Coming from famed drama creator David E. Kelley, MONDAY MORNINGS showcases the internal trials of doctors held accountable by their peers for their mistakes and on-the-spot judgment calls both in and out of the operating room. With medical malpractice cases on the rise, internal review is more critical than ever. So pulling back the curtain on this time-honored tradition, David E. Kelley along with co-creator Sanjay Gupta, and his strong cast of stars, have brought the medical drama MONDAY MORNINGS to life for TNT. In a recent press conference call, stars Jamie Bamber and Jennifer Finnigan shared what drew them to the role, the tricky parts of mastering medical dialogue and procedure, and what they think makes their show special.
What drew you to MEDICAL MORNINGS when you first read the script?
JAMIE: It was really three things for me. When you read David E. Kelley’s name on a script you get a good feeling that this is going to get a chance – that 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.
Would you say that this is the most challenging character you’ve played so far?
JAMIE: I don’t know if it’s the most challenging. 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 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. I don’t know if it’s the greatest challenge. I think I felt more challenge when I started BATTLESTAR GALACTICA just because I felt very unprepared for the whole American TV machine and I was trying a new accent on. I did have anxiety when I started BATTLESTAR. But I was nervous because of David [Kelley]’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 it challenges me enough, put it that way.
JENNIFER: I felt very similar to Jamie, first and foremost the David Kelley aspect and then the fact that we had Sanjay [Gupta] 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. 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 breathe, 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 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 one for eight more years. So 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.
Was anything about your characters that wasn’t originally scripted for you that you’ve added to your roles?
JAMIE: Yeah, a yellow watch. I added that.
JENNIFER: And the orange drawstrings.
JAMIE: 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 watchstrap.
JENNIFER: (Laughs) 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.
JAMIE: Yeah, I have my own thing going on but 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 backstory 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 a place to start. So I just used everything that Sanjay really threw my way.
JENNIFER: On that note, my braid, my “iconic braid.” But 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. So it just became easier and easier from episode to episode because I just started to understand Tina 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 (Jamie Bamber) 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 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.
Jennifer, what is it like working with your husband on the show and then seeing him date someone else?
JENNIFER: 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 [Rao]. 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 there 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!
It is said that medical terminology is the hardest to learn. Is there one word that you’ve had to say on the show that has tripped you up so far?
JAMIE: For me, it’s always a simple one because the terminology is one thing and you just have to work at it. 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. Like, for example, there was an easy one, but it threw me completely and I couldn’t get it right.
JENNIFER: Because I’m not going to be able to come up with something specific, 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 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 literally could not say it anymore. I remember I was almost in tears trying to keep it together.
JAMIE: You got it when it mattered, that’s for sure. I remember it, its trachea. Instead of trachea would say trachayah, a simple word that we all know but for me to say trachea instead of trachayah, 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.
JENNIFER: I saw it in his eyes.
JAMIE: Yeah, it’s the simple ones that sometimes bite you. I mean, 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 parlance and those are the ones that bite me, not the really technical ones.
JENNIFER: He’s amazing because we’ll be talking literally right up till action, and he’s 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.
JAMIE: I can’t do it the other way. I can’t do it the other way where you stay in character all day.
JENNIFER: That’s just exhausting, isn’t it?
JAMIE: Yeah, it is. And you end up doing nothing well. It’s all bad.
JENNIFER: 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.
David E. Kelley is known for creating kind of quirky yet very lovable characters, what would you say is quirky or loveable about each of your characters?
JENNIFER: Well, I would say we’re the least quirky. Hopefully, yet still loveable. But I would say the quirkiest is definitely Bill Irwin, then Ving [Rhames] has a sort of fun quirkiness to him, and Sarayu’s character is kind of a little pitbull.
JAMIE: Are you going to say Keong [Sim]? I would say Keong.
JENNIFER: Oh, and Keong!
JAMIE: He is standout quirky because he has this repetitive joke of his monosyllabic unemotional bedside manner which 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.
JENNIFER: Yeah, mine not so much either. I mean, we’re sort of the grounded ones. The “straight men” but 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. I just think she’s a very warm grounded woman — not quirky so much but maybe that’s Season 2, you never know.
JAMIE: 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 journey. We’re sort of the emotional needles within the compass. We tend to carry the emotional stories.
What would be like the one word that you’d use to describe your character?
JAMIE: Arrogant, mine.
JENNIFER: Passionate, mine.
Good choices. Hopefully well see more of both their passion and maybe a little less arrogance this season.
JENNIFER: I think passion is the nice word for arrogance.
JAMIE: Arrogance has a very necessary place in that world.
JAMIE: It has a positive side. It’s not all negative.
JENNIFER: I suppose you could go with confidence.JAMIE: Confidence as opposed to arrogant. I think with any interesting character you have to have a negative with the positive. There has to be something to a fault and we see his confidence rattled and we see his vulnerability too, and Tina’s always there for those vulnerable moments. So you see both sides. Every surgeon I met beforehand about one was pretty uniformly cocksure.
JENNIFER: Yeah, that is kind of a quality to look for and on the flip side with that, Tina being passionate, I think at times to a fault as well. I think it gets her into trouble at times.
Jamie, your character gets a little tortured because of something that happens in the first episode. 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 the feeling with you afterward?
JAMIE: 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. It never stays with me afterwards, but it’s with me all the day until I get to the necessary moment 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 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.
Jennifer, how you would describe Tina? What drives her?
JENNIFER: I think she’s definitely driven by passion and love for her job and carrying for her patients. I know that every doctor has a different bedside manner, some much better than others, but in doing research for this part the person who made the biggest impression on me is this very successful female neurosurgeon out of New York. One of the first questions I asked her was: How much she’s impacted by her patients? How much she feels along with them? And she was very quick to say that she holds their hands, that she cries with them, that she puts herself in their shoes. I know that not everyone can do that for every patient. You can’t become a complete sponge. I think it then starts to affect your work. I think it then starts to just bear down on you, you have to deal with losses everyday. But that left a huge impression on me and I really wanted to infuse Tina with that same level of caring and compassion for her patients. So I would say that’s there. I would say that she is very authoritative and confident in her job. I would say that she falls apart a little bit at home, whereas you see her in her element at work and she’s happy and she is in control. I think that all goes by the wayside the minute she walks through her front door. And I really like seeing those two sides of her.
What’s it like stepping into the MONDAY MORNING operating rooms?
JAMIE: Very empowering. 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 OR 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 surgical gear — but 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.
JENNIFER: I think it’s sort of fascinating to learn 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 have 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, 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 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 6-7 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.
JAMIE: It’s a big deal.
JENNIFER: 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.
Did you spend with other doctors and what is the greatest line of wisdom that they told you in playing your part?
JENNIFER: I spoke with a few surgeons, many actually, but then I didn’t get into a surgery which was something I hoped to do. I guess being Canadian, it was tough for me. 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. It assured 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, them to be very ego driven, very cut and dry, almost desensitized and I can’t relate to that. But 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. Maybe that’s maybe to my determent as a performer, but I really feel passionate about that and so when [the surgeon] said that that, it struck me and that’s how I chose to portray my character. She’s not like hysterically bawling, delivering bad news all the time , but she a lot of “heart.” I would say that would be it.
What did you take away as the most important thing from all of your research?
JAMIE: Well, I did a lot. We had about a 6-week gap between being cast and shooting the pilot, so I did as much as I could with time in hospitals, talking to people. 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. 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, and cycles to work. He 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 awaken at work at 4:00 am in the morning and dragged in to do a procedure when you’ve only had three hours sleep since you were last there? 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, and 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. He had a real spiritual take on the whole thing.
JENNIFER: The woman surgeon was in her mid 40’s with no children and no husband and 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 not being able to have a normal existence or a family or a husband?” That was I think the simplest thing that she said, she said, “I made a choice.” 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.
Did you have any concerns about being compared to other medical shows when you first read the script?
JENNIFER: Yeah, I was a huge fan of ER. When I watch a medical show I tend to veer to that. 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 ANATOMY and the PRIVATE PRACTICE. 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 [Kelley] 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.
JAMIE: 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. 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 not just a medical drama because of those layers. So hoping and trusting that David would do that niche justice, it delivered.
To see the premiere of MONDAY MORNINGS, be sure to tune in on Monday, February 4th at 10:00 p.m. on TNT.
Where to find this article: