The caliber of writing that David E. Kelley has brought to television is immeasurable. As creator of shows like Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Boston Legal and Harry's Law, on a number of different networks, Kelley is one of those collaborators that makes miracles happen. This season, David teams up with CNN medical correspondant and novelist Sanjay Gupta and TNT for Monday Mornings, an intensely realistic medical drama. Boasting cast members like Jamie Bamber, Jennifer Finnigan, Alfred Molina and Ving Rhames, Monday Mornings has already set itself apart from its romance-driven peers as one of the hottest new shows this season.
Bamber, famous for his role on Syfy's revolutionary series Battlestar Galactica, and Finnigan, of Crossing Jordan, are two of the series' leads. As Tyler WIlson and Tina Ridgeway, Bamber and Finnigan navigate doctor-ready sets, learn surgeon jargon, and flesh out two very flawed, driven doctors. Buzzine's Rachel Heine caught the pair to talk about the responsibilities, joys and and challenges of working on David E. Kelley and Sanjay Gupta's new fast-paced drama.
Q: I have to say, Monday Mornings is one of the most impressive new shows, if not the best new show, of the new season.
Jennifer Finnigan: Thank you, you’re my favorite!
Q: FIrst off, Jamie we know you better from Battlestar Galactica and then Law & Order UK. How did you choose Monday Mornings? Was it pretty evident that this was pretty special when you first read the script?
Jamie Bamber: Yeah, it was. It was really three things for me. When you read David E. Kelley’s name on a script, you get a good feeling, you know that this is going to get a chance, people are going to give it a chance and then Sanjay Gupta coupled with that… so you have David Kelley’s dramatic experience and then you’ve got Sanjay Gupta [with] the medical angle, and a great communicator in his own right that everyone’s heard of and you’ve got two great authorities right there.
But for me it was about the character in that first episode, because when you read one episode you don’t know really what the series is going to look like, but I knew that there was a really good character that I could get myself and my teeth into someone who has been blessed with natural confidence and his own ability, whose confidence is shattered in the very first episode.
So I knew there was massive dramatic potential and I trusted that David and Sanjay would know how to make more of the same and it was really those three ingredients.
Q: Would you say that it’s maybe the most challenging character you’ve played so far? Would that be fair in saying?
JB: I don’t know if it’s the most challenging, you know, every character is a challenge. For me, the particular challenge of this guy is the unquestioned confidence with which he confronts everything that he does. That’s certainly not who I am in life and, yeah, so that aspect of it was a challenge. It’s always a challenge to sell the idea that I’m actually a neurosurgeon and I know what to do with all of these instruments and tools and all of these words. Would I say – I don’t know if it’s the greatest challenge.
I think I felt more challenge when I started Battlestar just because I felt very unprepared for the whole American TV machine and I was trying a new accent on and I don’t have any issues with an accent…
Q: Which you have mastered wonderfully!
JB: Well, I don’t know if I mastered it but I certainly don’t have anxiety about it.
JF: Yeah, he’s mastered it.
JB: And I did have anxiety when I started Battle – well, you’re very sweet! So yeah, I felt pretty – you know, I was nervous because of David’s reputation. He’s a great producer over here and I didn’t want to let myself or him down, so I was definitely apprehensive and nervous but, no, he was challenged enough, put it that way.
Q: Jennifer, same question. What did you firs think when you read the script?
JF: Yeah, very similar to Jamie… first and foremost the David Kelley aspect and then the fact that we had Sanjay backing us. And not only that, it was based on a novel and I’ve never played a character that was based on a novel before. I liked that there was a very clear outline of who this character was. I liked that I had someone to guide me if I had any questions and then I think there were a couple of other ingredients that were important to me as well.
I’ve wanted to be part of a very strong ensemble for a long time and I was fortunate enough to do that in comedy in my last show, but I truly was wanting to do that in drama.
And then the other thing being I desperately wanted to work on a cable show. I think that especially TNT is notorious for allowing their shows to grow and giving them a chance and there expectations are more realistic. They also allow a show to breath, allow the creators to really have their own space and they don’t try to interfere so much. They just really allow the show to grow and to sort of do it’s own thing without trying to poke their heads in and…
Q: Well look at The Closer. The Closer is a perfect example of that. I mean, it started off kind of small and then it just grew into this gigantic animal.
JF: Right, and you know that’s something that networks used to do. I mean, everybody knows the story about how Cheers used to be, what, Cheers was like number 99 and then they gave it a couple of years and it was number 1 for eight more years.
So, you know, there is something to be said about allowing audiences to discover a show over time and it’s certainly a blessing for us actors if we get more than a season to really discover who our characters are and get down deeper as performers.
Q: I was wondering if there was anything about your characters that wasn’t originally scripted for you that you’ve added to your roles?
JF: Jamie, do you want to take that first?
JB: Yeah, a yellow watch. I added that.
JF: And the orange drawstrings?
JB: A yellow wristwatch is me and that’s all I can say. Maybe my haircut. I think I added the haircut and the beard. Yeah, I did, actually I did. I brought the hair and I brought the beard and I picked out a yellow watch strap. But no…
JF: That beard is unpredictable. I never know how closely you’re going to be trimming that beard from episode to episode. You really kept me on my toes.
JB: Yeah, I have my own thing going on but, no, Sanjay really served it up on a plate for me and David to present it to the viewing public, and I think that the real blessing here is that normally as an actor you have to create your own character back story to the world and Sanjay’s largely done that for me with his novel. I mean, there’s a few differences but basically that was a real treat to have someone’s creation be so much broader than just one episode of the pilot to get your work to start.
So I just used everything that Sanjay really threw my way.
JF: On that note my braid, my “iconic braid”…
JB: Oh, it’s so superficial we’re both in the hair. [Laughs]
JF: But, no, aside from that David has this uncanny ability and the best writers too, to within an episode or two start nailing down the actual person’s characteristics and somehow infusing their character with those.
And I would notice by Episode 3, Episode 4, there were just little things that resonated with me personally and so it wasn’t – it just became easier and easier from episode to episode because I just started to understand her so much more through David’s eyes and Sanjay’s eyes as well.
So, I think for me my biggest challenge was during the pilot my character was largely there to facilitate the Ty storyline and the agony that he was going through, and so my biggest challenge was really in the pilot trying to create a character given a little bit of information about who she really is.
And so, yeah, I just tried really hard to give her a lot of heart and a lot of warmth. I wanted her to be a rock for a lot of the doctors at that hospital and so that’s something that I really tried to put forth. But after the pilot it was just easy.
Q: David E. Kelley is known for creating kind of quirky yet very lovable characters, what would you say is quirky about each of your characters?
JF: Well, I would say we’re the least quirky. Hopefully yet still loveable but, yeah, there haven’t been – I mean, I would say the quirkiest is definitely Biller, when Ving has a sort of fun quirkiness to him and Sarayu’s character is kind of a little pitbull.
JB: Are you going to say Keong? I would say Keong.
JF: Oh and Keong!
JB: …is standout quirky because he has this repetitive joke of his monosyllabic unemotional bedside manner which…
JF: Right, right.
JB: …makes me laugh every time and he relies on repetition, the same joke, several times and episode and it really works. My character, no quirks I’m afraid.
JF: Yeah, mine not so much either. I mean, we’re sort of the grounded ones, the “straight men” but we – I hope that Tina is kind of the heart of it in a way. Like I love to see people come to her and rely on her and she is there to sort of comfort people and, I don’t know, I just think she’s a very warm grounded women, not quirky so much but maybe that’s Season 2, you never know.
JB: Yeah, I mean, there’s room for that for sure but I think in the first season our characters were very much carrying their sort of emotional – we’re sort of the emotional needle within the compass, we tend to carry the emotional stories.
JF: Yeah, true.
Q: And then as a follow-up, what would be like the one word that you’d use to describe your character?
JB: Arrogant, mine.
JF: Passionate, mine
Q: Oh, good choices. Well, hopefully we'll see more of both their passion and maybe a little less arrogance this season.
JF: I think passion is the nice word for arrogance.
JB: Arrogance has a very necessary place in that world.
JB: It has a positive side, it’s not all negative.
JF: I suppose you could go with confidence.
JB: Confidence as opposed to [arrogance].
Q: Jamie, your character gets a little tortured because of something that happens. How are you at dealing with that kind of thing? Are you the type of actor that just goes and shoots it and the minute they stop filming that’s it, or do you bring a little bit of that home with you?
JB: No, I bring the feeling beforehand I think. I think afterwards it’s a sense of relief that you can take the costume off and then it’s gone.
No, it never stays with me afterwards but it’s with me all the day until I get to the necessary being beforehand because I know that I have got to have that experience as real in my mind to play the scene. I’m not the kind of actor that can go completely cold into an emotional scene. I have to transport myself emotionally by whatever means possible and that basically means you carry the situation with you all week, all episode or all day beforehand. But, no, as soon as they say cut it’s done and it’s a huge relief and it tends to be an excited, very perky, Jamie that emerges.
Q: Many of the cast has joined Twitter as a way to interact with fans and…
JF: Many have, Jamie. [Laughs]
Q: Exactly. Jamie, can we expect you to join any time soon?
JB: I have no plans to join Twitter yet. I am not going to say never but, yeah, it just doesn’t feel like me right now. So, I’m not going to – my wife occasionally tweets on my behalf and that’s good for me for the moment.
JF: His fan club, he’s got a couple of fan club people on Twitter who I basically feel that it’s him because they represent him so well and they post up all of the clips of the show and photos of him so they do a beautiful job.
JB: Yeah, there is a feed that is run for me and, yeah, whenever I need to find out where I’ve been I look on there and they tell me.
Q: Jennifer, what is it like working with your husband on the show and watching him date someone else on screen?
JF: Well, both are fun actually. We’ve worked together in the past. We have a great time and it’s always nice when I have very long hours and I get to see him pop in and visit. He’s also very well liked there, everybody is always asking me where’s [Johnny], when’s [Johnny] back on the show? So that’s quite nice and essentially he adds a levity to the show that I think is really necessary.
His character is just sort of quirky and funny and I think matched with Sarayu, they’re just adorable. Ironically I think we have one scene together the entire time and I believe we exchanged a hello, maybe not even. So there were times when if he was working I was not and then we were like ships passing in the night all of the sudden.
But it was lovely having him and I do remember one table read where my character and Jamie’s character were sort of in a physical something or other and he and Sarayu’s character had a kiss and it was just so funny sitting around the table and thinking, yeah, this is what we get paid to do and you just have to laugh!
Q: Speaking of laughing, what was it like when you saw Alfred Molina without hair?
JF: I think he sports it really well, he’s got a great head.
JB: Well, the funny thing is we’d all been to see him on the stage in Rent at [The Paper] and so we had seen him before as a different character. So it wasn’t that weird to see him shave headed and I think it really works for Hooten, the shaved head and the big black framed glasses. He looks like a 70s talk show host especially on our set, and there’s something about that authority, the simple lighting, the very harsh, the glass of water, and the jug that is ubiquitous 70s talk show paraphernalia makes me chuckle every time I see it.
But no, I think it works for the character. I really enjoyed the story point, the way they explain it, it brings a humanity to the character and I think Fred really enjoyed it too and it’s fun to watch his hair grow back, it’s really entertaining.
JF: It is, it’s like a Chia-Pet.
JB: He’s like the class science experiment.
JF: Yeah, exactly.
JB: Watching his hair grow.
JF: Right, and I know there was discussion about him briefly sporting a wig but he – but they decided against it and I’m very glad of that because I agree with Jamie. Yeah!
Q: And in terms of medical terminology, what has been the hardest word that you’ve had to say on the show so far?
JF: Oh God! For me it was…
JB: Yeah, for me it’s always a simple one like – because the terminology is one thing and you just have to work at it and we all do and it becomes second nature, but occasionally for me there’s a double whammy of medical terminology that’s also slightly accented differently in English than it is in American English.So I’m trying to think of…
JF: What’s the one – I’m trying to think, I was there and I can’t…
JB: There was one, oh, what was it…
JF: And it was so easy, it’s an easy word.
JB: It’s an easy one, it’s an easy one but it threw me completely and I couldn’t get it right. Let me just think what it is. I always get this…
JF: Okay, well, I mean – because I’m not going to be able to come up with something specific either unfortunately but I will say it was one of the times that I was up on the podium and I was making a presentation about a procedure involving basically lasers, it’s called a gamma ray and I had this monologue that was just stressing me out so bad. I was pacing and I was just trying to focus and, you know, I had my iPod on to tune out all of the outside noise and I got up there and I just really nailed it the first ten times but these are seven page scenes and there’s so much coverage and there’s 50 different setups and by the 20th shot, I would say, I could not… I literally could not say it anymore. I mean, I remember I was almost in tears trying to keep it together.
JB: You got it when it mattered, that’s for sure. I remember it, its trachea…. A simple word that we all know but for me to say trachea instead of trah-key-ah, it was – I had to pause about three words before I got there and take a deep breath, repeat it inside of me and then spit it out.
JF: I saw it in his eyes.
JB: Yeah, it’s the simple ones that sometimes bite you. I mean, yeah, we have significant differences. Like we say anesthetist and you guys say anesthesiologist. Most of those I’ve got down but occasionally one will creep up but I actually use in sort of common parlents and those are the ones that bite me, not the really technical ones.
JF: He’s amazing because he’ll be, we’ll be, talking literally right up till action and he’s, you know, a Brit, and then all of the sudden he just switches over on a dime, it’s shocking! I mean, especially involving all that jargon.
JB: I can’t do it the other way. I can’t do it the other way where you stay in character all day. I find that…
JF: That’s just exhausting, isn’t it?
JB: Yeah, it is. And you end up doing nothing well, it’s all bad.
JF: But then it’s weird because I think being Canadian I’m sometimes conscious of that slipping in which really it doesn’t when I’m sober but so sometimes talking to Jamie at length, because we do tend to sit together at those meetings and so 15 hours later I have a quasi-British accent for sure.
Q: Jamie, even though the medical jargon is tough, you’re no stranger to technical terms. What has been the most difficult to pin down, legal jargon on Law & Order UK, sci-fi military jargon on Battlestar Galactica or your work on Monday Mornings?
JB: Yeah, I think the hardest is – the hardest is goofy sci-fi language for sure. Because I was very proud of Battlestar as being raw and real and immediate and when it dissipated into goofy language, sort of faux-science, because it’s not even real science, it’s pretend science, then I find the conviction waivers.
You know, with the medical world I’m surrounded by advisers. I know this is the language they speak, it is 100% necessary to say it and so the conviction with which you learn it and say it is just second to none. Whereas with Battlestar everything was kind of up for grabs. If there was something – you could call the writer and say, “This is bullshit, let’s come up with something better.” Whereas I can’t do that to Sanjay Gupta or David Kelley, the reality that we can’t mess with, which gives you confidence.
Q: Your fans love the way that you embrace Battlestar Galactica.
JB: Oh my God, I’m never going to forget it! I have more pride for that experience than anything else I’ve done so, no.
Q: The sets you two work on are surprisingly realistic. What’sit like for you to step into those operating rooms and shoot?
JB: Very empowering, you know, everything in those rooms is real. Sanjay has told me and others that were anybody to have an aneurysm on the set he could do everything in that room to get in there and solve the problem. They’re not sterile, that’s the only difference.
So, knowing that we have that level of reality and we also have real O.R. nurses working with us, so when an instrument is handed to Jen or I it is done by someone who has been operating the day before in exactly that situation and that’s very empowering and you can’t look bad really, they sort of prop you up.
So it’s exciting! I find it exciting. I mean, it’s a challenge because you wear all this gear and it’s uncomfortable after a while and it takes hours, probably as long as the surgical procedure would, but with timeouts between takes… which are frustrating because you can’t eat anything or drink anything, because you’re covered in masks and tubes and surgical gear.
But it’s – you get a buzz. You get a buzz about being the center of that theater. You’re at the heart of the theater, you’re the lead. You’re the practitioner, it’s where the God complex comes from for these surgeons. They are making life and death motions with their hands and decisions and the acting is very interesting because it’s all eyes only, you can’t even see their mouths move so it’s a real thing and you have to take a deep breath in and be up for it but it’s an aspect of the show that I actually have really learned to enjoy.
JF: And I get too – I think it’s sort of fascinating to learn all of these – the way to hold the instrument and we obviously try to do it with as much authority as possible. I remember in one shot where they were going down from my hands where I was suturing the patients head and then up to my eyes and I had to say, my suturing was pretty impressive and I’ve never felt better! Like I had just recited a monologue but it was really just a couple of sutures but I was so proud of myself.
It is interesting being in there, it’s fascinating because we really do get a sense of what actual surgeons experience while they’re in there. I mean, you know, from all of the instruments and the procedures which are heavily choreographed by the way, because prior to doing these scenes we rehearse them over and over again, we get our movements right, our positioning right, everything has to be just so because on Monday Mornings they’re really big on very close shots whether it’s of our eye, whether its of our hand, you know, everything is very measured. So those movements have to be down pat and then we get the feeling that these doctors go through when they’re wearing all that gear and standing on their feet for six, seven hours. I mean, I know Sanjay has even spoken about doing procedures for eight hours straight without taking a bathroom break.
And here we are complaining that we can’t get to catering because we’re wearing a face mask. So, it’s definitely eye opening.
JB: It’s a big deal.
JF: Big deal! I think I’ve tried to cut a slit into my mask at times to fit a little straw so I could just have just a little bit of water. But of course real doctors could not do that. [Laughs] Should I be divulging those secrets of the trade?
JB: No, that’s good. I like it.
Q: When you join a medical drama, there are inevitably going to be comparisons to past shows. With the success of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, did you have any concerns about being compared to those shows when you first read the script?
JF: Yeah, I mean – I was a huge fan of ER. Wen I watch a medical show I tend to veer to – I also loved, ironically written by our boss, Chicago Hope, but I tend toward the medical shows that are far more about medicine then say the love stories going on behind closed doors.
Of course, I think as an audience member you want to see who these doctors are when they go home, what makes them tick but I wasn’t really concerned about that, about being compared to the Grey’s Anatomys and the Private Practices, you know, those are two great shows that have been incredibly successful. I do think this is far different.
I mean, first of all, it’s about an aspect of medicine that nobody really knows about the morbidity and mortality meetings. At times it even has a legal aspect to it, I mean, there’s a lot of legalities in these hospitals, a lot of administrative business which can be fascinating and I think these meetings are fascinating so I think it’s going to be really interesting for audiences to see that side.
Yes, of course there’s side storylines and there’s a little bit of intimacy going on there too, but for the most part this show and David has really made a point of it, adhering to really interesting medical cases and what makes these hospitals tick and doing justice to Sanjay’s novel and, of course, the shining star of each episode are these morbidity and mortality meetings.
For me the concern wasn’t about any specific medical show that we would be compared to. My concern is always kind of about the medical genre in general. Everyone is very cynical about new cop shows, new medical shows, new law shows saying, why are you so special? And secretly I knew that this one was a little different. It had enough difference in it all based around these set pieces that nobody seems to really know about, I didn’t know about before doing them, and they’re everywhere. They’re in every single hospital across the country and truly what fuels the show is this added element of scrutiny that the audience applies to the show. Just watching the patients live or die, you’re watching the surgeons careers live or die week in, week out.
So there’s another element to it. You know, Grey’s is a great show and we have elements of that, for sure, but I went back to Chicago Hope, and I had never seen Chicago Hope when it was on the air and I was blow away by what I saw. It was a very complex show and having a legal mind to attack the medical genre really does bring a different prism to it and you see every decision through many different angles. They’re not just moral, ethical, surgical, there are legal responsibilities, there are politics involved and our show is a medical drama because of those layers.
Q: In your research for these roles, how much time did you spend with other doctors? Sanjay is always there, I imagine, but what were some of the greatest words of wisdom that you learned to best help you portray a real doctor?
JF: Well, I mean, I spoke with a few surgeons, many actually, and then I didn’t get into a surgery, which was something I hoped to do. I guess being Canadian it was tough for me to – I don’t know I had to present them with all kinds of inoculation information. So I’m going to work on that for Season 2 but I did shadow and I shadowed a surgeon at County doing rounds and that was very eye-opening and very touching and difficult.
And, yeah, the women that I spoke to over the phone just ensured me that it’s okay to be emotionally invested in a patient, that it’s normal and it’s not how everyone does it because I also spoke to a few neurosurgeons who were kind of everything I would have expected going in, very ego driven, very cut and dry, almost desensitized and I can’t relate to that. And as an actor I need to portray somebody that I relate to in some way even if it’s the tiniest quality, I just have to find something that I relate to.
And so – and I mean maybe that’s maybe to my determent as a performer but I really feel passionate about that and so when she said that that struck me and that’s how I chose to portray my character. Listen, she’s not like hysterically balling delivering bad news all the time but she’s just – she just has a lot of heart.And, yeah, I would say that would be it.
Q: And Jamie, what did you take away from all of your research?
JB: Well I did a lot. We had about a six week gap between being cast and shooting the pilot and I still did as much as I could with time in hospitals talking to people and I watched a few procedures and I interviewed a very interesting guy at UCLA who is South American, so English was his second language and I think he felt slightly fish out water in the surgical world. He was a shining star but he was the only one to express a bit more than a front. All of the others were very, very confident and very empowered and that was very interesting for me because that’s the character that I’m playing.
But this guy was very thoughtful and he said something to me about [how] he was single, not married… he was my age in life. I’ve got three kids, been married for almost ten years. He was not married, single in a country he didn’t grow up in, cycles to work, lives near the hospital. He cycled because he’s aware that aneurysms happen when you’re driving so he figures riding a bike, less collateral damage. So he was very thoughtful and very aware of the job that he does, very aware of the human contact!
And the thing that he said to me was, I asked him what it’s like when you get awoken for work at 4:00 in the morning and dragged in to do a procedure that you’ve only had three hours sleep since you were last there… and what goes through your mind? Do you resent the fact that you’re a public servant in that particular moment working at a teaching hospital like UCLA?
And he said, “No, the thing that I know is a matter of responsibility. I’ve had 14 years of education, I am one of the very few people in the face of this planet that can do this procedure that is in the right place at the right time and it’s my duty to do it!
And whilst I’m regretting having to wake up and I don’t look forward to eight hour surgical operations, once I’m in the scrubs, once I’m scrubbed in and in the room, then I don’t notice the time going by. You won’t look at the clock and it will just fly by, you won’t be aware of it.” Because he has this duty… his duty to his training and to those that trained him and to those that need him in an hour of need.
And he was very interesting, very, very thoughtful!
Q: Sounds like an incredible person to talk to!
JB: Yeah, he had a real spiritual take on the whole thing.
JF: This woman that I was speaking about, by the way, she was in her mid 40s and no children and no husband and, you know, lives on, like Jamie was saying, three hours of sleep a night is not unusual for her.
And I just said, do you ever regret, you know, not being able to have a normal existence or a family or a husband and she was – that was I think the simplest thing that she said, she said, “I made a choice!” And I am so fascinated by that, by truly making that choice and dedicating yourself to it and knowing that in making that choice you are giving up so much.
Q: If you hadn’t become actors, would either of you considered doing medicine, or law?
JF: I absolutely would not…
JB: Yeah, well I was very lucky and I had an amazing education and I had all of those avenues open to me. They were all very accessible, I was doing well in all of the necessary subjects to have chosen medicine and I never considered it for one nanosecond.
JB: I never considered the law or medicine for a nanosecond. I have, I guess, a romantic streak in me that wanted one of two things, and one was to be an athlete to represent my country, a rugby player, and the other was to be a Shakespearean actor! Neither of which have I really achieved but the acting thing just drew me to the arts.
I gave up all sciences at the age of 16 despite being pretty good at them. I followed the arts and I’ve managed to make a career in the arts with a small A on the small screen but that’s very much where I came from. So, yes, now that I know more about neurosurgery I think there can be very few careers more satisfying, more exciting, more challenging, and I kind of wish I had been more open-minded when I was younger because, you know, I really love the world that I’m getting to portray now but I never considered it and it was certainly potentially on the table, many of my friends are surgeons and doctors and all of those things back in England and lawyers and all the important jobs, ambassadors, some of them, I never considered those avenues.
Q: If someone gave you a part in a Shakespeare play on a British stage or an American stage you’d jump at it I would imagine?
JB: Oh yeah, absolutely – I mean, in the right situation with any stage play the ingredients have to be right because there’s nothing worse than going to do a bad play every night. But, yeah, no, I still hope to resurrect my ambitions to be a classical actor.
'Monday Mornings' airs Mondays at 10PM EST on TNT.