The I.V. League Back in a new med­i­cal drama, we go be­hind the stealth star­dom of Canada’s most pro­lific lead­ing man

You’ve watched him on screens big and small and, as Bruce Green­wood re­turns in a new med­i­cal drama, Nathalie Atkinson goes be­hind the stealth star­dom of Canada’s most pro­lific lead­ing man

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - This interview has been edited and con­densed.

IT’S BEEN MORE than 30 years since Bruce Green­wood first swept through the hospi­tal cor­ri­dors of St. Else­where as a cocky young res­i­dent. Now he’s back on rounds star­ring in The Res­i­dent (Ci­tytv), a new med­i­cal drama that ex­plores the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives of doc­tors work­ing in a sys­tem cor­rupted by ego and money. This time, how­ever, Green­wood plays the ar­ro­gant head of surgery and chief an­tag­o­nist to ide­al­is­tic young res­i­dent Matt Czuchry ( The Good Wife, Gil­more Girls) and nurse Emily VanCamp ( Re­venge).

As Green­wood joked, “If there is a big star in the movie, chances are I am go­ing to play the vil­lain.” Al­though it’s true he’s of­ten the charm­ing rogue we love to hate (think Knots Land­ing or Ash­ley Judd’s treach­er­ous hus­band in Dou­ble Jeop­ardy), Green­wood has also por­trayed Amer­i­can presidents both fic­tional ( Kings­man: The Golden Cir­cle) and real (John F. Kennedy in Thir­teen Days), beloved cult char­ac­ters like Capt. Christo­pher Pike in J.J. Abrams’s ac­claimed Star Trek re­boot, pres­tige TV reg­u­lars in Amer­i­can Crime Story and Mad Men and more than held his own as for­mer Kennedy- era U.S. de­fense sec­re­tary Robert McNa­mara op­po­site Meryl Streep in The Post.

If his rugged good looks seem fa­mil­iar, it’s that the Cana­dian ac­tor has graced these count­less tele­vi­sion and cinema screens since his first credit on The Beach­combers. Yet to the ex­tent that there is a Cana­dian star sys­tem, our top thes­pian tal­ent has al­ways de­fied type­cast­ing – even mati­nee idols who have lead­ing-man charisma are chameleon char­ac­ter ac­tors, of­ten eas­ily rec­og­nized but dif­fi­cult to place. Through­out his ca­reer that has al­lowed Green­wood to move ef­fort­lessly be­tween a range of dis­tinct juicy parts, from the ap­peal­ing hero on the run in cult con­spir­acy se­ries Nowhere Man to sin­gu­lar sup­port­ing roles (act­ing along­side fel­low St. Else­where alum Den­zel Wash­ing­ton in sev­eral movies, for ex­am­ple, in­clud­ing Flight) to ami­able or, more of­ten, du­plic­i­tous.

Like other noted char­ac­ter ac­tors who dis­ap­pear into their roles – Michael Shan­non, Ben Men­del­sohn, J.K. Sim­mons, Don Chea­dle and Brian Cranston come to mind – it’s the un­for­get­table work de­fined by skill and ver­sa­til­ity that shines. Now, thanks in large part to the ex­plo­sion of pres­tige TV, mem­o­rable char­ac­ter work is hav­ing a break­out mo­ment and fi­nally minting the ac­tors them­selves as a new kind of lead­ing man.

Born in Que­bec, raised in Bri­tish Columbia and for the last 30 years based in Los An­ge­les, the Cana­dian ac­tor is never far from home – he’s made many films with long-time friend and di­rec­tor Atom Egoyan and al­most al­ways has a home­grown in­die project on the go, like Collin Friesen’s up­com­ing Sorry for Your Loss and Ex­po­sure, pro­duced by fel­low Cana­dian and co-star Leslie Hope. He sat down for a con­ver­sa­tion in Toronto while on a press tour for The Res­i­dent.

Be­fore we get to The Res­i­dent’s Chas­tain Park Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal, rewind­ing back to St. Eligius – That’s a ma­jor rewind! It is. Be­cause St. Else­where and its sib­ling cop show Hill Street Blues changed the shape of tele­vi­sion drama. Were you aware of their in­flu­ence at the time?

Oh, I was com­pletely un­aware of it. I was a rube from Van­cou­ver with shoul­der-length hair and all I wanted to do was go hang at the beach and play guitar. And I was barely aware when I went in for the au­di­tion that it was a hospi­tal show. Barely! But the scripts were great, in spite of the fact that they let me have a mul­let, which now seems like a ter­ri­ble idea.

We’ve seen those YouTube clips. Yep, yeah – sorry.

I’m only three episodes into The Res­i­dent, but it seems deeply cyn­i­cal, about cap­i­tal­ism af­fect­ing pa­tient care for ex­am­ple. A show about the Amer­i­can health-care sys­tem yet a cou­ple of Cana­di­ans star in it – Emily VanCamp [as Nic] and one of your co-stars is mar­ried to a Cana­dian.

Wait, Man­ish [Dayal]’s wife is Cana­dian? I didn’t re­al­ize that!

Have you ex­pe­ri­enced any of that cyn­i­cism your­self with the Amer­i­can sys­tem?

I’m not un­cyn­i­cal about the Cana­dian health-care sys­tem ei­ther, hav­ing had lots of friends wait months and months and months to get is­sues ad­dressed. It ain’t per­fect by any stretch – we’ve thrown that baby out with the bath­wa­ter to a large de­gree. And in terms of the show be­ing some­what cyn­i­cal about the con­test be­tween money and medicine, be­tween care and com­merce, that’s one of the wind­mills it re­ally wants to tilt at. And some­times does it suc­cess­fully, of­ten does it very broadly be­cause there isn’t a lot of time to tell those sto­ries in a de­tailed way with four or five con­cur­rent sto­ries hap­pen­ing in an episode. But we’re try­ing to do that.

It’s not the most – shall we say – show.

re­as­sur­ing No, but that part of it that is not re­as­sur­ing, that makes you worry about the fact that as a pa­tient you’re go­ing to be over­looked be­cause they want to save money here or there, they’re try­ing to balance that with the al­tru­ism of the Con­rad [Matt Czuchry] and Nic [Emily VanCamp] char­ac­ters. Ev­ery­body I’ve ever met in health care has been some­body who I’ve felt sin­cerely wants to help me. But not

ev­ery time have I been in the hospi­tal for an op­er­a­tion on my knee or what­ever have they said they can do it right away.

An­other of the things The Res­i­dent tack­les is how so­cial me­dia has changed medicine. The show opens with self­ies in the op­er­at­ing room. The doc­tors ma­nip­u­late Rate Your Doc­tor apps, which seem like the worst pos­si­ble twist on a pro­fes­sion al­ready rife with hubris. To what ex­tent has that same so­cial me­dia di­men­sion al­tered Hol­ly­wood since you started? Oh, in in­nu­mer­able and pro­found ways. Now, if you don’t have a Twit­ter fol­low­ing, you’re less hire-able. And I don’t – be­cause I just can’t imag­ine be­ing sad­dled ev­ery day with com­ing up with five dif­fer­ent points of view on what­ever is hap­pen­ing at the mo­ment. I just don’t want to put my­self through it. And self-pro­mo­tion is a very … ev­ery­body seems to be re­ally aware on a deep level of self-pro­mo­tion and how best to ef­fect it. And it’s just not some­thing I know how to do, par­tic­u­larly. What do you do in your pre­cious down­time then?

Play guitar. And travel. As soon as this next project is over, I’m go­ing to Peru and Ecuador and Machu Pic­chu and the Gala­pa­gos.

And you play chess I hear?

I do. I bring a chess­board ev­ery­where.

Who’s the best chess player on set you’ve ever played?

[an­swers with­out hes­i­ta­tion] Will Smith. [his I, Ro­bot co-star]

He beat you?

Oh, he slapped me, just swat­ted me from one end of the board to the other. Al­though there was an­other guy, on a movie I did with An­nette Ben­ing [ Be­ing Ju­lia, 2004]. We were in Bu­dapest in this great big square, and ev­ery­body in Hun­gary plays chess, so I was play­ing with an ex­tra. I had my board and he beat me. And he beat me again. He didn’t speak any English. And there’s a crowd that had gath­ered around watch­ing this old guy play this ac­tor – and he ex­cused him­self and walked through this crowd and went right to the di­rec­tor István Sz­abó and said some­thing, then came back and sat down and we played again and he beat me. Again. And then again. Then it was time for me to go to work. I asked István the next day, ‘What did that guy say to you?’ [switches to Hun­gar­ian ac­cent] “Oh, he was just ask if was okay con­tinue to beat you.” So, I’ve met a lot of good chess play­ers, but Will Smith is the most highly vis­i­ble best one. I think Guy Ritchie beat me, too. [ Swept Away, 2002] This could be a web se­ries. Like Jerry Se­in­feld’s Co­me­di­ans in Cars Get­ting Cof­fee. Yeah: Name-Drop­ping Chess Play­ers I’ve Be­ing Beaten By. Most peo­ple have beaten me, ac­tu­ally, come to think about it.

I’m not sure if you’re still fol­low­ing the Star Trek time­line, but the sea­son of the new Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery TV se­ries ended with Dis­cov­ery in­ter­sect­ing with the USS En­ter­prise at a point in the con­ti­nu­ity when your Capt. Pike would still be cap­tain. Is there a chance we might see you for a third out­ing as Pike in that con­text?

This is the new tele­vi­sion show that’s film­ing here? [He pauses] I don’t know. That’s in­ter­est­ing. That’s a good ques­tion. Not some­thing I can an­swer. [He teases with peals of laugh­ter] No, I re­ally can’t.

You re­ally can’t — it’s not a Mad Men se­cret thing where you “can’t an­swer.”

No – al­though I’ve been in that place. I’ve been in the Matthew Weiner place where you can’t an­swer, and it’s very scary. Oh, you’ll be sued. They have very se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions with you about what you can’t say.

Look­ing at your var­ied ca­reer cred­its, even just re­cent ones like

Re­hearsal, Sorry for Your Loss and the up­com­ing Strike! and your sup­port of the Tele­film Canada’s Tal­ent Fund, you pay more than lip ser­vice to work­ing with our in­dus­try and tal­ent. Why is that im­por­tant to you?

Well, it’s nice to come home. It’s nice – and fun – to tell Cana­dian sto­ries. Strike! par­tic­u­larly [about the un­prece­dented Gen­eral Strike that shut Win­nipeg down in 1919] I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to. And this lit­tle movie I’m do­ing with Jerry Cic­coritti and Leslie Hope next week called Ex­po­sure is re­ally in­ter­est­ing. I mean, no money, our own wardrobe, no dress­ing rooms, no nuthin’.

That must take you back.

In fact, a lot of the wardrobe I have per­son­ally is taken from sets, it’s hard to tell what’s my own wardrobe and what came first, you know – the chicken or the wardrobe!

Like what? Did you keep any of Robert McNa­mara’s 1970 clothes or the Mad Men polyester leisure suits? No, I didn’t keep that – or the wig. Well, you have played three ma­jor his­tor­i­cal fig­ures from a cer­tain con­tin­uum in Amer­i­can his­tory — McNa­mara, John F. Kennedy him­self [ Thir­teen Days, about the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis] and Sandy Smith [the Water­gate re­porter at Time magazine, in thriller Mark Felt]. Can you talk a bit about the re­search and if play­ing one char­ac­ter per­haps in­formed an­other?

First, I should tell you that my aim is to play ev­ery­body in Kennedy’s

cabi­net at one point or an­other. Let’s just get that out of the way for prospec­tive other movies that might be be­ing made about that pe­riod. [Green­wood chuck­les.] For JFK, of course I did vo­lu­mi­nous amounts of re­search and the same thing for McNa­mara. For Sandy Smith not as much be­cause a lot of that re­search was over­lap­ping.

Did do­ing McNa­mara in The Post al­most 20 years af­ter the Kennedy movie change the way you un­der­stood Kennedy?

I would play Kennedy dif­fer­ently now, hav­ing read more. But the funny thing is when you’re do­ing his­tor­i­cal dra­mas the more you read, the more you re­al­ize that any given ac­count is a point of view. And is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent from an­other it­er­a­tion or ar­tic­u­la­tion of what that event was. The more you read, the more you re­al­ize there’s not go­ing to be a de­fin­i­tive ac­count.

In terms of your at­ti­tude to ag­ing on screen, the role I think about most specif­i­cally is Ger­ald’s Game [an in­ti­mate cham­ber piece based on the psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller by Stephen King about a wife (Carla Gug­ino) whose hus­band dies while she is hand­cuffed to a bed dur­ing sex games], which has you both in lin­gerie. You re­ally can’t shy away from the cam­era. How did you ap­proach that, and did it give you an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the im­age pres­sures women face in Hol­ly­wood?

It was like “Okay, you’re go­ing to be in your un­der­wear for a month. And what are you gonna do about it?” There were a cou­ple of choices. I could just let my­self hang out and be as I am now or – I know what I’ll do [he laughs] – I’ll de­cide he’s a nar­cis­sist! And I’ll re­ally work out! And it worked for that char­ac­ter, that he was nar­cis­sis­tic to the nth de­gree. So I gave my­self the per­mis­sion to do 150 crunches a day and try and get in as good shape as I pos­si­bly could in six weeks. That pres­sure, I put on my­self but men, we don’t face the kind of pres­sure that women face in terms of look­ing pre­sentable in a neg­ligée – we’re al­ways dressed up and con­ceal­ing our age.

Do you think that’s chang­ing at all, given what’s been go­ing on in Hol­ly­wood these past months? It’s kind of a weird thing. There’s an in­ter­est­ing thing hap­pen­ing also where as a cul­ture we’re be­ing asked to just ac­cept our bod­ies, right? And ac­cept how­ever we look. And at the same time, well, if we’re re­ally re­ally out of shape, then we’re re­ally out of shape. And it’s not good for us to be out of per­sonal health on a cer­tain level be­cause 30 years from now when you’re get­ting di­a­betes and your knees are sore, it might not be so great!

Do you have any ad­vice for your 25-year-old self on that?

Oh God, yeah! Well, first of all, do a whole lot less of ev­ery­thing you were do­ing. [laughs] Ex­cept for ski­ing. That might not be the an­swer you’re look­ing for in terms of body sham­ing and ev­ery­thing, but I think it’s kind of tricky, right? Be­ing okay with ev­ery­thing … maybe I should just leave it at that. What’s your next ques­tion!

All right then. Well-writ­ten good guy or well-writ­ten bad guy? Is lik­a­bil­ity over­rated? You of­ten play morally am­bigu­ous yet like­able peo­ple. That seems a draw for you.

You can’t re­ally get away with be­ing a bad guy if you ap­pear to be a bad guy all the time.

You try and find a way to make some­body who’s got ne­far­i­ous agen­das to make them ap­pear bal­anced enough that you can be­lieve that they’re do­ing what they’re do­ing. And they’re get­ting away with it.

From top: play­ing doc­tor on St. Else­where; giv­ing ad­vice to med stu­dents on The Res­i­dent; star­ring in Ex­po­sure with fel­low Cana­dian Leslie Hope

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