‘New Amsterdam’ Interview: Ryan Eggold, Freema Agyeman & Janet Montgomery Discuss Love, Accents and That Cliffhanger Ending!
Late last week, we had the chance to sit down with three stars of NBC’s brilliant medical drama ‘New Amsterdam‘, Ryan Eggold, Freema Agyeman & Janet Montgomery. The show airs on Amazon Prime in the UK, and is not the place you would usually expect to see a 22-episode procedural drama to air, but if you haven’t caught it on there yet, you are missing out.
Inspired by the oldest public hospital in America, ‘New Amsterdam’ follows the brilliant and charming Dr. Max Goodwin (Eggold), the institution’s newest medical director who sets out to tear up the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care. Not taking “no” for an answer, Dr. Goodwin must disrupt the status quo and prove he will stop at nothing to breathe new life into this understaffed, underfunded and underappreciated hospital – the only one in the world capable of treating Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers and the President of the United States under one roof – and return it to the glory that put it on the map. Alongside Eggold’s Max are the Head Of Oncology, Dr. Helen Sharpe (Agyeman) and Head of the Emergency Department, Dr. Lauren Bloom (Montgomery).
All three actors are pretty familiar faces to a UK audience. I’m sure many of you will know Ryan as Tom Keen from ‘The Blacklist’, and Freema was, of course, Martha Jones in ‘Doctor Who’. Janet has been in a host of series from ‘Black Mirror’ to ‘Entourage’ and ‘This Is Us’, where she played the actress girlfriend of Justin Hartley’s Kevin. Just prior to joining ‘New Amsterdam’ she starred in US historical drama ‘Salem’ which you can find on Netflix in the UK.
As we settled down for our chat in the hotel suite in London, I asked Ryan if he’d been here before, and if Freema & Janet, both of whom are British, had been showing him around. “I have been to London but not nearly enough,” he commented “I can’t remember if this is my third or fourth trip here but every time I’ve been here has been for two or three days. It’s never been for a week or a month. And it’s so big and there’s so much to see and there are so many neighbourhoods and it’s so fun. I got in last night and was walking through Soho and it’s just like, so much energy, people, light, restaurants, part of me it’s just, it’s super. It’s super fun for me.”
‘New Amsterdam’ is shot in New York, so that has meant a shift across the Atlantic for Freema & Janet, but they do like to get back. “I come home, Christmas always, a hundred per cent, and then summer,” comments Freema. “So I figure if this show goes for a bit, twice a year. Definitely.” Janet then adds that she has been back with her baby and boyfriend for June, adding “I miss it a lot, and I think, the weather’s been really crap, but then the last two days it’s been lovely. Today we’ve been trapped indoors, but you know, I’m excited for the weather to get nicer.” Stick a bunch of British people in a room and the topic inevitably turns to the weather! With the introductions out of the way, we turn to chatting about the show.
WARNING – There are some spoilers for the events of Season 1 in the interview below.
Geektown: So the show, which I absolutely love, it’s my favourite medical drama on and there’s a lot to pick from.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s right. There are a lot these days.
Geektown: What people might not realise is it’s based on a book. [The show is inspired by the best-selling book ‘Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital’ by Eric Manheimer and his fifteen years as Medical Director at the hospital.] Even some of the stuff that happens in that first episode with him firing the entire surgical department, that happened in real life as well.
Ryan: Yes, it did.
Geektown: Crazy. When you first got the script, what was the sort of point where you looked at it and went, oh yes, this is definitely something-
Ryan: Yeah, to your point, we’ve all sort of voiced this in some form or another, when you hear that, oh there’s a new medical drama, you say, well why do we need another one of those? There’s a bunch already. And we were told to, in our ways read it and David Schulner [writer/showrunner] just captured this story of Eric’s in this really kinetic and relatable and fresh and sort of relevant way. And it just was inspiring to me to see a character that was based on a real person who did accomplish these wonderful things, that was vying for change, and for being better and for improving a system that was a little broken, and for returning to each other as human beings instead of business or people being treated as money to be made and things. I just thought that was really inspiring.
Geektown: Yes. One of the interesting things for me was the fact that I didn’t even realise that those sort of free/public hospitals existed in the US.
Ryan: Most US citizens don’t know that about their own country.
Janet: They keep it quiet don’t they.
Ryan: Yeah, they do because we’re so privatised and health here, especially in the US is becoming more and more only affordable to wealthy folks which is the whole conversation to have on this show.
Geektown: Yeah, absolutely. Turning to you Janet, was it sort of odd for you when you get a role like that and you’re playing an American obviously having a British accent? Is it weird for Freema and yourself when she gets to keep her accent and you don’t?
Freema: Well it was actually supposed to be the other way round, wasn’t it?
Janet: It was going to be the other way round and I was like, oh I kind of want to play an American actually-
Freema: Because she’s so bloody good at it!
Janet: Because I’d just done a show for three years where I was English as well and then I, I was like, oh no actually I can make sense of this with the whole race thing with Jocko [Sims], I was like, yeah I feel like it’s much more English for her to be like, I don’t see what the problem is. And then they were like, oh no actually we wanna switch it around. And then I was like oh God, no, like I’ve already, because you start developing your character in a short amount of time you have, but now I feel like it’s so perfect that she’s American, like it all came together perfectly. It’s definitely harder when I’m on set with Freema to stay American because I’ll chat away to her in between takes and then I’m like shh, no got to be American again. Bloom, she’s totally different from me in the voice and it brings on a different mannerism when I become that American person.
Ryan: Annoying yank [Laughs]
Geektown: You two [Ryan’s Max and Freema’s Helen] have quite an interesting dynamic on the show as well.
Ryan: You should see us off set.
Geektown: I’ve seen a few videos of you doing interviews, I think you did a Facebook thing which was hilarious. On the show, you have this sort of “will they won’t they” thing, but you don’t really feel like Max is ever likely to cheat on his wife, he’s not that sort of guy. Obviously, you’re coming into the second season so you kind of know where that’s going, but I just wondered, how did you feel about playing that?
Ryan: I think it was something that kinda developed naturally, which was nice. I don’t think we or the writers intended it as much as where it went, which is just a relationship between two folks that’s perhaps harder to define or put in a box, which I think is so relatable. We all have relationships you know-
Janet: I think you guys have such chemistry from the get-go. I don’t think that was necessarily what the writers had in mind but the chemistry that came across between you two was undeniable.
Ryan: She’s okay… she’s all right. She is so tired.
Freema: I’m not!
Geektown: Freema also, of course, has a history of unrequited love for doctors so you know…
Ryan: That’s the thing! I know, I’m just second fiddle.
Freema: Is it one way anyway? [Laughs] Sorry! Yes, she does. Yes she does.
Geektown: One of the things that I think I love about the show is the fact that you have all got very interesting flawed characters. You’ve got Max that has got cancer but he’s desperately kind of trying to ignore it and just carry on with life. Obviously, Bloom has her Adderall addiction issues. You’re kind of walking this tightrope with those characters to make them still likeable and then having these other kinds of issues. How is it playing those sort of roles, and what did you do research that?
Ryan: To manage the goodness versus the flaws in all that? It’s interesting, something [exec producers] David [Schulner] and Peter [Horton] talk about is not letting these characters become superheroes or unflawed. Max is such an idealist and out for good and change that you could let him fall into the world of just being the perfect guy all the time, which would of course not be true to life as we’re all flawed.
To that point, Aaron Ginsburg wrote an amazing episode, twenty [Episode 20 – ‘Preventable’] was it I think? Where, just speaking for myself, where Max was contending with a fear of his own mortality and things and it was coming out in that kind of erratic, angry, confused, scared sort of way and there’s that sort of clash with Jocko’s character, Doctor Reynolds, which Jocko played to perfection that episode. That was fun because it was so different from the character we had seen thus far in the terms of always being the good guy and he was really sort of not a nice guy in a lot of scenes and in the end you understand where he’s coming from, so it’s sort of justified. I think it’s important for all these characters to find those grey areas, and those flaws, and those weaknesses.
Freema: I think there’s one thing that the show does quite well actually is present situations without giving you the answer. It’s like, here, debate. I remember with the whole Bloom and Sharpe expose with the drugs. And I remember saying to David, I think that she goes through her bag. I think if she behaves in this kind of way it’s going to be alienating for the audience. And he was like, no I really don’t think so. I think it’s the opposite. I think they’ll want someone to help her, to help protect her, herself, her patients. So I was like, no, I think there’s a different way we go about it. So we um’d and ah’d and debated, and it went out there, and it was like 50/50 in the response. Half the people were like, no! Hard no. And the other 50% were like, thank God someone helped her. So I mean, there isn’t going to be unanimous, that was the right decision or that was condemnable, it was like, it’s a situation, and you deal with it like a human being. Like life.
Geektown: Yeah, it seemed very in character to me with her doing that because obviously, Helen is there to help, and it’s her friend, and she’s worried, so it made sense to me. I was definitely on the side of, I think, yes, look through the bag.
Janet: I also think that you really, you can’t be thinking about, this is gonna make my character unlikable. I honestly don’t, I don’t give a shit about that. I’m just playing a character that I feel like I want people to go, “I’m like that in that situation”, or “I can relate to that” and a lot of those things are things you wanna hide from other people, sometimes. But being likeable is not necessarily my MO with Bloom, it’s like, do you know what I mean, it’s …
Ryan: Yeah, more than being likeable, you wanna be honest.
Janet: Honest, yeah.
Ryan: In whatever way that manifests itself in the story.
Geektown: With your character with the Adderall addiction, did you do research into…
Ryan: She was doing Adderall on set all the time. She called it research, I was like Janet, slow down [Laughs] [Disclaimer – Janet was not doing Adderall on set]
Janet: Yes, I was doing a lot of Adderall. I’m clean right now. [Laughs] Yeah, I did do a lot of research actually because it was really important to me that I didn’t play a stereotypical version of someone who has an addiction. And I think the writing really helped with that, and when it all comes to a climax in episode thirteen, I was really happy with the response because, if you heard the story, there’s a doctor at this hospital who’s addicted to these pills, well they shouldn’t be able to work, you’d be like I don’t want that doctor working on me but people really actually felt for Bloom and they wanted her to recover and come back. And that purely is because I think they saw a human side to her. It happens a lot, I said to Dr Eric Manheimer, well, surely you’d lose your licence or whatever if you were caught but, actually, a lot of doctors suffer from addiction. He actually told me that he knew someone with a heroin addiction who ended up dying as a doctor, and it’s crazy, isn’t it? But that’s something that people don’t talk about, you wouldn’t show that on a medical drama or whatever and I like that we are exploring that.
Geektown: You mention there the episode where your character ends up disappearing for a few episodes [due to the Adderall addiction] and I think that’s one of the other interesting things about the show, is it does feel like it’s something where anybody could be written out at any moment, which you don’t tend to get with these kinds of procedurals. You get things like ‘The Walking Dead’, where they’ll kill people off left, right and centre but it’s an interesting dynamic to have on a procedural. How does that make you feel when you’re playing, presumably you know you’ve got contracts for X amount of time?
Janet: Your contract can get cancelled by them at any point so we’re always bringing our A-game.
Ryan: It’s a one-way street.
Janet: Yeah, it’s a one-way street. We can’t leave. They can fire us whenever they want. I think, especially with the end of the season, not knowing, it’s a bit scary, isn’t it?
Ryan: It’s weird that they killed all three of us
Janet: And the still want us to do press.
Ryan: Yeah it’s bizarre.
Geektown: [Laughs] Well, it would make for an interesting misdirect!
Ryan: It’s a strong misdirect!
Geektown: Well, we know Ryan is safe.
Ryan: Do we?
Freema: Well, maybe. Was he really there or was it like an apparition?
Geektown: [Laughs] Maybe… Okay, well, we think Max is safe… I think you [Janet] were getting CPR and you [Freema] were nowhere to be seen, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Janet: Yeah, we will, we honestly don’t know as well so…
Geektown: Last question for you. If you had the opportunity to work on any TV show, past, present or future, not something you’ve worked on, what show would it be?
Ryan: You know mine only because, I wasn’t asked that question but something similar about my favourite show of all time, which is a show on HBO called ‘Oz’. It was years ago, it was so fucking good, and for me it was like the first time I’d seen cinematic performance and photography stuff in a series. And it was, yeah, it was like dealing with some really complex human issues and stuff in the performances and so many great actors came off that show, like and were in that show.
Freema: TV show or film did you say?
Geektown: TV show.
Janet: Mine would be ‘Mad Men’ I think.
Janet: Yeah. How would you not, like how would I not start smoking again if I were on there!
Freema: I’m thinking of a movie but I think they did make it into a TV show so it kind of counts.
Geektown: Go on…
Freema: ‘Conan the Barbarian’.
Ryan: What?! The Arnold Schwarzenegger?..
Janet: That’s so random!
Ryan: Freema, are you trying to be provocative?
Geektown: I don’t know whether it’s been a TV show they’ve-
Freema: I think it was.
Janet: Maybe you should make it?
Geektown: They did remake it with Jason Momoa.
Freema: That’s what I’m thinking!.. Oh no that’s a movie…
Ryan: Do you wanna be like a warrior? Like a-
Freema: I wanna be like Zulu, Grace Jones. In like a physical piece. You know, when you get paid to be in the best shape of your life?
Ryan: Yeah, yeah.
Janet: Xena Warrior Princess!
Freema: I wanna do something physical.
Ryan: Yeah that would be awesome. Be fun.
And with that slightly surreal answer, the interview was over! ‘New Amsterdam‘ returns for Season 2 to NBC on Sept, 24 in the US, and sometime after that on Amazon Prime in the UK. You can catch Season 1 of ‘New Amsterdam’ on Amazon Prime UK right now!
Dave has over 20 years experience in the digital industry, and is founder and editor of Geektown. Obviously a huge geek himself, he can often be found in front of the latest tv show or movie, on various video games, or with his head in a comic book.