Emily VanCamp: How doctors and nurses, Brothers and Sisters, Gilmore Girls, ER and The Good Wife shaped the stars of The Resident
In the rugged and varied landscape of TV medical dramas, you set the tone. Ever since those words were uttered by a world-weary Doctor Benton to the young and impressionable Doctor Carter on ER, the game was changed. Throughout the mid-1990s and beyond, County General in Chicago was the fictional place millions longed to visit each week, with its progressive scripts, innovative direction and complex characters that still evoke extreme emotional reactions (*that* episode involving Lucy and Carter in series 6, who’s with me?).
“All of us, we all went back and revisited a bunch of ER episodes,” says Emily VanCamp, who is following up roles in Brothers and Sisters and Revenge with The Resident, playing nurse Nic Nevin in the medical show which is airing on the Universal Channel in the UK.
“It would've been impossible to watch the whole thing but I think we were all on the same page in terms of— I don't think that Grey's Anatomy was ever something we wanted to model ourselves after or you know any of the medical dramas that are on right now,” says Emily. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves from them. Not to say that one is better or worse.”
“I've had a couple of people approach me and say 'do you find that this is a little bit marginalising? Woman as the nurse and then the male as the doctor?’”
Episode one of the drama established that Emily’s nurse has been in a relationship with the resident of the title, Doctor Conrad Hawkins, played by Matt Czuchry, of The Good Wife and Gilmore Girls’ fame. Emily tells Electra she is fully aware of how that may look.
“I've had a couple of people approach me and say 'do you find that this is a little bit marginalising? Woman as the nurse and then the male as the doctor?’” she says. “I didn't see it like that. Listen, I wanted to play her because I wanted to champion nurses whether I was a man or a woman it would be the same sort of thing. And I don't think that they're ever portrayed properly in these shows. I actually think that nurses never get enough credit.”
It continues to be an interesting time in TV, Hollywood and the wider workplace, as serious, grown-up discussions are taking place around representation, diversity, gender equality and understanding how everyone should be treated fairly at work. It’s clearly far from being fixed but I wanted to ask Matt Czuchry about his earlier roles that won him legions of fans, bearing in mind that his two most famous characters lived on TV shows fronted by women.
“Amy Sherman-Palladino [who created Gilmore Girls} was an amazing writer,” he says. “In terms of the actors, [on The Good Wife] it was Julianna's [Margulies] show. She's an amazing actor, so I never looked at it in a way of a woman writer or a woman actor I look at it as these are just some of the best. And I think that that's the way forward for everyone is that we're just looking at the skill set regardless of gender or race or age or anything like that. We should look at what's appropriate.”
Emily singles out Sally Field for showing her how to behave when you’re working on a primetime TV show.
In a changing media world where instant fame can strike overnight, both Matt and Emily show deep gratitude for being able to learn and develop their skills over a number of years. “I look at it as, I did 4 years on Everwood, then 4 years on Brothers and Sisters and then 4 on Revenge,” says Emily.
“Everwood was very much my training ground in terms of how to hit my mark and what the business is all about, I was a teenager when I did that. And then I went into Brothers and Sisters and was working with some serious heavy hitters which I think otherwise had I not had the experience on Everwood, I would've been terrified, sitting beside Sally Field doing scenes with Rob Lowe and Calista Flockhart. I don't think I would've been ready for that had I not had previous experience and I learnt so much from them. I basically was like a sponge, I watched everything and all of their work ethics and learned a lot about what I didn't want to do and what I did want to do.”
Emily singles out Sally Field for showing her how to behave when you’re working on a primetime TV show. Being a decent employee didn’t used to be a particularly common topic of conversation but feels more timely than ever.
“Sally, I admire her so much,” she says, “and she taught me about what kind of work ethic I wanted to have, that was hugely inspiring and that prepared me to go lead my own show. And after Brothers and Sisters I went and did 4 years on Revenge and I learnt a lot about my own stamina and what I was able to put my body through and learned a lot about leadership and what it takes to really do 22 episodes, 16 hour days all day and every day, and still have a smile on your face and show up and be that leader that you want to be.”
America is ahead of the UK in terms of how many episodes of The Resident have aired and it’s already had a bumpy ride at times in the US press. “
There certainly has been a bit of controversy around this show,” Emily tells Electra. “Some doctors and nurses out there love it and some are really angry about it and some people are excited with it and others are frustrated with it. So I think the fact that it's opening up a dialogue and a conversation means that we're doing something right.”
UK viewers are only a handful of episodes in and while some of the packaging does veer towards being cheesy, The Resident is not afraid to tackle hefty subjects such as how people pay (or don’t) for medical care, how saving a life may not always be the best option, plus there’s an upcoming sexual harassment storyline.
“You know that episode was written right before the Harvey Weinstein [scandal] and all that started to come to light,” says Emily VanCamp, “and #Me Too and all the big campaigns that were amazing and I think are brilliant, but I do feel like it was timely in a sense because while all that was happening, I also think we could have taken [this episode] further. I wanted to anyway and was having a lot of discussions with our writers about the story and empowering Nic a little more in that story but obviously it's a sensitive topic and I wanted to tackle it properly. I think we got to a fairly good common ground with it. That was a tough one to tackle.”
Whether it gets it right or not, there does seem to be a healthy mix of women and men writing the scripts for The Resident and that ratio is carried through in who is directing the episodes as well. As Emily VanCamp says; “Every job that I do, I continue to learn. That's what it's all about. I don't think you ever stop learning in life or as an actor, you can't. It's been an epic journey but it really always feels like it's really just beginning.”
By Natalie Jamieson
The Resident is showing on the Universal Channel in the UK, every Tuesday at 9pm