Marcia Gay Harden will return to TV this fall in the CBS series "Code Black," a new medical drama set in one of the busiest emergency rooms in the country. The overcrowded and understaffed Los Angeles ER gets an influx of patients that outweigh the limited resources available to the outstanding doctors and nurses whose job is to treat them all.
Harden, who recently has roles on "The Newsroom," "How to Get Away with Murder" and "Trophy Wife," said she decided to sign on to the series because she knew it would be a challenge. And she was right.
"Code Black" premieres Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 10 p.m. ET, but before that Harden will stop by the annual celebration of the fall TV season: PaleyFest Fall TV Previews in Los Angeles. There, fans get chance to preview fall TV shows, with premiere screenings and exclusive conversations with TV stars and show creators. Events are open to the public (the "Code Black" panel is scheduled for Saturday), with more information here.
We caught up with the Oscar winner (via email) ahead of her visit to PaleyFest about her new role on "Code Black." Here's what she had to say.
Q: What attracted you to the role in "Code Black"?
A: Who wouldn't want to play a commando? Dr. Rorish is a whirlwind in the ER, and snaps people into shape with the bark of her voice...I could tell it was going to be a great challenge, and that's ALWAYS WHAT I am looking for...A challenge!
Q: How would you describe your character, ER Residency Director Dr. Leanne Rorish?
A: Leanne is a no BS Emergency room Residency Director. She is fierce, tough, & purposeful, with a heartache the size of the Mississippi. She practices battlefield medicine, and with cowboy nonchalance and MacGyveresque ingenuity saves lives. And all the while, she schools. She teaches. Every action is about teaching her residents to become better doctors, and better people.
Q: This show isn't for the faint of heart? How so?
A: Well, there is A LOT of BLOOD!! You see the heart beat, you go inside the thoracotomy, its docustyle. Nothing pristine or steel grey here. The ER is serving the county, so it doesn't have a lot of moolah. There is a down and dirty style here...the ER is a mess at the end of the day!
Q: Have there any scenes so far that have made you cringe?
A: NO! I have three kids... enough said!
Q: What's been the biggest challenge with taking on this role?
A: Stamina. The hours are long. The medicine both physical and mental. There is a huge learning curve... All of the words have 5 or 6 syllables and sound Greek at first! Then there are the abbreviations and the lingo. then there is the FACT of what we do and where we work. Life and death situations by the hour... so the emotion and the stress is high. Just because we are acting doesn't mean we don't feel the stress - our mirror neurons are firing just the same as if we were actually in the situation. So stamina is the key here.
Q: You went to medical "boot camp," for "Code Black" right? What was that like?
A: It was all lingo and medical GAK. We had the blessing of real doctors and medical personnel helping us do things like...oh...intubate a mannequin for example. Or...sure..let's do a chest tube? Or an IV! Deliver a baby? Why not? We had to learn basic procedures for stabilizing a patient in the ER. It was like Nascar..flying into the pit with a real patient and only having 2 to 10 minutes to stabilize them! 2 to 10 minutes to save their life! Medical Nascar!
Q:What have you learned if anything from the "boot camp" about medicine that surprised you?
Surprisingly...that I even COULD learn it. It is a job like any other. And that's the way the doctors treat it. A job. Not major drama...but the day to day exciting and tedious tasks of saving a life. Ha, it feels ridiculous to even write that!
Q: We've seen plenty of TV medical dramas through the years. What's special/different about "Code Black"?
Not just the style..it is docustyle and that's new. And we are drawing on the wonderful successes of other great medical shows like "ER" and "Greys Anatomy," all of them have been successful for various reasons. At the end of the day, the values are what stand out to me. The values of health, family, love, community..doing a good job...making a difference.
Q: With a TV series, days are long. Was there any hesitation to join a new drama in a lead role?
A: Uh..YES. HELLO. I had to talk it over with my kids before I accepted the offer to play Leanne. Being the lead is fabulous..but there is definitely a toll in terms of the hours...
Q: You're attending PaleyFest Fall TV Previews soon, what's special about connecting with fans and fellow actors while there?
A: Often when connecting with other actors and fans I feel like I have come full circle. It is like Thanksgiving dinner, so many great people are there that you have come up with, you remember them "when," or you have always admired them. Suddenly, here you are, celebrating a new show. And if feels good. It feels like "it works, you really CAN become a working actor, and you really CAN celebrate your fellow actors". It is all based in gratitude..which includes gratitude for the fans.
Q: You've accomplished so much in your career -- starring in films like "Mystic River," "Miller's Crossing," receiving an Oscar. Of which role are you most proud?
A: That is like asking which child is my favorite! I love them all equally, differently, and vehemently!