Erica Durance as Dr. Alex Reid in Saving Hope
For ten seasons, Erica Durance risked her life getting the biggest scoops and rubbing shoulders with superheroes as well as super-powered villains as Lois Lane in the hit CW network series Smallville. Beginning this Thursday, June 7 at 9:00 p.m. EST/PST on NBC, the actress takes on a very different type of role, playing Dr. Alex Reid in the Canadian-made medical drama Saving Hope.
Executive produced by Ilana Frank and David Weliington (The Eleventh Hour, Would Be Kings, Rookie Blue) the series is set at Hope-Zion Hospital, where the staff’s charismatic chief of surgery, Charlie Harris (Michael Shanks), has fallen into a coma. His sudden incapacitation not only has an adverse impact on the day-to-day running of the hospital, but also leaves Charlie’s fiancée and fellow surgeon, Alex Reid (Erica Durance), in a state of shock. Together with a newly arrived and gifted surgeon Joel Goran (Daniel Gilles), with whom Alex shares a past, they work to save Charlie’s life. Unknown to them, his “spirit” is roaming the halls of Hope-Zion, watching as Reid, Goran, and the rest of the staff do their best to keep their emotions under control and continue caring for those whose lives are in their hands.
Last week, Durance, whose other TV credits include Harry’s Law, Tru Calling, Stargate SG-1, and The Chris Isaak Show as well as the feature films Butterfly Effect 2 and Tim and Eric’s Billon Dollar Movie, took some time out of her day to speak with me as well as fellow journalists about her work on Saving Hope. The following is an edited version of our Q & A. Enjoy!
Can you talk a little bit about how you became involved in Saving Hope?
Sure. I was approached last May with it; the script came through with a few others and I just fell in love with it right away. There was lots of banter back and forth about what we wanted to do with it, and they were also allowing me to step in and have a producer credit, which was exciting for me because I’ve always wanted to educate myself a little bit more about the other side of the biz. We shot our pilot last July, and after that it was a very interesting process given that we weren’t sure what was going to happen. However, when March came around, we got our pickup notice for a series and away we went. So it’s been fun.
Can you tell us a bit about your character of Alex Reid?
Well, she’s this very driven, pragmatic person who believes only in the tangible and what she can see and touch. Alex has come from basically nothing and is a self-possessed woman who worked her way through school. This [practicing medicine] has been what she has wanted to do her whole life and she is fascinated by it.
So her brain just kind of thinks with the here and now and the present, and there’s not that extra belief in anything else that may or may not be happening around her. Alex then finds herself in this hospital situation as a doctor and ends up falling in love with the chief of surgery. Charlie is the opposite of Alex and starts bringing out other sides to her. What’s interesting about this season is that when he subsequently falls into a coma, my character is forced to reexamine what she believes in about life. That includes the question, “Can we have these set morals for how we feel about things, but when tragedy strikes what would you do in order to bring that person back to you?” So as the season progresses you slowly see Alex starting to change those initial parameters and feelings she had, to the point where she’s grasping at straws.
What range of emotions is Alex going to experience over this first season?
I should have asked that question of myself before I took on the role, because it’s been a real roller coaster. Most shows work up to a point like this, but we started at this high octane place. So as an actress it’s been very interesting to try to find different levels and ways to experience such huge emotional stakes.
We get to talk with grief counselors and similar types of professionals who help us with all the different kind of avenues that you would go through — grief, rage, despair, denial — all those things that you experience. So you see all that happening, but what they’ve also done, and that I love, is that they do these wonderful flashbacks to Alex’s and Charlie’s relationship, so you don’t always find my character in this sense of cataclysmic despair.
So you get know the kind of woman that she was before this happened, and then just how tragic it is that all of that other stuff is going on and how it’s changed her. Along with that particular storyline, the overall theme of the show is about saving and holding onto hope in your own life, looking for the positive and what we can do in our own ways to reach out for human contact.
Having the Charlie character in this kind of in-between world has allowed us to use the backdrop of a medical drama, which brings in a lot of those high stakes situations, and basically give another perspective to it. So you have little vignettes of fun, quirky, light stuff going on, and then the main course of what’s happening with Alex. I think they’ve tied it all in really well and it’s a beautifully shot show.
Outside of the medical jargon and the emotional tolls, are there any other aspects that you found challenging about his role?
I touched on that a little bit in another conversation I had where I just think it’s something that’s so different for me, and it’s those emotional high stakes that are challenging. There’s also the fact that I’m one of the leads of the show and I’m there every day and in almost every scene. Because of that, how do you to keep things fresh and interesting? That’s been one of our biggest concerns. Alex can’t really leave the hospital that much, so we’ve tried to find reasons for her to be there and, again, ways for me as an actress to keep it all fresh.
So from just that kind of worker bee side of it, it’s been quite challenging. I have to tell you, though, that one of the most interesting things for me has been learning more about the medical side of things. For example, I’ve been able to observe surgeries, but that’s only one part of it. Alex is supposed to a very good doctor, so it’s not just a matter of, “I have to do these surgeries.” I have to be good at what I’m doing onscreen, which as you know it takes years for real doctors to master. So that was really, really challenging. With a lot of the OR scenes and the surgeries, you almost feel like you’re doing a play because there’s all these actions and everything else that goes along with it.
In what ways do you think Alex’s past, including her relationship with Joel, has helped shaped her?
I would say just the fact that she came from nothing and did this all on her own. Alex just wanted to do something more in her life and she’d always wanted to help people. I made up my own little back story involving a specific tragedy that she experienced and not only what drove her to be such an achiever, but also what has driven her to the point of needing to physically be there and helping people.
As far as her relationship with Joel, it’s extremely tumultuous and was very painful for her. It did shape and shut her off a little for a while, and then, of course, she met Charlie. So I think it’s like in any person’s life, in any character’s life, all those pieces do shape you to be the person you are at the moment.
So many people admire you and think of you as their hero. Who are some of yours?
Oh, gosh. Well, the person closest to me as far as a hero is my mother. I watched her strength and compassion and what she did when she took care of us when I was younger. I have a dear friend Kathy Covert; she’s a hero of mine who also helped shape who I am. So those are my close personal heroes.
You spent so many years on Smallville, which was great, obviously, so what is it like leaving something that, I imagine, turned into a home for you and venture out into doing a new show? Is it refreshing? Is it kind of scary? What are your feelings about it?
You know, it was really bittersweet for me. I feel I basically wrung out every bit of excitement that I could when I was on Smallville. Whenever I start a new project, I always know it’s going to end one day, so I just go for broke and enjoy myself the whole time. So when Smallville ended I was quite sad, but I knew I had enjoyed the entire experience as much as I could throughout that time.
And yes, it’s always a little bit daunting, I think, when you’re coming to a new show. You have to try to figure out who everybody is and they have to try to figure out who you are, which is especially true in the first season, right? Everybody is just finding their way, so sometimes it takes a while to get the total pace going, and that sort of thing. Something that always kind of hits me is, “Can I do this justice? Am I going to be able to step into this role? Am I going to be able to feel what I need to feel and all those things?” It’s also really amazing because you get these great new surprises and meet a bunch of wonderful talented people.
Please note, all Saving Hope photos copyright of NBC.