In a tiny town in the South American jungle, there is one understaffed, under-stocked medical clinic where three idealistic young doctors have run away from their personal demons, but quickly learn they are not the only ones with emotional baggage. Such is the premise of the new ABC series Off the Map, from executive producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice), which tells the story of Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson), the youngest Chief of Surgery at UCLA who walked away from it all to found this clinic and teach its newcomers how to save lives in the most challenging environment they’ve ever worked in, while having the adventures of a lifetime.
On the series, The Twilight Saga star Rachelle Lefevre plays Ryan Clark, a mysterious doctor who has a history with the clinic’s founder. While at the party to celebrate the ABC portion of the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, the actress talked about not joining the series until after the pilot was already shot, the balance between personal drama and medical procedural, working on the beautiful island of Hawaii and bonding with her castmates. She also reflected on how her involvement as Victoria in the first two Twilight films has changed her life. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
How come your character was barely in the pilot? Was that because you were off working?
RACHELLE LEFEVRE: Yeah. I was actually added to the show after they shot the pilot, so they added a couple of scenes for me, just to make sure that I was in it and had a little bit of an introduction. I keep joking with my friends and saying, “I promise you, I’m in it.” We shot those two scenes on the same day and they just cut them into the pilot, so that it would be a little teaser and you would know that there was something with her and Ben (Martin Henderson). But, they had already shot the pilot, so they couldn’t add anything. My character really comes on board in the second episode and starts to have her own storyline.
What’s her story?
LEFEVRE: It’s interesting. It takes awhile to learn about her. I think Ben and Ryan’s story unfolds slowly, and Ryan’s personal backstory unfolds as one of the slowest to get to the bottom of. What you do learn is that she’s clearly impulsive and she’s a free-spirit, and there’s got to be something fueling that. There’s got to be a reason why the girl is swimming naked in waterfalls and hacking through the juggle. She had missionary parents, so she has traveled the world and became a doctor in those kinds of environments. She didn’t take time off to go to NYU and then practice at a fancy New York hospital. She didn’t have that kind of upbringing. She was literally practicing medicine in the jungle, from the day she decided to be a doctor. So, she’s a product of that environment, but isn’t native and is still sort of an outsider, no matter how much time she spends there and no matter where she goes. She is the perpetual stranger, if you will. She’s on the, “I’m running, but I don’t know what from,” concert tour.
How much of this show is the soapy, interpersonal stuff and how much is the medical procedural?
LEFEVRE: The two things that Shonda [Rhimes] and the Shondaland empire do best is merge the wonderful, soapy, guilty pleasure, tune in every week to see people fornicate with the actual gritty, real subject of the show. What we all discovered in doing our research, and in reading about organizations like Doctors Without Borders and people who do Red Cross stints in high-conflict zones, and you read about what it’s like to be a doctor there, they have no tension and stress relief, at the end of the day, and they see and do horrific, tragic things, all day, and they really do get drunk and have sex. We were like, “Wow!” We were afraid we weren’t doing it justice. We were like, “Oh, well, we must be adding sex to this really noble job.” In fact, these people are heroes, but they’re human beings and nobody can be around that much blood and intense medicine and not need something mindless, at the end of the day. So, all the sex and everybody getting their shirt off and all the steamy soap stuff really is organic and is kind of honest. Even though our show is, obviously, a heightened reality, it’s still not that far-fetched.
LEFEVRE: Yeah, I think that’s an accurate description. They are cowboys, in the sense that they’re on the new frontier. They’re going to bring medicine where there hasn’t been Western medicine before. One of the things we deal with in our show is the fact that these people have healers and shamans and their own medical tradition, but they haven’t had access to Westernized medicine, so I suppose we’re cowboys, in that sense.
What has it been like to film in Hawaii?
LEFEVRE: Hawaii is absolutely beautiful. There is no substitute for a real location when you’re trying to shoot the jungle. You can’t just go anywhere. You’ve got to go where it’s lush and green and there really is those mountain ranges, the trees and the ocean. It’s beautiful. Very quickly, the scenery became a character in our show. We’re not really ever on the soundstage. People are like, “Oh, you’re on the Lost stages,” but we’re like, “No.” We’re not ever on the soundstage. If you’re in Hawaii, why would you ever film anything inside.
Can you talk about working with this ensemble of actors? Did you all bond really quickly?
LEFEVRE: People comment that we seem to get along so well and that it looks really genuine, and it is. When you’re on an island, you really only have each other, and so that forced us to become friends and family really quickly. It was a blessing. There was no room for clashing of personalities. There was no diva behavior. Everybody just went, “We’re all in this together. We all miss our friends and family, so let’s be there for each other.”
LEFEVRE: I had no idea that it was going to change my life, in that way. But, I didn’t know I was going to end up doing a show where I was going to have to move to Honolulu either. This is the kind of job where you just always have a suitcase packed in the back of your closet, and you’re just ready to go wherever the call is. After Twilight, I had a bunch of stuff that the cast had signed and I did an eBay auction and raised $14,000 for an organization in Los Angeles, called School on Wheels, which tutors homeless children. That was one of the benefits of being involved with Twilight.
Since it seems like you work all the time, what is it that attracts you to roles and projects?
LEFEVRE: I’m just basically a workaholic. I’m obsessed with being human. I know that sounds like a weird thing to say. I went to McGill University, but I didn’t graduate. They won’t graduate me because I didn’t have a degree in any one thing. I studied everything and they were like, “You studied too many things, so we can’t give you a degree.” But, I’m interested in everything about what it means to be a human being, so every role is an excuse to delve into a different way of life, a different socio-economic background, and a different tragic or comedic circumstance. I’m a workaholic because I love to play, if that makes sense.
Do you get approached by fans a lot?
LEFEVRE: Yeah, I feel like I do and I don’t. It depends on where I am and what’s going on, and whether my hair is in a bun or not. In Hawaii, they’re happy to hear that you’re filming a show. They love it that people actually come and make use of their beautiful landscapes. They’ve been great. We were sleeping in the airport the other night and nobody actually came up to us, but they did see us sleeping on the floor. I did see a couple teenage girls and their moms looking and being like, “Is that her? I think they’re doing a show here. Oh, my god, they’re sleeping on the floor of the airport!” Our flight was delayed six hours and it was four in the morning.