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'A Gifted Man' Doctor on Dating, Ghosts and Improving His Bedside Manner

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 30th 2011 10:15AM
'A Gifted Man' is a medical drama, but, the way actor Patrick Wilson describes his character, neurosurgeon Michael Holt, he could well be talking about a superhero. A blunt, take-charge superhero.

"Do you want the kind of doctor who's going to say, 'Listen, these are your options, and if it were me, I might do this. What do you think?'" Wilson said in an August interview about his CBS show. "Or do you want someone who'll go, 'This is how it's going to go down. I'm going to do this, and this is going to make you better.' You kind of want that."

Holt is indeed gifted in almost superhuman ways -- and he has the gleaming, high-end medical practice to prove it -- but the visit he got from his dead wife in the show's pilot deeply unnerved him, and his shield of clinical arrogance was no help to him in that situation.

"I think Anna's going to show him that maybe there's another way to deal with things," Wilson said, referring to Jennifer Ehle's character, who divorced Michael a decade before she resurfaced in spectral form. "I think arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand. He's afraid of a lot. He's certainly afraid of her. He's a control freak. He's used to being in charge."

But the whole point of 'A Gifted Man' is to re-arrange the perfectly arranged world of the in-demand doctor, who once practiced family medicine with Anna at an Alaskan clinic but now has a lucrative boutique medical practice in Manhattan. Wilson said as the shows' first season progresses, we'll learn why Michael left his old life -- and why his relationship with Anna ended in divorce.

"I kept saying, 'They did get divorced, we've got to remember that,'" Wilson noted. "This isn't 'Ghost,' where her soulmate gets taken away and it's one of the most heartbreaking moments. This is not that."

Wilson's best known for his film and stage work, but the actor said he was attracted by the journey Michael will go on this season.

"I came from the theater so I have a real affinity for the repetition of ... well, for repetition, first of all," he said with a laugh. "That was always my comeback when people would say, 'What do you think of playing the same role for several years?' I'm used to saying the same lines for a couple years! I have no problem seeing where a character goes, that excites me."

He also liked the fact that the 'Gifted Man' pilot "wasn't neat and tidy." "It wasn't, 'Here's a great doctor with some cool cases every week.' I like the fact that we're going to [examine] a lot of different stuff -- his personal life, his romantic life, his situation with his sister, and we've added some friends of his. We've got all sorts of avenues we can go down."

That's right, the doctor will be dating: 'A Gifted Man' will not only explore Michael and Anna's complicated history, it'll give him new romantic interests. But the overall focus of the drama will be on the various medical dilemmas that Michael encounters, and the goal is to give those stories some spiritual and philosophical heft, according to the show's executive producers, Neal Baer ('Law & Order: SVU') and Sarah Timberman ('Justified').

"To add a component to a medical show that deals with spirituality and questions about what things mean and what gives life meaning, even as you're dealing with stories that have life and death stakes -- it felt like an unorthodox approach to a medical show," Timberman said.

Michael will also need some help with his bedside manner, given that his high-handed ways don't go over well at Clinica Sonanda, the struggling medical facility Anna used to run. In Friday's episode, for example, Michael is "dealing with a little boy who has sickle-cell disease and he's revealed to the father some information that's broken the family apart," Baer said. "So he's not used to working in places where medicine is more than just extracting tumors and things like that. He's got himself into quite a mess."

Also in Friday's episode, Michael also has to give a terrible diagnosis to a friend who has been trying for a long time to have a baby and is finally pregnant. As Baer describes it, "she says, 'Do everything to save the baby,' and she refuses to have chemotherapy because she doesn't want to hurt the fetus -- it's only 26 weeks old. Her husband says, 'If anything goes wrong, save my wife.' So what's [Michael] going to do? He does something, but ... there's no answer to that."

As Margo Martindale noted in a recent interview, her role on the show is expanding and her character, an ex-nurse who runs Michael's practice, will be helping out at Clinica Sonanda, where another character, the shaman Anton Little Creek (Pablo Schreiber) has gotten work as a carpenter. Rachelle Lefevre joins the cast in the Oct. 7 episode, Eriq Lasalle ('ER') will have a guest arc as a neuropsychiatrist and upcoming guest stars include Cara Buono ('Mad Men'), Rhys Coiro as musician-doctor who works at the clinic and Gbenga Akinnagbe ('The Good Wife,' 'The Wire') as a doctor in Michael's uptown practice.

It's too early to tell if 'A Gifted Man,' which I reviewed positively here, will show the kind of sophistication that blossomed on another CBS drama, 'The Good Wife,' but everyone involved in the project is fully aware of its potential pitfalls. When I mentioned to Wilson that the one-sentence description of the show ("Doctor is visited by the ghost of his dead wife") made it sound like something I would never watch, he laughed and said, "Me too!"

As Timberman put it, "done wrong, it could be the worst thing ever." But Anna's presence is just one aspect of the show, which will also, she and Baer say, delve into issues of medical access, ethics and beliefs.

"Some things can only be answered by faith. And some things can be answered I think by science," said Baer, who is a doctor himself. "And that's where we have such trouble. "I thought, wow, it would be interesting to do a show that explores little pieces of that every week."

But Timberman added, "We're trying to do it with a sense of humor and we certainly don't want to hit anyone over the head with anything, because the show doesn't offer prescriptions."

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

Below, Patrick Wilson talks about his 'A Gifted Man' character on 'Today':


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John Browning

I've watched the first two eps & I'm baffled as to how this can go one season, let alone more.
At some a security camera is going to pick him up arguing with his ghost of a wife & then others will start questioning his sanity.

October 02 2011 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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