For Ryan Eggold, playing real, complex people is a fun challenge.
Ryan Eggold is getting real.
Fresh from playing decidedly not real Tom Keen on NBC's The Blacklist, Eggold went into Spike Lee's based-in-reality film BlaKkKlansman, playing Walter Breachway, and is currently starring in NBC's New Amsterdam, playing Dr. Max Goodwin, based on Dr. Eric Manheimer's book Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital.
Eggold appreciates the differences. He says,"I think first and foremost, is that it's more reality in [playing Max], because it's based on a real person who really said and did these things. As fun as Tom Keen was, he was a bit more sort of genre, shall we say. A bigger kind of world than this is. I think, at least the aim is a more honest kind of world, which is fun for me.
"Max, my character, is based on Eric Manheimer, who is a real man, who wrote a book called Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital about his experience as medical director of Bellevue Hospital in New York for almost 20 years. And he met every kind of person, every kind of patient. Saw every kind of disease, saw every kind of just bureaucratic dysfunction imaginable.
"So he wrote about his experience, trying to fix that and make that better. He was contending with enormous international public hospitals. It's a really great book. He's got this amazing forward energy to make an impact. So luckily I get to spend time with him and hear his thoughts on health care, and try to put that all into the show."
Eggold was not certain he wanted to jump into another series, especially a "hospital show." He says, "I had just finished BlacKkKlansman, which was an amazing experience, and again, playing a character based on a true story and all that and working with one of the greatest directors ever.
"So I was sort of excited about what might be next. And I was looking at some different pilot scripts. All I heard was this was a hospital show and I just kind of brushed it off because I wasn't sure what was new about a hospital show. And I just couldn't imagine that it would be very interesting.
"And then I heard it was a true story and it was based on a book and it was based on a real guy and that was very interesting. And then Grace Wu at NBC, who I knew from years working there, asked me to read it. And she has great taste, so I said 'Well, let me see.'
"And yeah, they were right. David Schulner wrote this really interesting script that felt very human and very honest. And very kinetic. It felt really kinetic, it never really stopped and let go. It just kept moving. And I liked that. And I really liked that it was about how we can from inside these walls of this hospital, try to affect change out there.
"I thought that was a really interesting concept. And of course the characters - he has so much going on, everywhere at once. I thought that would be a fun challenge. And he's a bit mischievous, there's a bit of rebellion in that, which I really like."
The character does have a lot going on. Eggold says, "He really does, especially in the first episode. It's just a billion things at once. You know, I think he's partly responsible for it. I think he brings it on himself in the sense that that's the way he likes to operate, to take on 10 problems at once and try to solve as many as he can.
"In fact, that's the aim of, or was sort of the plot of the episode ["Boundaries"]. Kate's [Dennis, director] episode about just trying to help everybody and not helping anyone. He's juggling his personal life with his wife, and his struggling relationship. And then the baby on the way, and then the hospital. And all these different relationships with these doctors.
"Certainly fun, dramatically. And then he gets cancer. Which is not good news for anybody. Having to become a patient while trying to remain a doctor. So it's overwhelming, certainly."
And yet, the character always seems to remain calm and able to handle all the balls he has in the air. Eggold says, "I think Max is most comfortable in the eye of the storm. And I think what terrifies him would be to sit still. And most likely has trouble admitting that he has cancer to anyone, let alone his wife.
"He doesn't want to stop and take care of himself and allow that kind of vulnerability. I think he's comfortable on the go, and helping and looking out for everyone and trying to fix everyone else. I think that's his mission."
The complexities of the character were the main ingredient that drew Eggold in. He says, "[These characters] draw me in, just because it's any character, or any person, anyone who doesn't exactly play by the rules. That is fascinating to watch. I think that we all secretly want that kind of freedom. The kind of courage of your convictions and belief in yourself."
Not all the other characters in New Amsterdam appreciate Dr. Goodwin's independence. Dr. Dean Fulton, the head of the hospital, played by veteran character actor Ron Rifkin, regularly tries to rein in Dr. Goodwin, even threatening to fire him. Goodwin's response? "OK, but first let me do this."
Again, reality steps in. Eggold says, "I was talking about that scene with my dad the other night, actually. I think that I did it based on Eric and his life. I think he never unpacked his boxes for the first year.
"He just expected to be fired. He just said, 'I'm gonna come in and I'm gonna actually try to help and make a difference. And not just sit there and smile. And I'm gonna try to get something done and that'll probably get me fired, and that's okay.' And that's the risk he was willing to take.
"And it paid off. And it worked out. With little regard for the consequence in the sense that it's worth it. It's worth it to try.
"I think there's definitely a sort of impulse in this character. And that he can't help himself, and why he is that way is something we'll explore going forward. But, he has to do this. I think he sees a problem and has to try to figure it out. He sees a problem and has to tackle it. He doesn't have the ability to look the other way."
That empathy and desire to help is part of what Eggold believes will appeal to audiences, especially in the modern world. "It's an inspiring character, and inspiring show for that reason. You wish more people were like this. You wish the health care system was like this.
"You wish that our political system was more like this. Where our politicians thought more about people as human beings and not just votes. And wanted to sincerely help people. It's a nice sort of dream to live in for a minute.
"And the thing is too, is that I don't think it's completely out of the realm of reality. Because, again, it's based on this guy, Eric, who really said and did these things and really tried to do it. So these folks are out there. It's just they're few and far between. So it's nice to put a character like that on the screen. And remind everybody that we can try to help.
"Certainly, we have to start thinking about union and what makes us the same and what we all need as human beings and where we can come together and be better. As opposed to where we disagree and where we're different. Because, that'll just get us nowhere but angry and alone. So I think Max is really about that. How do we come together, how can we do this together?"
Another important element of the show is that it is set in one of the most diverse cities in the world, New York City. Eggold appreciates the location. He says, "I've been fortunate enough to be working in New York for the last six and a half years. And I love living here and absolutely love working here, because there is so much life on the street.
"As I talk to you now, I'm walking around and there's just tons of folks from all over the world. And I like that in Bellevue, something Eric talks about, is how Bellevue is such melting pot for the world, because you have tourists coming in from everywhere.
"You have diplomats, you have locals, you have everybody, and children. You have prisoners from Rikers Island, you just have all these different kinds of people coming together in this one place with various health needs. So it's such a reflection of the bigger world outside."
Like his New Amsterdam character, Eggold is not comfortable standing still. Along with his work on the series and his recent film work, he also wrote, directed, and composed music for his first film, Literally, Right Before Aaron.
"I know, it's not an easy title. Everyone told me to change it. I wouldn't let them. It is my first time, writing and directing a feature film, which is something I'd love to do more of and it was an incredible experience. I had this incredible cast of actors come and support me on my first attempt doing that.
"I learned so much. You know, I've worked with so many directors for many years now, and sort of dabbled in directing, but this also made me appreciate my role as an actor, because you see how many people it takes to make a film and how many people contributed, and what everybody's role is.
"That was a film about a guy whose ex-girlfriend is getting married to the guy she met shortly after him. It's about him being invited to this wedding and trying to traverse this social space that is not entirely pleasant. Full of land mines and trying to figure out his own inner life and his response to this emotional thing.
"It was cool, I want to do that again. And I hope, soon."