Actress swaps Smallville for big- time surgery drama
Erica Durance plays a doctor facing a crisis of faith in Saving Hope
Erica Durance compares performing fake surgery with acting in a well- choreographed play.
The Calgary- born actress is on the phone from Toronto after six gruelling hours in the operating room performing make- believe life- and- death procedures as the star of CTV’s new medical drama
As with most hospital- set dramas, there’s an emphasis on authenticity. Makeup and prosthetics certainly help. Consultants are on hand for the rest.
It has all conspired to make Durance look every bit the expert she is supposed to be when it comes to wielding the scalpel. She seems pleased when told how authentic it all looked in Episode 1.
“It’s a little bit crazy,” she says. “As an actor, you’re trying to get your bearings a lot.”
TV doctors should always look competent. But as Dr. Alex Reid, chief surgical resident of the fictional Mount Zion Hospital, it’s even more important that Durance, 33, looks sure- handed and confident. Part of the dramatic tension in Saving Hope is watching the pragmatic Reid’s certainty unravel as she’s faced with personal tragedy.
The show opens with Reid on the way to her wedding to marry Charlie Harris ( Michael Shanks), the superstar chief of surgery at the hospital. But, in a twist well- suited for TV melodrama, there’s an accident and he lands in a coma before they have a chance to exchange vows. This leads to him wandering his hospital in ghostly limbo.
“I like to say that she’s a very linear thinker and it’s all about science,” Durance says. “And then she becomes challenged with this situation of her fiance going into a coma and all her ideals that she had about life and that there was nothing outside of what she was doing and there is no afterlife. Now she’s forced to think what- if? Experience is changing her initial values. That’s what I found quite interesting about it.”
Saving Hope was inspired by a three- part article in The Globe
and Mail by Ian Brown about the harrowing day- to- day life within Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
Some personal drama for cocreator Morwyn Brebner helped flesh out the premise. When her eight- month- old daughter became ill, Brebner found herself praying for some otherworldly help to guide the doctors. So Saving Hope emerged as a medical drama with a distinct spiritual bent.
The main story arc about the emotional toll of Charlie’s coma combines with weekly mini- dramas about patients and doctors. Things become even more complex on the romantic front when, the day Charlie lapses into a coma, Alex’s arrogant ex Joel Goran ( Daniel Gillies) joins the staff of Hope Zion as another surgeon.
Durance was looking for a TV drama anchored by a strong female character to follow up her seven- season stint as a buttkicking Lois Lane on Smallville, a role that earned her giddy fandom from sci- fi enthusiasts. Saving Hope nicely fit the bill. While the series has a subtle supernatural side, the focus is on the human condition, Durance says.
“I think they’ve done a good job of making it relatable for people,” she says. “The whole scope of it is to talk about the idea of continuing to hold onto hope in your life no matter what’s going on.”
Born in Calgary, Durance was raised on a turkey farm near the religious community of Three Hills, where she often performed in church plays. Her grandfather was the town’s hymn expert. Her mother was the librarian and her father a trucker.
When the acting bug bit, Durance left for Vancouver, where she lived as a struggling actress.
“I went through commercials and the background [ work] and doing all that stuff that people do when they are trying to get a gig,” she says.
“It’s really good to take all those steps, you really understand how hard it is for people to get where they are.”
Her role as Lois Lane not only gave her a career boost, it secured her position as a sex symbol. She made FHM’s 100 Sexiest Women list in 2006 and 2007, was a Maxim cover girl that same year and was even quizzed by Howard Stern in typically frank fashion in a series of radio interviews.
But she was never really concerned Lois Lane would forever typecast her as the comic geek’s dream girl.
“Someone once asked me if I would be upset if in a few years people still say ‘ Lois!,’” Durance says. “No. It’s part of my journey. It’s what I did. I loved it. I’ve always accepted it’s part of the business. Yes, if you have the chance to get out there and try something new, that’s fine. But, regardless, we’re all in a bit of a box. I really wasn’t worried about it.”
That said, the practical Alex is very different than the idealistic Lois. And Saving Hope is a very different show than Smallville. Hospitals have always proven to be great fodder for TV melodrama. It’s human nature, Durance says.