In the series premiere of TNT's new medical drama "Monday Mornings," Dr. Tyler Wilson's boss calls the talented neurosurgeon arrogant, careless and reckless.
Those words sting enough, but the boss delivers the verbal beating in front of Wilson's peers at a weekly M&M, or morbidity and mortality, conference in which doctors' decisions are scrutinized in the wake of patient deaths.
"We do get to see a human side of these guys, which isn't just who's having an affair with whom or the office politics," says Jamie Bamber, who plays Wilson, suggesting that by showing the "brutal" sessions in which doctors are picked apart, "Monday Mornings," which debuts at 9 p.m. CT Feb. 4, is a "departure from the way doctors are presented on TV.
"It's genuinely about their ability to open up someone's head and tinker around inside and get the right results, which is a massive responsibility which no human being can take on without any kind of sense of their own fallibility."
The new approach is provided by veteran producer David E. Kelley and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the Atlanta neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, who has adapted his 2012 book that fictionalized many of his own experiences. Their participation is part of what attracted Bamber to the show, as well as his role.
"I loved the idea of playing the completely confident, cocksure surgeon who seems to have the rug pulled from underneath him the first time we really get to know him," he said.
But Bamber, most famous for playing Lee "Apollo" Adama on "Battlestar Galactica," says he would not appreciate those peer-witnessed reprimands in his line of work.
"I'd absolutely hate it."
Bamber tells why he'd hate it, and talks more about Wilson, brain surgery versus Viper piloting, and life after "Battlestar Galactica," in the Q&A below.
Before we talk about "Monday Mornings," I wanted to mention that one of my favorite roles of yours post-"Battlestar" was in "Outcasts."
Yeah that was fun. I enjoyed that one. It was a shame that the series didn't really take in the UK, but it was great. It was a funny one because I was approached to be a regular in it but I felt it was a little too close to "Battlestar." But I really liked this other role. And they took a real while to hem and haw but eventually they conceded that I might have a point. It would be more interesting to be the sort of red herring and to get killed off. But I had a great time shooting it. I loved the director, Bharat [Nalluri]. And the cast, they were great, but I was sorry to see it didn't last.
And it was fun to see you after playing Apollo as a bad guy.
Yeah, I go the other way a little bit, but it's funny 'cause when I read the script I honestly thought he was the lead of the show.
I did, too, when it started.
Yeah, I thought you know he's this outcast guy. The title is "Outcasts." He gets outcast from the "Outcasts." I thought it was perfect, but anyway, bullet to the head. [Laughs.]
On to "Monday Mornings," tell me what attracted you to this project?
In a nutshell, David E. Kelley, and then Sanjay Gupta--the great legal writer with the great medical communicator to the masses in this country and the perfect combination of the two together doing this medical drama.
The thing about this show is it does have this sort of legal with a small "L" kind of theatrical kangaroo court in the center of it that sort of fuses both worlds. David's natural flair for the podium and the witness stand and the judges' bench [combined], obviously, with Sanjay's talent for the medical stories and his talent as a storyteller that came through in his novel. So it was really those two names that give you a lot of trust.
When you read a pilot, the script can be great but without the pedigree of someone who knows how to turn one episode into multiple episodes, you're always wishing and guessing and sort of slightly leaping in to the dark. But with those two guys you know that leap was onto sort of pretty reliable ground. And we knew that we were going to find our footing.
The biggest single factor other than those two names was the character. He had a great arc in that first episode and I loved the idea of playing the completely confident, cocksure surgeon who seems to have the rug pulled from underneath him the first time we really get to know him. So it was a very exciting start and lends itself to many more permutations further down the track.
After seeing what happens to him in the morbidity and mortality sessions, I really thought we were in for another, "Uh-oh, Jamie's going to be out of the show quickly."
[Laughs.] There you go.
"This doctor's going to quit his job."
"Jamie can't stay the course." [Laughs.] Yeah, it's brutal but we're used to sort of, on TV anyway, giving surgeons and doctors a massive amount of trust and respect. They're sort of infallible. That's not completely undermined on this show, but at least you see their feet of clay. You see the fissures within their very composed, statuesque front that they present to patients. And we pick them apart a bit. They go through the ringer just as much as the patients do, albeit not in a life-threatening but in a career-threatening kind of way. And I think that's quite a new departure from the way doctors are presented on TV, in mainstream dramas anyway.
I wonder if it'll make viewers question their doctors a little more?
I think it might. And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I think for patients to question doctors is a good thing. I think maybe in this country we take the legal route too quickly, after-the-fact. It might be constructive to have patience a little better informed and to be able to really engage their doctors.
I think my character has a line in one of the shows, when a patient asks him, "Are you any good?" And he chuckles to himself and says, "That's the one question that nobody ever asks and one question that patients should ask." What makes you so good at this particular procedure? Why should I trust you? Why should my life be better off in your hands than anybody else's?
So yeah, we do get to see a human side of these guys, which isn't just who's having an affair with whom or the office politics. It's genuinely about their ability to open up someone's head and tinker around inside and get the right results, which is a massive responsibility which no human being can take on without any kind of sense of their own fallibility.
Although, the surgeons that I have met are insanely confident people, I mean they have to be to do what they do. But you know, for an insanely confident person to be presented on screen, you really have to see the potential for a meltdown. And that's what we offer the audience--the potential for these God-like figures to crumble. And I think as a result you have more respect for them at the end of the episodes.
Do you think they do end up second-guessing themselves?
Of course. We all hear stories about hospitals and surgical departments; they'll say they have the very best in the country. "You couldn't go to a better place than here." But that means that across town in the same city, there is in another hospital that is not the best in the country and the surgical department there will know it, and some of the patients might even know it. But for whatever reason--their insurance not being up to snuff or whatever it is--people are forced to put their trust in the hands of people who aren't the best. And if the best is out there, there is also the worst somewhere.
I assume Dr. Hooten's (played by Alfred Molina) method in those meetings comes from something that has happened to Sanjay Gupta?
That's really a question for Sanjay, obviously, but I think so. I think all of this is based on many people he's worked with and hospitals he was taught by. And I believe his book is dedicated to his first chairman of surgery or a mentor of his. And I'm sure there's a lot of this character in various people that Sanjay's come across. He's told me as much. But I don't think any of them are really easily pinnable on any one person.
What Sanjay has said about the M&M meetings is that they do happen in every single hospital across the land, but some take it more seriously than others. They can be a massive asset in terms of drawing the most talented people because talented people thrive in a challenging environment, in an environment which forces them to bring up their best.
The backstory to Chelsea General [of the show] is it's a teaching hospital; one of the most preeminent teaching hospitals in a sort of second city. It's Portland, Ore.; it's not New York, Boston. It's not one of the big academic centers in the country. So this hospital is really a reason why people are drawn there. It's not the kind of city that everyone wants to necessarily gravitate toward, because it's not that well known. It's not on the medical map in the way that some cities are. But this particular hospital has made a name for itself largely through the exacting standards of Harding Hooten.
So how do you feel about his methods? The way he dresses down his doctors would be the kind of thing that in some jobs the boss would do in privacy.
You're dead right. My feelings are very much tied into the way he treats my character. And I feel pretty hard done by it, to be honest, after 10 episodes of this thing where I do very little wrong and get hauled up there on a weekly basis for stuff that's largely personal and completely incidental. And sometimes I think his sense of the theatrical and his sense of owning that room and the respect that he commands, I think, goes to his head and he gets carried away with the sound of his own voice. That's Tyler Wilson's honest opinion.
I think my character came to that hospital because of the man's reputation, but the man isn't perfect. He's great at his job. These meetings are definitely an asset but sometimes he gets carried away and I think he oversteps the mark with the fact that everyone does listen to what he says any he starts picking apart surgeons techniques and their bedside manner and their personal life, which have no real relevance to the definition of the meeting, which is morbidity and what's healthy.
Something has to go drastically wrong for this meeting to be ignited as a necessity. And I think a lot of time he calls this meeting because he expects perfection. And when anybody lets themselves down in even a tiny way--never mind what happened to the patient; often they're fine--he still likes to haul people up there and make them squirm and wiggle at the end of his particular baited fishing line.
My character definitely is a bit dismissive of that part of the theatricality of it. But I don't think that's the overall opinion that the viewers will have. That's just very, very Tyler Wilson, me having had Tyler's experience over 10 episodes.
Would you as an actor, welcome a director sitting everyone down at the end of a day and saying, "Jamie, you sucked at this. You did this."
[Laughs.] Right. No, I'd absolutely hate it. And I think it would be terrible man management because acting, much like brain surgery--please quote me on that--acting much like brain surgery is a confidence business.
If you are not confident, if you don't have a sense of trusting your instincts and being willing to bare yourself in a way that perhaps is surprising or may cause someone to laugh, whatever it is. If you feel any self-consciousness at all you're inhibited. And your performance will suffer no matter what kind of performance it is. Even if it's someone who's emotionally fragile and not self-confident, you have to have the confidence in your own ability to present that fragility.
So, the mistake the directors make again and again and again is to talk too much and to comment too much on what someone's doing. Great directors know what the process is and know it's about layers and finding things and accidents and just allow actors to explore with a bit of encouragement and a compass. And maybe pull them back occasionally when they teeter over the edge, but negativity is a very I think precarious thing to use as a director of actors. And I would imagine the same is true of surgeons. So I think it's a balancing act, a very fine balancing act. You have to instill confidence, first and foremost.
We see a bit of Tyler's backstory with the flashbacks to when he was a kid and the doctor came in and said that his brother didn't make it.
The first episode is a bit traumatic for him.
Right. Is that why he became a doctor?
Yeah, I mean, none of this is explicit in the series. It's made explicit in Sanjay's book, which was a blessing as an actor because you get this sort of back story handed to you that the audience of the TV show will never really see because I'm not sure we're going to explore it.
But between you and me and everyone else, yeah, he experienced a very traumatic moment in a hospital where the hospital let itself down in its communication more than anything. It's the way that his mother and he were informed, the lack of empathy. The lack of any kind of counseling really scarred him and in Sanjay's book it causes a marriage to break up. There's another tragedy in the family. A sister of his is shot and he suffers. He becomes very alone during childhood and distant and rejects school for a bit. And then throws himself in it and finds this path that is--it doesn't take Freud to work out. He's trying to reassemble the broken pieces of his own childhood. And as a result, he prides himself on the way he treats patients and their families. But for [Wilson] to lose a young boy on the table in the very first episode is deeply, deeply traumatic.
So what made you become an actor, Jamie?
[Laughs.] A similar traumatic experience in my childhood when my mom asked me to play the Wicked Witch of the West in the "Wizard of Oz," age 6, in Paris when we were expats over there. My mom was an actress and she was teaching a kids theater group.
It wasn't traumatic at all. [Laughs.] I wasn't that kind of child; I was naturally an athlete. I'm much more of a doer rather than a talker, but she encouraged me to do this and ... I loved it. It was just something that took me out of myself and I kept on auditioning for school plays all through my education and with more success toward the latter years. Yeah, it's really a hobby that's turned into a career, which has been great. I've loved every second of it, but it's my mom's fault, really.
How has working with the surgery gear been? For your character its very technical and more than just a scalpel. How does that compare to running the viper gizmos on "Battlestar?"
You know what, there were similarities. And there are differences. Yeah, there's a lot of gear; it gets hot and you're surrounded with paraphernalia and many layers and you can't really take it off between takes. So you have this barrier between you and what you'd like to be doing.
But the Viper stuff was much more hermetically sealed. Not only was I in a neoprene suit with a helmet attached and air pipes up the back and stop this thing fogging up so you couldn't hear anyone. And you have an earwig in and there's only one microphone on set. And then you get locked in to the Viper sometimes an hour, two hours on end. You could only talk to anyone if someone approaches the mic in the big old soundstage. So they all go off between takes and have a Coke and have a chat. [Laughs.] You're completely alone in this sweat suit.
So the surgical thing isn't as drastic as that. But before his surgery scene, there's definitely an intake of breath. It's physical. You're on your feet for a long time. You're wearing all this stuff. In the times between takes it's kind of a pain, but I really enjoy that.
I enjoyed the Viper stuff immensely, the performance elements of it. I enjoyed trying to make something to look real that you have really no experience of but gradually through working and through some research you do develop a facility for flying a fighter in space, or for holding the surgical instruments and creating a little procedure that is always filmed.
Everything that we do with our hands while we're working in a scene comes up on the monitors behind our heads and in front of the people's heads that we're talking to. So our hands are always on camera as well as our face. We have to kind of know what we're doing and I enjoy that discipline. I enjoy that slight of hand trying to convince the audience that we actually know what we're doing. And by the end of the day, I kind of think I do. [Laughs.]
You've played a pilot, a lawyer--I mean a cop--and now a doctor, among many other things, of course. But any of those you think you'd be good at for real?
I think I'd be better as a pilot really of the three just because it would take a parallel life. I can be a pilot. Like I can train to be a pilot. I'm too old now to join the military probably, but I bet you I could get my pilot's license and then get in the long line for a pilot job somewhere.
Whereas if I had to go back to school to study chemistry and biology to get the right high school diploma and to go to college to get the right thing to go to med school to do another 14 years or whatever the neurosurgeons have to do, I think I'd be dead by the time that all got done. [Laughs.] And I enjoyed science at school; I just chose to follow the arts at a very young age.
The lawyer thing; I think I could litigate. I could stand up in court, but I would not have the patience to go through those ridiculous sentences of 15 lines that actually come to amount to meaning nothing by the end of it in terms of the way I read it. I can't read a contract of my own. I've never read a contract through from beginning to end so I don't think I can have the patience for it but I think I could do the litigating. I think that would suit me.
I've always wanted to ask someone like you who's been in an intensely popular series, how was the transition after "Battlestar Galactica?"
The transition itself immediately afterwards was not a problem. Because the unique nature of television series like "Battlestar" these days is they never go away. They're still starting. The experience is just beginning for people all over the country and on a weekly basis. I bumped into a half a dozen people who come up to me and said, "We just watched the mini-series." So for me in terms of the public reception it's still alive.
And people who have seen it even back in the day are very fond of it that you get an immense sense of achievement and that you're relevant. Though you haven't been working on the show, the show still lives, which is usually gratifying.
You did "Law & Order UK" after "BSG," back in Britain and in a suirt and tie.
It was a bit of a shock personally when I went back to do work and did "Law and Order" because I just realized how blessed I was on "Battlestar." How challenged, how the stories never let you relax in any kind of comfort zone. And you didn't know what you're doing week in, week out. And you were genuinely itching to read the next installment in this saga as a fan as much as an actor, and then you got to bring it to life. It was a great blessing and all the people involved are still close friends. So I see them on a daily basis.
It wasn't a clean end, if you know what I mean, with a show like "Battlestar." But what I realized is every time I embark on a new television series is how we bottled that particular lightning and we were very lucky to do it once and it's sort of unlikely to happen to me again. And that's hard.
You read these TV scripts. And they're very, very good ones that come along, whether I get to play the parts or not you sort of see their life on television cut short more often than not because they don't bottle that lightning that seems to be on the page. It didn't translate maybe to the screen or maybe the audience just doesn't let it translate to them, or maybe the network didn't give it a chance.
There are so many obstacles, so to have achieved it once makes you mindful of how unlikely it is to happen again, which is a slightly nostalgic thought.
But I'm hoping with this one we have it. I have more belief about this one at this stage than I did about "Battlestar." But that was the joy of "Battlestar;" it was a surprise to everyone, I think.
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Jamie Bamber trades Viper for scalpel in 'Monday Mornings'
Jamie Bamber plays Dr. Tyler Wilson in "Monday Mornings," debuting Feb 4 on TNT.
In the series premiere of TNT's new medical drama "Monday Mornings," Dr. Tyler Wilson's boss calls the talented neurosurgeon arrogant, careless and reckless.