Jamie Bamber is making good progress completing the leading-man checklist.
Hotshot pilot? Check. (Apollo on Battlestar Galactica)
Hotshot cop? Check. (Matt Devlin on Law & Order: UK)
Hotshot doctor? Well, that’s where Tyler Wilson on Monday Mornings comes in.
The chisel-jawed Brit plays the brilliant but tormented neurosurgeon at the head of David E. Kelley’s new medical drama — premiering at 10pm Feb. 4 on TNT — which is based on a novel by real-life neurosurgeon (and CNN staple) Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It’s a step up in prominence from his parts on other ensemble shows, this time shouldering much of the drama, and actually serving as the de facto main character.
“I did feel a bit of pressure,” says Bamber in his honeyed voice that invokes nothing but calm, articulate assurance. “But with a David Kelley script, you do kind of want to be front and center every week and in every scene because the dialogue is so fantastic and the situations he conjures are just so exciting to play.”
Bamber brings with him a rabid fan base from his BSG days, and he says he’s continually surprised and awed by their loyalty.
“I thought I would be dead to them when I did Law & Order: UK,” he says, “but I’m blown over by how many people have turned into Law & Order fans, or whatever I do next. I’ve gone from sci-fi to cop show and now here I am in a medical drama, so [this is] another test for them to see if they can stomach the medical drama thing and the stigma that comes with that.”
Yes, Bamber can detect the collective yawns from many at the mention of yet another show about good-looking doctors who are at the top of their field but have hopelessly messy personal lives. And it would be easy to peg him in the McDreamy role here, as Wilson is a gifted professional so dedicated to his work that he has absolutely no personal life outside the hospital. His closest relationship is with the married Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), and wouldn’t you know it, she’s having trouble at home, too.
But this is a David E. Kelley show we’re talking about here. The TV titan has been behind some of the medium’s all-time celebrated and zeitgeist-capturing shows, including L.A. Law, Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal. With Monday Mornings, the weekly meetings that give the series its title are a perfect vehicle for Kelley to bring his signature blend of wit and humor to the sometimes grim proceedings. As Bamber puts it, “He’s able to find humor in darkness and darkness in the humor.” The medical staff (which also includes Ving Rhames, Keong Sim, Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow) gathers in an amphitheater-like room to go over recent procedures. They wait with bated breath as their boss, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina), dissects their every move and takes them to task for their shortcomings, which often have life-and-death consequences.
It’s a “pseudo kangaroo court” with Molina acting like Sherlock Holmes in a lab coat.
“The audience is involved in not a whodunit but a ‘what went wrong’ guessing game,” Bamber says. “[Molina’s] on the top of his game with all his dialogue and it’s funny at moments and moving at others. If you’re not the one on the stand that week, you get to sit in the audience and watch a little one-act performance by whoever it is. It’s a wonderful little set piece in the show that I honestly think will set it apart from other medical dramas.”
Offscreen, Bamber’s life is far less dramatic — and much more fulfilling — than his character’s. He lives in Los Angeles, where Monday Mornings shoots, with his wife, actress Kerry Norton, and their three daughters. Being available to them is what’s most important to him these days. He says he’s never had much of a master plan for his career, originally thinking he would make a living doing theater. But then TV came calling. And calling.
“If I’m 100 percent honest, I think I’m like a seed blowing in the wind, and the wind decides where I settle and what grows,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to be born into this very creative era in television, particularly in this country where the cable networks have just blossomed … where they’re able to tell more interesting, more quirky, more rich, more nuanced stories than movies are doing right now.”
Not that movies aren’t on his radar, and should Monday Mornings take off as Bamber hopes it does, if his “I’d bite your arm off if anybody offered multiple seasons of this” comment is any indication, he could very well be blazing a trail to multiplexes sooner rather than later. But it will have to be on his terms, and it won’t simply be for the thrill of it.
“When you’re a young, single actor, traveling the world is great and finding yourself in different cities is fun,” he says. “But right now, I’ve got kids in school and I want to be there at their games, I want to be there at recitals and I want to help them with their homework. The work is secondary to that, and to these important years. For me, this is an ultimate blessing.”
Photo: © Turner Entertainment Networks, Inc. A Time Warner Company. Credit: Martin Schoeller