Mar­cia Gay Harden


Mar­cia Gay Harden wants to keep it real. Code Black is the lat­est in a string of TV hos­pi­tal dra­mas but the Os­car-win­ner in­sists it is very dif­fer­ent from the rest.

View­ers won’t be see­ing any char­ac­ters like Grey’s Anatomy’s Derek “McDreamy” Shep­herd (Pa­trick Dempsey) on this show.

Code Black is based on an award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary of the same name by Ryan McGarry. It is set in the chaotic emer­gency room at An­gels Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal. Harden plays Dr Leanne Ror­ish, the ER res­i­dency di­rec­tor.

Harden won a Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress Os­car for her por­trayal of artist Lee Kras­ner in Pollock in 2000.

She re­cently ap­peared in Fifty Shades of Grey.

What makes Code Black stand out from other TV hos­pi­tal dra­mas? Why I think Code Black is so cool is that it is docu-style. What I learned from cre­ator Michael Seitz­man is that from the time the am­bu­lance pulls in un­til the time you’re in that (emer­gency) room, we’ve got two min­utes to sta­bilise them (pa­tients). So that is ex­cit­ing. It is like med­i­cal Nascar.

What do you like about Leanne Ror­ish? She’s fierce. She’s a fighter. And she has had this tragedy, which has caused a kind of bit­ter­ness and closed-off­ness, and a po­ten­tial reck­less­ness. What Leanne puts out … is fam­ily, love, health, do a good job, teamwork, make the world a bet­ter place.

You’ve switched from film to TV for this role. What are the chal­lenges of play­ing Leanne? I feel like this char­ac­ter is us­ing ev­ery bit of me as an ac­tor. I have to learn med­i­cal jar­gon, phys­i­cally, ver­bally, and be so com­mit­ted to it. I just feel like it is say­ing to me stretch and use ev­ery part of your­self. And that is a joy. I feel so lucky at this point in my life to be play­ing this char­ac­ter.

How much re­search did you have to do for the role? When I was younger I was in the Ju­nior Army Navy League Or­gan­i­sa­tion (JANGO). So I worked for the Navy Bethesda Hos­pi­tal on a vol­un­teer ba­sis, work­ing with pa­tients. I was maybe 14 at the time. But what they ( Code Black pro­duc­ers) did was let us trail real emer­gency room doc­tors. We got to go into these (emer­gency and op­er­at­ing) rooms and see what they re­ally did.

What sur­prised you about real emer­gency rooms? I had to throw out a lot of my ini­tial ideas about the level of peo­ple yelling “stat” at each other (laughs). There’s fre­netic en­ergy but it’s all very or­ganic. The hall­way is lit­tered with fire­men, po­lice­men giv­ing their re­port about a traf­fic ac­ci­dent, and over there is a per­son who came in from the prison, who’s hand­cuffed to the bed. Over there are par­ents cry­ing.

I’m cu­ri­ous about the emo­tional side. The doc­tors who do this in real life have to come to grips with tragedy. In my own life I have been tough­ened up by loss. I have a new un­der­stand­ing of pro­fes­sion­al­ism in this life or death work­place. You learn that the great­est gift you can give to the fam­ily (when a pa­tient dies) is not your emo­tion but the facts. What the fam­ily needs that doc­tor to say is “we did ev­ery­thing we could”. It re­quires strength.


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