Once he began working on the operating room set for Monday Mornings
– a highly-anticipated new medical drama series from producer David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, The Practice
) and practicing neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta – Jamie Bamber says he immediately began experiencing palpable excitement and a better understanding of a neurosurgeon's psyche.
“Being on that set is very empowering, because everything in those rooms is real," explains the British-born actor, who portrays Dr. Tyler Wilson on the hot new TNT series. "It's always exciting, because you get a buzz. You get a buzz about being the center of that theater. You're at the heart of the theater, you're the lead. You're the practitioner, it's where the God complex comes from for these surgeons. They are making life and death motions with their hands and decisions and the acting is very interesting because it's all eyes only. You can't even see their mouths move, so it's a real thing and you have to take a deep breath in and be up for it but it's an aspect of the show that I actually have really learned to enjoy.”
According to Bamber, the soundstage set of Monday Mornings'
fictional Chelsea General hospital's operating room is decorated so authentically that if one of his co-stars began to suffer from a ruptured blood vessel in the brain, theoretically, their medical problem could be remedied immediately. "Sanjay (Gupta) has told me and others that were anybody to have an aneurysm on the set he could do everything in that room to get in there and solve the problem," Jamie confesses, in his natural, comforting cosmopolitan London-sounding accent. "The equipment is not sterile, that's the only difference. But it is an incredible feeling, for an actor, knowing that we have that level of reality. We also have real OR nurses working with us, so when an instrument is handed to me, it is done by someone who has been operating the day before in exactly that situation. That's all very empowering. I mean, you can't look like you don't know what you are really doing, because the set and the real nurses sort of prop you up."
Thirty-nine-year-old Jamie Bamber is having a lot of fun playing doctor on Monday Mornings
, however, portraying a first-class neurosurgeon does present the former Battlestar Galactica
and Law & Order: UK star
with a whole new set of acting challenges he must find a remedy for. "While it is exciting, I have to admit playing Dr. Wilson can be a real challenge at times," he says with a laugh. "It can be tough when you have to wear all this surgeon's gear, because it becomes uncomfortable after a while and it takes hours. We have to be in the gear probably as long as any lengthy surgical procedure would take. However, there are time-outs between takes, which are frustrating because you can't eat anything or drink anything because you're covered in masks and surgical gear. But, you learn to improvise. For instance, (co-star) Jennifer (Finnigan) pokes a hole in her surgical mask and uses a straw to drink water. We make it work.
"Don't get me wrong, though, I am not complaining, because this is another role of a lifetime for me," Bamber quickly interjects. "After reading the script for the first episode, I knew that Ty Wilson was a really great character that I could get myself and my teeth into, because he is someone who has been blessed with natural confidence about his own abilities as a surgeon. However, his confidence is shattered in the very first episode, which made it an incredible rich role that I wanted to play."
Based on the acclaimed novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and created by uber-producer David E. Kelley (Boston Legal, LA Law, The Practice
), Monday Mornings
is set at the fictional Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Oregon, and the fast-paced and phenomenally-riveting medical drama chronicles the lives of its surgeons and doctors as they push the limits of their abilities, are forced into making life-or-death split decisions and must confront their personal and professional failings. Monday Mornings
refers to the hospital’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality conference, when doctors gather with their peers for an often heated, soul-searching confidential review of complications and errors in patient care.
Leading the staff at Chelsea General are Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina), the steely-eyed chief of surgery, and Dr. Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames), the hospital's trauma chief. Their cadre of medical talent includes hotshot neurosurgeons Dr. Tyler Wilson (Bamber) and Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Finnigan), the abrasive Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin), the socially-challenged Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim),the petite-but-formidable Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao) and inquisitive resident Dr. Michelle Robidaux (Emily Swallow). The doctors depicted in the must-see Monday Mornings
face life-and-death decisions each and every day, as they fight against often-impossible odds to save their patients. And, when things don't go as they should, it's up to their medical colleagues to determine what went wrong and they must learn from those costly mistakes.
Even though David E. Kelley produced one of the most legendary and unique medical series in broadcast history – Chicago Hope
– Monday Mornings
focuses on a facet of medicine never before depicted on primetime or cable television. Bold, daring and unabashedly brilliant, Monday Mornings
is unlike any medical drama you’ve seen before. Any comparisons to the iconic ER
, the highly-rated Grey’s Anatomy
or its now-defunct spin-off Private Practice
are completely and simply without merit. With Monday Mornings,
Kelley has made a point of adhering to intriguing medical cases, what makes hospitals tick, doing justice to Gupta's novel and, above all else, making the Morbidity and Mortality meetings the shining star of each episode.
Bamber, the one-time Apollo/Lee Adama on the classic, still popular, rebooted sci-fi space opera Battlestar Galactica
(which still maintains a massive and fiercely loyal fan base), explains he was not only drawn to the unique perspective Monday Mornings
shines on the M & M meetings, but also the fact that the series was being produced by a Hollywood legend and a highly-respected medical miracle man.
"When you read David E. Kelley's name on a script you get a good feeling, because you know that people are going to give it a chance," Jamie contends. "Then, you have Sanjay Gupta coupled with that. You can't lose. You have David Kelley's dramatic experience and you've got Sanjay Gupta with this distinctive medical angle – and he's a great communicator in his own right that everyone's heard of – so, you've got two great authorities right there. Therefore, without question, it has
to be a unique and exciting series."
The charming and handsome Jamie St. John Bamber Griffith (the brother of Copper
star Anastasia Griffith), a happily decade-long married, father of three, confesses that the thought of Monday Mornings
being unfairly judged against previous medical dramas did cross his mind before he took on the gig of Dr. Wilson. However, initially, he was a wee bit more anxious about how the viewing public would react to another entry in the seemingly overdone television medical show genre. “For me, the concern wasn't about any specific medical show that we would be compared to," he recalls. "My concern was always kind of about the medical genre, in general. Everyone is very cynical about new cop shows, new medical shows and new law shows. When a series like Monday Mornings
comes along, viewers are probably wondering, ‘Why are you so special?’ Secretly, I always knew that Monday Mornings
was a little different. It had enough difference in it, all based around these set pieces that nobody seems to really know about. I didn't even know about them before doing them, and they're everywhere. For instance, the Morbidity and Mortality meetings. They're in every single hospital across the country. Those meetings are truly what fuels the show. It is this added element of scrutiny that the audience applies to the show. Monday Mornings
is not just about watching the patients live or die, or about the love stories going on behind closed doors. Instead, you're watching the surgeon's careers live or die – week in, week out – so there's another big, important element to it.
is a great show, and we have elements of that, for sure, but when I landed the role I went back to watch Chicago Hope
," Bamber continues. "Honestly, I had never seen an episode of Chicago Hope
when it was on the air, but I was blown away by what I saw. It was a very complex show. Having a legal mind to attack the medical genre really does bring a different prism to it. You see every decision through many different angles. They're not just moral, ethical and surgical, there are legal responsibilities, there are politics involved and our show is a unique medical drama because of those layers. So, hoping and trusting that David would do that niche justice, I feel like Monday Mornings
While Monday Mornings
is an incredible ensemble series filled with dazzling performances, Bamber's portrayal of Dr. Ty Wilson is truly exceptional. Understandably, it's no easy task considering Jamie shares acting duties on the show with the Golden Globe-winning Ving Rhames (Don King: Only In America
) and three-time BAFTA-nominee Alfred Molina (An Education, Frida and Screen One
). Bamber has nothing but praise for all his co-stars, especially Molina and Rhames, "Fred and Ving are not only great actors, but wonderful guys, too," he sincerely admits. The secret to his success with the role of Dr. Ty Wilson may lie in the intense preparation Bamber conducted before cameras even began rolling on Monday Mornings.
“We had about a six week gap between being casting and shooting the pilot, so I did as much research as I could, with time in hospitals talking to people," he reveals. "I watched a few medical procedures. More importantly, I interviewed a very interesting guy at UCLA, who is South American, so English was his second language, and I think he felt slightly fish out of water in the surgical world. He was a shining star, but he was the only one to express a bit more than a front. All of the others were very, very confident and very empowered, but this guy was very thoughtful. He said something to me about he was single, not married, he was my age in life. I've got three kids, been married for almost ten years. He was not married, single in a country he didn't grow up in, cycles to work, lives near the hospital. He cycled because he's aware that aneurysms happen when you're driving, so he figures with riding a bike there is less collateral damage. He was very thoughtful and very aware of the job that he does, very aware of the human contact."
Bamber found speaking to the surgeon extremely useful in developing his role as Dr. Wilson. "There was one thing he said about being a surgeon that really spoke to me, in a way," he recalls. "The thing that he said to me was when I asked him, ‘What it's like when you get awaken at work at 4:00 in the morning and dragged in to do a procedure that you've only had three hours sleep since you were last there. What goes through your mind? Do you resent the fact that you're a public servant in that particular moment working at a teaching hospital like UCLA? He said, ‘No, the thing is I know that it is a matter of responsibility. I've had fourteen years of education, I am one of the very few people on the face of this planet that can do this procedure that is in the right place at the right time, and it's my duty to do it. And, whilst I'm regretting having to wake up, and I don't look forward to eight hour surgical operations. But once I'm in the scrubs, once I'm scrubbed in and in the room, then I don't notice the time going by. If you don't look at the clock time will just fly by, you won't be aware of it.' He was okay with all of that because he has a duty. His duty is to his training, to those that trained him and to those that need him in an hour of need. He was very intriguing and very, very thoughtful. He had a real spiritual take on the whole thing. My time with him was very interesting and educational for me, because that's kind of the character that I'm playing."
The character of Dr. Ty Wilson is a renowned, highly-competent neurosurgeon who is extremely confident in his operating abilities. In the first episode of Monday Mornings
, Chief of Staff Harding Hooton (Molina) calls Wilson "arrogant" during one of Chelsea General's notorious Monday morning Morbidity and Mortality – or "311" – conferences. While Bamber agrees Dr. Wilson is an incredibly confident surgeon, he doesn't necessarily view it as a bad attribute. "Arrogance has a very necessary place in the surgery world," he says. "It has a positive side, it's not all negative. I think with any interesting character you have to have a negative with the positive. There has to be something he does to a fault. But, we see his confidence rattled and we see his vulnerability, too. So, you see both sides. To be honest, every surgeon I met beforehand was pretty, uniformly, cocksure.”
His early research for his role has assisted the Hammersmith, England born Bamber in feeling comfortable in portraying a near-genius neurosurgeon. The only obstacle he's encountered playing the very American Dr. Wilson has been a minor one, and it has nothing to do with his talents as an actor. "The medical terminology has been a little tricky for me," he says with a laugh. "For me, it's always a simple medical term that I have trouble with, because the terminology is one thing, and you just have to work at it and we all do. It almost becomes second nature. But occasionally, for me, there's a double whammy of medical terminology that's also slightly accented differently in English than it is in American English.
"There was one particular term, an easy one, that threw me completely, and I couldn't get it right," Jamie remembers. "Let me just think what it is...oh, I remember it – it was 'trachea.' Instead of the way Americans would say it, I'd pronounce it 'trachia.' It's a simple word that we all know, but for me to say 'trachea' instead of 'trachia' was almost impossible. I had to pause about three words before I got there, take a deep breath, repeat it inside of me and then spit it out. It's the simple ones that sometimes bite you. In the way Americans and British pronounce words, we have significant differences. Like we say 'anesthetist' and you guys say 'anesthesiologist.' Most of those terms I've gotten down, but, occasionally, one will creep up. If it does, I actually use it in sort of common parlance. The little words are the ones that bite me, not the really technical ones.”
In retrospect, Jamie says the medical terminology he has to use in Monday Mornings
has proven to be a lot easier for him to pronounce than some of the words he had to use during some of his earlier series. “I think the hardest words I've had to say were from some of the goofy sci-fi language we used in Battlestar Galactica
, for sure," he reveals. "I was very proud of Battlestar
being raw, real and immediate, but when it dissipated into goofy language – sort of faux-science because it's not even real science, it's pretend science – that's when I found the conviction wavered. Look, on Monday Mornings
I'm in this medical world where I'm surrounded by advisers. I know this is the language they speak, it is one hundred percent necessary to say it correctly. So the conviction with which you learn it and say it is just second to none. Whereas, with Battlestar
everything was kind of up for grabs. If there was something strange, you could call the writer and say, ‘This is bullshit, let's come up with something better.' I can't do that to Sanjay Gupta or David Kelley, because the reality is that we can't mess with which gives you confidence.”
Many actors become so ensconced in their roles that they have trouble leaving their characters on the set at the end of every shooting day. During the first episode of Monday Mornings
, Bamber is required to take Dr. Wilson through a gamut of emotions – from ecstasy to agony and back again. Jamie explains that he is not the type of actor who takes his character home with him after the director yells, "Cut!" "Whenever I have to play any type of role, I try to bring the emotions I'll need with me beforehand," he says. "I think afterwards, it's a sense of relief that you can take the costume off and then it's gone. Any extreme emotion I have to play never stays with me afterwards. While filming, it's with me all the day until I get to the necessary point I need it. I know that I have got to have that experience as real in my mind to play the scene. I'm not the kind of actor that can go completely cold into an emotional scene. I have to transport myself emotionally by whatever means possible. That basically means you carry the situation with you all week, all episode or all day beforehand. But, no, as soon as they say 'cut' it's done, it's a huge relief and it tends to be an excited, very perky Jamie that emerges.”
In the real world, Jamie Bamber attended Cambridge University, where he earned First Class M.A. Honors in modern languages. While there, however, he often found himself in several university theatrical shows. It was only after being accepted to the esteemed London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts that Bamber decided he wanted to become an actor. Having portrayed a military man in Battlestar Galactica
, a detective in Law & Order: UK
and now a neurosurgeon in Monday Mornings
, did Jamie ever consider a different profession during his intense studies at Cambridge or while he was growing up in France and England? Was a career in medicine an early desire for Bamber?
“I was very lucky, because I had an amazing education and I had all of those avenues – of both medicine and law – open to me," he begins to answer. "They were all very accessible, I was doing well in all of the necessary subjects to have chosen medicine and I never considered it for one nanosecond. Nor law. I gave up all sciences at the age of sixteen, despite being pretty good at them. I followed the arts and I've managed to make a career in the arts with a small 'A' on the small screen, but that's very much where I came from. Now that I know more about neurosurgery, I think there can be very few careers more satisfying, more exciting, more challenging, and I kind of wish I had been more open-minded when I was younger, because I really love the world that I'm getting to portray now. But I never considered it. It was certainly potentially on the table, many of my friends are surgeons and doctors and all of those things back in England and lawyers and all the important jobs, ambassadors, some of them, I never considered those avenues.
"I have, I guess, a romantic streak in me that wanted one of two things, and one was to be an athlete to represent my country, a rugby player, and the other was to be a Shakespearean actor," Jamie confesses. "Neither of which have I really achieved, but the acting thing just drew me to the arts. And, I still hope to resurrect my ambitions to be a classical actor, one day.”
With roles on two legendary series already a part of his résumé, and his part on Monday Mornings
about to turn him into a household name, has Bamber found portraying Dr. Ty Wilson to be the most demanding of his illustrious career? "I don't know if it's the most challenging, because every character is a challenge,” he declares. “For me, the particular challenge of Ty Wilson is the unquestioned confidence with which he confronts everything that he does. That's certainly not who I am in life, so that aspect of it was a challenge. It's always a challenge to sell the idea that I'm actually a neurosurgeon and I know what to do with all of these instruments and tools and all of these words. I don't know if it's the greatest challenge? I felt more of a challenge when I started Battlestar
, just because I felt very unprepared for the whole American TV machine, and I was trying a new accent on and I don't have any issues with an accent. I don't know if I mastered the American accent, but I certainly don't have anxiety about it. I did have anxiety when I started Battlestar
. But, I still love Battlestar
. Oh my God, I'm never going to forget it. I have more pride for that experience than anything else I've done before Monday Mornings
“Of course, when I began doing Monday Mornings
I was nervous because of David's reputation,” explains Bamber, who can be seen later this year on the big screen, in two upcoming motion pictures – Before I Sleep
and John Doe
. “Kelley is a great producer over here in the States, and I didn't want to let myself or him down. I was definitely apprehensive and nervous, but I think I’ve done okay on the show, so far. I mean, it’s not like acting is brain surgery in any way. Although by playing Ty, it is in a strange sort of way. I just hope no one asks me for a surgical consultation once Monday Mornings
begins airing. It’s not like I’m really an actual brain surgeon. But, over the years, I’ve learned to never say never,” he concludes with a hearty laugh.
Monday Mornings premieres February 4, 2013 at 10:00pmEST and 9:00pmCST on the TNT Network in the United States. (Check local country and territory listings for showtimes)