many of us have, how do you reconcile that strong need to feel rooted and belong?”

Ward, 49, keeps an abiding connection to Mississippi, her home state where she and husband Howard Sherman (with whom she has two children) have established Hope Village, which provides care for abused and neglected kids. She’s also been actively involved in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in the hard-hit state.