The new interns at Denver Memorial Hospital have all the usual first-day jitters on the debut episode of the CW’s “Emily Owens, M.D.” But for Emily (Mamie Gummer), working at the hospital is a little too much like high school. There’s the cute guy (Justin Hartley) she’s crushing on who wants to stay just friends; an actual former high school classmate (Aja Naomi King) who is still tormenting her; and the brilliant surgeon whose approval she desperately craves (Necar Zadegan).
Amid Emily’s narration and the personal drama that fill the hospital’s halls, Zadegan’s brusque, no-nonsense Dr. Gina Bandari is a welcome adult presence, someone who cuts through the young doctor’s navel-gazing by reminding them that their work is a matter of life and death. We spoke to Broadway vet Zadegan—who said she once went to every audition Backstage ran—about her prickly character, moving to Vancouver, and what high school archetype she is.
Where are you filming today?
Zadegan: We’re in Vancouver. I’m flying back and forth but I really did move to Vancouver. I guess I should just accept that. [Laughs] I jumped into my Toyota Four Runner with my dad and had a little roadtrip. I packed the whole thing up and moved it all up here. I’m getting quite settled and getting used to the accents. It’s nice up here. Our studios are really great. They’re smaller than the studios in L.A. They built an entire hospital for us. There’s no soap in the dispensers, but everything else is real.
Do you feel a little embarrassed that you have practically a fake working hospital?
Zadegan: I feel thrilled because we’re not shutting down an entire wing of a real hospital!
Good point! Tell us about your character, Dr. Gina Bandari.
Zadegan: I just love Gina so much. She’s the best cardiothoracic surgeon in the world—and she knows it. And these interns have come to work under her, and she holds herself to a very high expectation and she has high expectations of those around her. And when those around her fall short, she can be a little impatient. And ultimately, she’s a teacher. I think often of Brad Pitt’s father in “The Tree of Life.” She comes from this old-school way of teaching where you’re not necessarily holding everyone’s hand and make it easy on them. It’s literally life and death and the stakes are very high and there’s no real room for error. And she comes from that more traditional way of [teaching]. I think Emily Owens is a very different doctor, but we’ll find out if she ultimately succumbs to the way Gina sees the world or if she really does become a different doctor.
In the first episode, Emily saves a little girl’s life, but Gina comes down pretty hard on her still and tells her not to get too comfortable.
Zadegan: That can be the kiss of death, thinking that everything can go that way. And taking your work home with you. I’m reading different books about doctors and they’re pretty amazing! I always wanted to be an actor, and I didn’t excel in the sciences. I liked it, but I wasn’t fascinated by the Bunsen burner. I was more fascinated by that seventh grade theater curtain, where you can never find the opening. And it really is fascinating. It’s so interesting how they get into their profession thinking one thing, and once they start working, it’s maybe a different world. I never thought about malpractice lawsuits and how doctors are really afraid of that all the time. When I go to a doctor, I just want to get better. I never think, "Oh this guy might not be telling me everything because I might sue them."
The pilot talks a lot about how the hospital is like high school. So who would Gina be?
Zadegan: Gina is valedictorian. I really think about that character from “Say Anything.” Am I dating myself? [Laughs] She’s really lonely, being the best. You spend so much time being concerned about things other people aren’t necessarily concerned about.
And what archetype were you in high school?
Zadegan: High school was so annoying! I don’t want to compare myself to any of them. I’m much more social then Gina. I think as an artist I have to be patient. You have to find out what it’s like walking in other’s people’s shoes. It’s a lovely profession to be non-judgmental. Maybe I’m the cafeteria lady with the hairnet? [Laughs] No, I’m not.
You were on Broadway in “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” a few seasons ago. Any interest in returning?
Zadegan: First of all, I would go back to New York to do anything, for any reason. I would love to come back and do a stage show. Right now I’m preoccupied with “Emily Owens.” But best way to live in New York is to do a Broadway show. It’s so fun and you get invited to everything!
“Emily Owens, M.D.” premieres on the CW Oct. 16.