By Angela Barbuti
Jamie Bamber still enjoys a cadre of loyal fans from his Battlestar Galactica days.
“It’s an extraordinary thing, what happened with Battlestar. People are still discovering that show online every single day,” Bamber said of the popular sci-fi series.
He knows those fans will be watching when his new show, Monday Mornings, David E. Kelley’s medical drama, premieres on TNT on Feb 4.
Bamber, whose seemingly natural American accent preserves little trace of his British origin, plays a renowned surgeon on the new show. It may seem glaringly different from his past roles, but he sees similarities.
“A lot of the drama that I’ve done has been about people dying—whether I played a cop, or a soldier or a fighter pilot in space,” he said. Still, “there’s something different about playing it as a surgeon, as the life is directly in your hands and you’re trying to save them before anything happens.”
Monday Mornings puts a new spin on the genre of medical drama. The show derives its name from the Morbidity and Mortality (often called M&M) conferences that occur in hospitals after the death of a patient. Doctors and hospital staff and administrators take an inventory of what went wrong in a particular case and learn how to avoid those fatal mistakes in the future. (It’s been compared to the “Monday morning quarterbacking” phenomenon of football fans and analysts dissecting what went wrong on the field after the fact.)
“There is this meeting that happens, this appraisal within every episode of the main characters who you’ve been rooting for, where they’re being picked apart by one of their peers,” Bamber said. “You don’t see that too often in mainstream television drama, your lead characters getting hauled over the coals. It’s normally not their fault.”
This show maintains an extra dose of realism because it is based on and named after a novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN. Gupta, a neurosurgeon, still has his hand in the creative process, even writing some of the episodes with Kelley. He also was present as the pilot was being filmed.
“[Gupta] showed us what the procedures mean, how to hold the instruments. He’s always there on the other end of the phone if we need him to explain a medical issue or character issue. These are, after all, his creations that David has taken on,” Bamber said.
Kelley, known for legal dramas like Boston Legal and The Practice, has put an informal courtroom in the show’s hospital, in the form of a meeting room, complete with a podium where his doctors are made to confess their errors while their colleagues are seated in an auditorium, watching with conflicting emotions of sympathy and disdain.
Bamber, 39, immersed himself in the part, even shadowing Dr. Neil Martin, chairman of neurosurgery at UCLA. Part of their day together included an eight-hour craniotomy to remove a tumor from a frontal lobe.
“It was awe-inspiring to see [these neurosurgeons] at work, confidently opening up a human being’s head and removing what looked to be part of their brain,” he said. “Part of you goes, ‘I wish I was them and not the actor pretending to be them.’”
Because they are tackling sensitive issues every day, the actors have become quite a close-knit group. Bamber credits Alfred Molina, who plays the show’s chief of surgery, for setting the tone. “Among actors, he’s uniformly respected and admired. And yet there’s not an ounce of cynicism in his body. He’s like a kid when he’s at work. He’s so excited to be there, and he wants to share every moment at work with those around him.”
This unified spirit even spills over to the crew, according to Bamber.
“When you work on a David Kelley show, you’re working with a crew that’s been together for almost 10 years. There’s a family there, ready-made, that we’ve been adopted to,” he said.
Bamber is still “very much a part” of his Battlestar Galactica family as well.
“Everybody I worked with on the show—the writer, director, producer, actors, some of the crew—are all still my friends.”
And that group is also comprised of fans, who are still cheering him on since the show ended in 2009.
“They are ridiculously loyal and have come to the theater when I’ve done plays in the UK. They may not like everything they come across, but they certainly watch and encourage me and I’m very grateful for their support,” he said.
The worldly actor, who speaks fluent French and Italian, and grew up in England, still makes time to visit New York.
“I was here for the U.S. Open to watch my hero Andy Murray vanquish Novak Djokovic when the tornado hit Queens,” he said.
His wife, actress Kerry Norton, whom he met on set and married in 2003, used to live here.
“I’m an unapologetic tourist when I go to New York. I love the energy. I was over-awed by it the first time,” Bamber said. “I thought it was the scariest place in the world because of the iconic buildings. I had seen every street corner in a movie.”
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