The NBC series New Amsterdam, recently renewed for a second season, is inspired by the oldest public hospital in America and follows the brilliant Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold), who’s made it his mission to solve the underlying problems within the hospital while struggling with his own medical treatment. Being a medical director determined to cut out the bureaucracy that tends to prevent the ability to provide exceptional care for everyone and refusing to take no for an answer allows Goodwin to give hope to the underappreciated staff, and even though it’s never easy, his actions could return the underfunded hospital to its previous and long-forgotten glory.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Ryan Eggold talked about how much New Amsterdam has connected with audiences, what appealed to him about the series, how he identifies with the character, getting a handle on who Max Goodwin is, having his voice heard, how quickly the cast found their chemistry, the challenges of being the doctor and the patient, and not giving in to sentiment. He also talked about the experience he had working on the Academy Award nominated film BlacKkKlansman, and what he learned from director with Spike Lee.
Collider: Before talking to you about New Amsterdam, I have to say that I was such a huge fan of your work in BlacKkKlansman, mainly because you terrified me.
RYAN EGGOLD: I hope so.
I loved and was so moved by that movie. With everything that I saw in 2018, it’s the one movie that has still stuck with me since I saw it, and I’m glad that it’s been remembered during awards season.
EGGOLD: Me too, and I’m so happy for Spike [Lee], that he was nominated. He’s got such an incredible body of work that it’s great to see him get nominated. It was an absolute experience of a lifetime to work with him, and on that film. I agree, it’s a powerful movie, and I’m glad it’s getting some really positive attention.
What did you learn from working with a filmmaker and artist like Spike Lee?
EGGOLD: I learned not to over think it, and not to try to make it perfect. Spike wouldn’t do a ton of takes. He wouldn’t over rehearse. He’d do it before you could plan it too much, or think about it, or get in your head and say, “This is how I’m gonna do it,” or “What do you think about X, Y and Z?” He would just go, “This is the situation. This is the character. And we’re going.” It’s was a great lesson in not over-thinking, and just doing it, on a visceral level. It gives his movies a rawness and aliveness that really translates.
I would imagine that was also a tremendous help, as an actor, when you’re playing a character that you probably don’t want to think about too much.
EGGOLD: Totally! Yes, exactly! Your only job is to be truthful, as a human being, in whatever context that particular human being is. Even if they’re a part of this hate group, at least in this context, you have Spike Lee at the helm as the maestro, and you’re just the violin player, so to speak. You just want to play your part as honestly as you can, and then let Spike worry about context and the big picture, and do what he does.
New Amsterdam is one of those rare unicorn shows that can make you laugh and cry, feel inspired, and want to have hope, every week. Did you suspect just how much it could connect with audiences, when you signed on, or is that something you’ve gotten a sense of, as the series has continued?
EGGOLD: No, all I knew was that it was based on a true story, or a memoir written by Eric Manheimer, who gathered all of these experiences and insights from running Bellevue for near 20 years. The fact that there was a show about health care, based on a guy who experienced that system, inside and out, as a patient, as a physician and as a medical director, for years and years and years, I thought, “Okay, this is a great place to start.” Then, David Schulner’s script had a real energy to it, and a real pace, dynamic and kinetic quality, which I really liked, that I feel like they executed. So, I knew those two things, but beyond that, you have no idea. You’re happy to play your part in it, but you have no clue. It’s funny, sometimes you make a great thing and nobody sees it, sometimes you make a bad thing and it’s widely seen, and then there’s everything in the middle. Sometimes you make a good show that people get to see, and it’s cool.
Obviously, there’s an endless list of things that can be fixed, when it comes to the health care system, and it’s a huge responsibility to be the guy who can say, “How can I help?,” and actually back that up with needed solutions. Is that what really keeps this guy going, in the worst of times, and does that also drive him past the point of what is actually healthy for himself?
EGGOLD: Yeah. You make an excellent point. What’s interesting about the character – and I can do this in my own life, as I think we all can – is that when you are so caught up with work and worrying about a million things, the last thing you have time to worry about is yourself. Max, the fictitious character, has a genuine care for the people, and he genuinely wants to help and has that desire in him. I also think he’s hiding, a little bit, from the scary truth of having this disease. When you talk to Eric, his experience running a hospital is that there’s always something. Every day, there’s a list of things, and you can’t get to everything. You try to get to everything that you can. That overwhelming quality is part of what makes the show so compelling.
The first season of any show is really about finding what the show is, what works and what doesn’t, and who the characters are and what their relationships are. Was there a moment, this season, where you felt like you really had a handle on who this guy is, or do you feel like you’re still exploring that?
EGGOLD: I’m definitely still exploring and definitely still figuring out, not only the character, but the show itself, and what works about it, what really connects with people and what doesn’t, and what’s too TV show-y, and trying to figure what the best version of the show is. I think it’s a very good version of itself right now, but there’s always room for improvement, as the character would say. There’s a lot of discovery, and I think we’re figuring those things out. That’s what makes it exciting, too. That’s not just to say, “Well, we made a show. That’s cool. And some folks like it, so we’re done.” It’s like, “How can we push ourselves to make it a little bit stronger, or more interesting, or more comfortable, or more authentic?” That’s what’s going on.
Do you feel like you have a voice that gets heard, when you have ideas, or things that you would love to see on the show?
EGGOLD: Oh, yeah, very much so. As you said, this is a rare unicorn, and indeed it is, because everybody is very respectful of each other. It’s very collaborative. David Schulner and Peter Horton who, along with the writers, basically run the show, are very receptive to thoughts and ideas and things that we could be doing better, or things that we agree are working. At the end of the day, it’s decision and their show, but they have a wonderful generosity, allowing me to sometimes be a part of that conversation, which I really appreciate.
I feel like this series has one of the best ensembles on TV and certainly one of the most diverse, and there’s such great chemistry, among the characters and the actors, which you can’t really fake. How quickly did you feel that, and what’s it been like to have this group to work with?
EGGOLD: It was pretty quick. It was a pretty instantaneous feeling, that chemistry, which is rare. It felt like we’d already been doing it. Everybody was interested and got along. Janet [Montgomery] I’d known a little bit, but not well, and we certainly hadn’t worked together. I remember meeting everybody, for the first time, and going, “Oh, wow, this person’s really good. I gotta step up my game because they’re great. We’re gonna make this thing.” Then, I met the next cast member for the first time and thought, “Oh, my god, this person’s great. This is gonna be fantastic!” It gave me so much faith in this group of people and this endeavor that we were about to embark on. The cherry on top is that we have fun and get along, too. Life’s too short for anything else.
This guy is both the doctor and the patient. He’s undergoing treatment while he’s trying to treat others, which seems a bit difficult for him to come to terms with. How tricky is the balance of showing the reality of that situation and what’s it like to fight cancer, but not have the show spiral into darkness?
EGGOLD: It’s a tricky balance to walk, from a number of angles, one being that, at the end of the day, you’re making entertainment, so you can’t make something that doesn’t interest and entertain people because that’s the whole point of what you’re doing. If you have the conversation about health care, or whatever your subject material is, that’s great, but at the day, you’re gotta keep that in mind. You also have to remember that you have a responsibility to the millions of Americans, around the world, who are dealing with this disease in real life and aren’t just playing it in a TV show. You want to be accurate. You want to be thoughtful about it. One thing that I appreciate about how they write it, and I think we’re gonna get more and more into it, as we close in on the end of Season 1, is that we look at it from different angles and the character feels differently about it, at different times. Sometimes there’s humor and levity and you have to laugh, and sometimes it’s dark and heavy and it’s sad. Sometimes there’s courage in that fight, to fight against it, sometimes there’s helplessness, and there’s everything in between. Not having had it in real life, myself, from speaking to people, I’ve learned that there is a multitude of feelings and thoughts and experiences, and hopefully we can be thoughtful of that experience.
You’ve previously talked about not wanting to give in to too much to sentiment on this show. Have there been times when you’ve noticed that happening, or you’ve felt like you were teetering on the edge of that and had to pull it back a bit?
EGGOLD: Yes. The good thing is that Peter Horton and David Schulner are pretty good about being our first and last stop. They’re pretty good about catching anything that feels too indulgent or too sappy or melodramatic. That’s the biggest thing. For me, as an actor, on a day to day basis, there are definitely those beautiful moments that happen so rarely, where it just feels right, and you feel like you’re doing it honestly and you’re not screwing it up too much by acting a bunch of crap. There are certainly times when you read a scene and go, “I gotta do it this way,” and you start acting up a storm, but it’s too much and not right. Then, you have to work on it and find it. It’s about finding that. There are a group of folks who really want to try to be authentic to these stories that are often based on real people, real life and real experiences, and real life is much more subtle and complicated. So, that’s my goal, and we just keep trying to work on that and keep trying to get better at that. Life doesn’t always present an easy answer, and hopefully that’s what the show is trying to explore.
New Amsterdam airs on Tuesday nights on NBC.