GOING WITH THE FLOW
It takes a lot to convince veteran actress Alfre Woodard to sign on for a TV show. As Guy Davis found out, the new medical series Three Rivers had a lot to off er.
Show business can be a cruel and unpredictable game, even for well-respected actors who’ve worked consistently for many years.
Not only is there the possibility that one day the job off ers just might stop coming, there’s also the chance that you might fi nd yourself attached to a project that doesn’t refl ect who you are as an artist and a person.
And then there’s the chance that the project becomes a huge hit, one that you’re chained to for years to come.
American actress Alfre Woodard has been in the business for more than 30 years, giving acclaimed performances in plays, in fi lms and on TV shows – she was recently seen as Betty Applewhite on Desperate Housewives.
And she’s well aware that signing on for a pilot episode of a television series has its pros and cons.
“ You hear actors go ‘ Oh, it’s pilot season, I can make some money’,” she said. “ Because, you know, one pilot out of 100 gets picked up and becomes a series. But if you do a pilot, you’re signing a contract that says you’re in it for the whole run.
“ So you might think some awful pilot might never even make it to air, but if it becomes a hit it could be your legacy.”
Woodard may laugh about such a situation but she’s also wary enough not to join something she’s unwilling to make a commitment to. And the new Ten medical drama Three Rivers is such a show.
Three Rivers focuses on a dedicated team of doctors working at America’s premier transplant facility, with each episode of the series viewing a transplant operation from a number of perspectives.
“ At the beginning of an episode, you follow someone who fi nds themselves in a position to be a donor,” said Woodard.
“ Then there’s the person who needs an organ. And the third storyline follows how we pull it off at the medical centre, because it’s not an easy thing. It is a mad dash against time, and for every organ that becomes available there are many, many people saying ‘ It’s mine, I need it, give it to me’.
“ So we get to see how it’s obtained and how it’s decided which person should get it, because it’s not just the next person on the list. And getting it physically to the location isn’t easy – you’ve got to beat the clock while someone is lying on an operating table waiting for this life-saving heart or kidney.”
The show has a strong local connection, with up-and-coming Australian star Alex O’Loughlin heading the cast as workaholic surgeon Dr Andy Yablonski, who leads the “ crack team” of medicos overseen by Woodard’s Dr Sophia Jordan, the hospital’s head of surgery.
“ Sophia has hand-picked the people she works with, like Alex’s character,” said Woodard. “ And it’s a breed of people who are very interesting to watch, because you have to have the skill and the drive to be available 24/ 7 in this line of work.
“ So I think of her as a coach, and one who only has people she can depend upon on her team.
“ Take Alex’s Dr Yablonski – he’s a ‘ whatever it takes’ kind of guy. My character has to answer to the people who pay for things. But if Dr Yablonski has to step outside the box to deliver, she doesn’t care. She’ll allow whatever has to be done to save a person’s life.”
Needless to say, she adds with a laugh, “ all our personal lives are in shambles. But there are tons of great stories, full of drama and sometimes humour, to be told”.
And that’s a big part of what drew Woodard to sign on. The company she’s keeping on the Three Rivers set, however, is also proving to be a big drawcard.
“ Alex was someone I’d never met but I’d heard he was really talented and wonderful to work with,” she said.
“ And he is – he’s a great guy. There’s just a great energy on our set. And you want good scripts and a role you can enjoy, of course, but at a certain point it comes down to who you want to be around for the next year. The next fi ve years, if you’re lucky.”
Indeed, Woodard is hopeful and optimistic that Three Rivers will be a success. But she’s also enough of a realist to understand that there are no sure things.
Life savers: Australian actor Alex O’Loughlin ( Dr Andy Yablonski) and Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard ( Dr Sophia Jordan) run the show in Three Rivers.