Based on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s acclaimed novel, the TNT drama series Monday Mornings, from award-winning producer David E. Kelley, follows the lives of doctors at Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Oregon, as they push the limits of their abilities and confront their personal and professional failings. The title refers to the hospital’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, when doctors gather with their peers for a confidential review of complications and errors in patient care. The show stars Ving Rhames, Alfred Molina, Jamie Bamber, Jennifer Finnigan, Bill Irwin, Keong Sim, Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Jamie Bamber talked about how he came to be a part of the show, how working with David E. Kelley is in a whole other league, whether the medical jargon gets any easier to say, what it’s like to shoot the big meeting scenes, and which character relationships he finds the most fun to play. He also talked about what led him to acting, and how satisfied he was personally with how Battlestar Galactica ended. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JAMIE BAMBER: It was an audition. I got sent the script. I came back from doing Law & Order UK and immediately did a pilot (17th Precinct) for my great friend Ron Moore, which sadly wasn’t picked up. It was the old team from Battlestar Galactica. It was one of those avenues that didn’t work out, but we still have our friendships and we’re still very close. I’m sure, one day, we’ll get to do something together. He’s still a writer I admire, very much. But that didn’t go, and this was literally the first script of the following pilot season, once that was finished. It was the first script I read and I thought, “I can do this role. I love the writing. This is a no-brainer. If I can make this work, then I can just kick up for the rest of the year and relax.”
I was very lucky. I walked into that first audition and I was very prepared. With medical shows, they try to throw a lot of jargon at you, at the audition, so I wanted to know it backwards, forwards and sideways. I wanted the medical stuff to come out, as though I had studied it for 15 years. So, (pilot director) Bill [D’Elia] told me that he knew, after about two minutes of the audition, that he was convinced. I was lucky. That’s something that you can’t control. Whatever I am, innately, or whatever I did by the whim of choice in my study, was the right thing and Bill saw it. Bill championed me to David, and then (show creator) David [E. Kelley] saw it and was convinced. And then, I had to test. There was another actor there who’s more well known than I am, but luckily they saw it my way. I’m very, very grateful. It was nothing but excitement, from then on.
But then, another thing happens where you go, “This is too good to be true. This can’t happen. This can’t work.” That’s what happened with Ron Moore’s pilot, 17th Precinct. You think, “The old team is back together. This is going to be great!” But, I had this innate confidence in the material and in the part. And then, when I got to work with Bill and I saw his directing style and I saw the way he is surrounded by family, he creates an atmosphere of support and good humor, and it just felt right. Then, I started to get worried because it felt so right that it would be so painful, if it’s not right. As soon as you feel confident, the necessary implied alternative looms up and the negativity comes in. It’s a funny thing. I think that insecurity/confidence balance is necessary. It fuels this whole thing.
Were you hesitant about signing on to do this show, at all?
BAMBER: When you start a new project, you wonder whether it’s the right choice. I didn’t have to wonder, at all, because I saw it in the script. I saw this different aspect that you don’t normally see in hospital dramas. The blood and guts are what happens between the surgeons, in terms of them really forensicating on each other. They’re operating on each other, in a way, and wondering who’s done what, and who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s a power struggle, but it’s a different angle on it, which I hope is distinctive enough.
BAMBER: Are you kidding?! It’s a different league! David E. Kelley’s writing is phenomenal. Each script has got everything. It’s got heart, it’s got soul, it’s got intellect and it’s got humor. I don’t know how he does it, but he manages not to be one note, with everything that he does. And you have to credit Sanjay Gupta as well because he created each and every one of the characters. David was really quite faithful to the premise behind each character, certainly. Little idiosyncracies changed, but they’re really what Sanjay served up in the novel. David took it and refined it, and made some adjustments, dramatically, to some of the stories to make it tele-visual and more of a discovery for the viewer. It’s a perfect storm of talent. And then, you have Alfred Molina, who’s one of my idols, and he turns out to be one of the nicest, uncyncial team players in the world. He’s happy and desperately keen to catch up with each and every one of us, during the day. And then, there’s Ving [Rhames], who’s funny and like a big kid. I’m very blessed and I feel very lucky.
As you do it, does the medical jargon get any easier to say?
BAMBER: Yeah, it does. I’m a neurosurgeon on the show. Everything that I do is to do with the brain, more or less. There are always new words, but some of them come back and they’re banked away. They’re funny words, so they do slip with time. You’ve got to spend an extra 10 minutes studying to make sure the six words you have that episode, you have nailed. These scripts are big and they don’t have time to waste on actors not being able to get the words out.
BAMBER: My only hesitation after Law & Order was that I didn’t want to be in a super dry procedural like that. I found that satisfying, but very tough because every episode was kind of the same. It just is with that show. That’s tough, on an actor, to feel sometimes like you can just do it in your sleep, and you have to remind yourself, every time, not to take it for granted. I didn’t have to learn scenes because often I would be asking six questions, and they were highly logical questions like, “Who were you with? What time was that? And then, what did you do?” By the way, that’s an amazing acting tool, not to have to study something so much because everything is fresh, you’re thinking on your feet the whole time, and you’re really listening. But, I didn’t want to be in a dry procedural. So, if I had a concern about this show it was that, when you do the pilot, you don’t really know what the show is going to be, in terms of the series. I was very keen not to be the surgeon-of-the-week, and it’s not. There’s much more to it than that. And the 311 meeting is a real gem, in the setting. You have this theatrical thing where any one of these characters becomes a story for that episode, so we’re not just in a procedural where the guest stars are the problem or the solution. It’s really us. It fulfilled every criteria that I had for the show. I still am a big fan of the serialized dramas. Those are my all-time favorite because you’re on a journey and you don’t know where it’s going to end. But, there’s something lovely about knowing that I’ll be in scrubs and that I’ll be in a hospital, and not having to think too much about those things.
BAMBER: I’ve honestly been so lucky. I’ve never had a job where I didn’t look forward to being on set, in the morning. I wonder when it’s going to hit me, or if I’m the problem and everyone else is hating it because I’m there. I suppose going from Battlestar to Law & Order made me appreciate so much of what we had on Battlestar because they were so different. The things that Law & Order could never do, I missed. But then, when Law & Order finished, I really missed the people, more than anything. So, I guess I’ve been spoiled. But, I was apprehensive about David E. Kelley, just because he was a name and a product, and I had no idea how he was or what he’d be like. The fact that he’s such a brand is intimidating. You think it might be scary and nasty, and people might be treated like commodities because it’s all about him, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. That was such a happy discovery. Him and Bill D’Elia are this team that just creates the perfect unit. My only fear is that we don’t get to do this for six years because we really want to.
What’s it like to shoot the meetings where you essentially have Alfred Molina get to berate you?
BAMBER: When you’re served up as the dish of the day, it’s a way and it’s on. The way my character is, he’s every bit as arrogant and sure that he’s right as Fred’s is. For those scenes, I’m actively incensed at everything that he’s saying, and I love it because you’re so engaged. It started in the pilot, where I’m blind-sided, but I’m genuinely in the wrong. My guy is this natural-born surgeon. He’s just a gifted surgical athlete, so we had to establish that. I’m never wrong. I get up there and am like, “What the fuck am I up here for? How dare you! What’s the point, this time?” And he always makes some stupid point, as far as I’m concerned, about my personal life, or something like that. I enjoy that. And then, when you’re not the dish of the day, and you’re sitting there and you’re really in the audience, it’s a challenge. We shoot sometimes just that scene, all day long. That’s 10 hours of the same scene, and it’s a challenge to keep it fresh. So, if I know I’m not in it, I read the whole script, but I skip that, so at least the first time, I’m basically watching a brand new Alfred Molina play. I’d pay money for that! You have to make sure you’re listening to it fresh, every time. And Fred is brilliant. It’s delicious to watch. It’s a medical how-dun-it.
BAMBER: Jennifer [Finnigan] and I have a lot of scenes together, and they’re all great. But, the ones that have been a surprise to me are the ones with Keong Sim’s character, Sung Park. We have this rivalry. He’s very, very serious and ambitious and thinks he’s the best neurosurgeon in the world. In the backstory, he’s had to train twice. He trained in Korean, and then had to come to the States and do it all again. So, he’s older and he’s done it all before, and yet he’s this abrupt, very, very arrogant person who looks at me as a bit of a lightweight. Equally, I am considered the most talented surgeon in the place, so there’s a natural rivalry. He can’t speak, and I’m quite verbally comfortable. We have some good eyebrow raising scenes. They’re tiny, but I really looked forward to them. They’re normally a six of seven line exchange, but there’s a needling on both sides that’s good.
Have you always wanted to be an actor?
BAMBER: I started very early, but not like actors here who are working very early and making money very early. My mum was a trained actress and drama teacher, and she worked in the West End. We were living in Paris and she ran the theatre group at the American Cathedral and directed kids’ shows, and she put me in one, as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. I’m 100% sure that I’m not naturally an actor. There’s nothing in me that I think of as extroverted or theatrical, in any way at all, but there was an escape given by that opportunity that I really got a buzz from. I just enjoyed it, so it was always something I wanted to do at school. And I did a couple of commercials, but that wasn’t what I enjoyed. It was doing these school plays, and she started it.
But, I wanted to play rugby for Ireland until I was about 16. I was always very good at sports, naturally, and I played every sport for every school team. But then, grew very late and it became tougher for me to compete. I remember getting dropped from the rugby team at about 16, by a close family friend who was the coach, and that completely shifted my world. And then, the acting became more important and the academics became more important, and I veered off. But, I’m still a stupid nuts sports fan and I compete at golf at a quite high level, and tennis and skiing, and all these other things. I still do it, but it’s a hobby. I was never really going to be a professional, but it was a childhood dream. That’s what I wanted to do.
And then, at university, people were trying to convince me to become a diplomat because I speak languages and I’m intelligent and I got a good degree. I was at Cambridge, and they thought I should become their man, wherever it was. The other thing I wanted to be for awhile was an academic. I wanted to become a professor, but then I saw what that meant. When you actually meet academics, who are lovely people and some of them are very interesting, they’re in this world which is so closed and so spiteful that I didn’t want any part of it.
BAMBER: Oh, 1,000%. I loved the ending! I loved everything about it. I’m not a very mystical person, but I even loved the angel thing. The yin to my yang not being there anymore, there was something profound about how we carry those closest to us with us, even when we’re not physically together anymore and can’t be. I angered a lot of people when I got rid of all technology because it was nothing but trouble, which is probably a slightly childish response to what happened, but I could totally have that reaction to the modern world, at times. I love things like that. Sci-fi fans are always going to react, but I’m not a sci-fi guy. I was in that sci-fi show, but I was always like, “Let’s not do the goofy sci-fi stuff. Let’s keep it political and real.” The beauty of the show was both aspects.
I was very pleased with the ending because I thought it was entirely human. I remember having many discussions with Ron Moore about it, before it happened, and I remember bringing him a Richard Dawkins book, The Ancestor’s Tale, all about a massive leap that humanity made 50,000 years ago and how they don’t know why, in the space of a very small number of years, man went from very backward to cave arts and tools and communal farming. Everything thinks language must have been the thing that clicked. I remember talking to Ron about that, and about how maybe there was some other influence.
I liked how it was all in the past, and not in the future. The ending was really about coming back to the characters and taking them all back to the beginning. Flashbacks before the mini-series and juxtaposing where they are now with where they were then, you saw how they’d all had huge transformations, and yet they’re still the same people. I know some people absolutely hated it, but it’s nice to provoke strong reaction.
The season finale of Monday Mornings airs on TNT on April 8th.