9:00am PT by Kate Stanhope
'Chicago Med' Star on Will's "Struggle" With Natalie and Post-'Chicago PD' Character Changes
It's been an eventful year since Dr. Will Halstead (Nick Gehlfuss) first returned home to Chicago. Introduced midway through Chicago P.D.'s second season as Det. Jay Halstead's wild card brother, Will has since graduated to all-around good guy and leading man on Chicago Med. He is currently being sued for going against a patient's wishes and saving her life — because her illness reminded him of his own mother's losing battle with cancer — and he's also nursing a hopeless (?) crush on his colleague and close friend, Natalie (Torrey DeVitto). However, for all his admirable qualities, Will is still somewhat rough around the edges, as evidenced by his elevator altercation with Connor (Colin Donnell) in last week's episode.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Gehlfuss to talk about where the dueling doctors go from here, Will's "struggle" to give Natalie space and the changes to his character in the transition from P.D. to Med.
First, we have to talk about that fight with Connor. Why did it come to that?
There's been this underlying tension the entire time and what was great about this moment is that Dr. Rhodes has Dr. Halstead's best interest in mind.… [Will] could put the hospital and everyone else in jeopardy for doing this; probably [cause] more harm to himself than the hospital at that point because he's already in the lawsuit and we'll see what happens with that. This had to happen.
Did you have fun shooting that?
We did. (Laughs.) Colin and I have a good rapport. We're good buddies actually, but we'll see what happens with this now. At the end, we're having a beer and we're not speaking, so we'll see what happens. We were careful in that sense that we didn’t want it to get into a punching match between these two guys, even though that very well could have happened, especially when you're dealing with someone like Will Halstead who comes from a very tough neighborhood. He has the ability to brawl, no doubt about it. I think what stops him from doing that is him realizing the reality of the moment. It's not who won or who lost in this type of situation. He realizes, "This is silly. We shouldn’t be doing this." I think Will has some respect for the fact that [Connor] helped him out in this situation.
Where do they go from here? How do you describe their dynamic at this point?
Whether or not this tension is done with, I actually don't know. But I'll tell you, it's going to change their relationship no matter what. It can't not at this point. As far as what I can tell you, in the very near future, the next episode, we're going to get an idea of what happens with the lawsuit that Will is involved in and we're going to learn more about "Manstead."
What can you say about Will and Natalie, and what's next for them?
Currently, he's giving her space and he's in the midst of two women, really. I think we can tell that his heart is more with Natalie. They share a lot of history. It's a complicated relationship between them because she's had this death of her husband and this baby that's his. I think that he was there for her and vice versa through his mother and all this stuff and they've shared some tragedy with one another. That can bond two people together in ways they don't even know so he takes a risk, he kisses her and she says, it's not the right time — not something he wanted to hear. But as far as what’s going to come, you're going to see him working on giving her space and the struggle of that for him.
If she needs time, she needs time and as much as he wants to honor that, I think it's like an addict. If you're not ready to give up, you're never going to stop. So he's come to realize that he's definitely got a thing for her.
He's been put through the wringer for this girl, with her former mother-in-law and everything....
I know, exactly. (Laughs.) There's no way they can part ways and never meet again. It can't happen. There's too much there that's invested. It will just be a matter of time to see what happens.
He doesn't seem phased at all about all these complications in her life.
I think he's a good guy deep down. He comes from a very family oriented neighborhood. His mother has passed away and when you're there for somebody in those things, it can really bond two people together in ways that I don’t think they understand.
As you said before, Will risked a lot for this cancer patient. He attributed it before to his mom, but what else do you think it is that makes him keep pushing the limits?
What's happening is some of his personal stuff is getting in the way. He put the hospital and his career in jeopardy and it was a major wake-up call for him. He's also this guy who thinks he can save everybody. He's got a bit of a God complex. My favorite lines in one of our episodes was, "What's the difference between God and a doctor?" A doctor says this to Will and he goes, "God knows he's not a doctor." And that's exactly what Will needs to hear. He's going to continue to be tested. At this point he's realizing that maybe he loses a little bit of self control every once in a while. He's a fourth-year resident, chief of ER, so his next step is to become an attending, which is — other than running the hospital — sort of the top doctor. He's certainly capable of it and badly wants that, but he's still got to learn a few things and that's part of what the residency is all about, learning what it is that is getting in your way and eliminating that to become a great doctor. He's the epitome of reliability but he certainly has no problem bending the rules if he thinks it's for the greater good. He comes from a great place, always. It's always justified. That's what's great about the writing; it's these controversial issues that are balanced so well on each side that as a viewer, you almost don't know which side you want to be on.
You say that he's a dependable character but when we first him on Chicago P.D., he was not so dependable. What has brought about that change in him?
I think he was at a turning point as far as what matters most to him. He was a character that liked to party and in it for the money, and I think when he came back and started working at Chicago Med, that everything put into perspective — the family of it all and really seeing firsthand the good that can come from this. He's a Chicago native so these are his roots and you always sort of come back to them at some point whether you want to or not. You can never get rid of them. I think he's made a decision that he's here and this is what he's doing.
That's one of the things he has in common with Connor because he went halfway across the world to try to get distance from his family.
Exactly. And I think that what Will is realizing with Connor is that they have a lot more in common than he thought initially.… As he learns more about him and that his mother committed suicide, these things unravel where it's like, "OK, maybe he's not the threat or the idea I had of him from the get-go."
Because you originated this character on a different show with a different set of writers, what did you have to do to make sure the character stayed consistent through the transition?
There were some things that couldn't stay for the purposes of Chicago Med and that's what happens in development. He did some plastic surgery in New York, but he's made a major change into emergency medicine and that can happen. You sort of realize that your true calling is over in another department so we changed that for the purpose of the show because it's a show that takes place in an emergency department. And the idea that he is a Chicago guy, I don’t think we ever really touched on the fact that he did go to New York in Med. Some of the short-term logic had to be — for longevity — we had to throw some of that out the window to build a character and build a world that we didn't know we were building [originally]. Certain things were tweaked, but I don’t think we're ever going to talk about the days or the idea that Will had ever been to New York. He's really a Chicago native so we get the idea that he never really left. There are people who are tuning in to Chicago Med that hadn’t seen the other introduction. Also there's the sense that Will and his brother, Jay — things are good with them. There's not any animosity or anything. They're there for each other and it's a positive relationship, and we're going to see much more with these two. Will confides in his brother and his brother will offer up advice and just be there for him the way you are with family.
But you never had concerns that the character was being changed too much in moving from P.D. to Med?
No. Our writers came in and from the get-go, I had full faith. There was no concern. I was part of the conversation and everything was being relayed toward me and they were letting me know reasons for certain things.
It feels like it's been a while since we've seen scenes between the Halstead brothers. Why do you think that is?
I think its been on the docket as far as something to pay attention to and know that we have that connection that is really a surefire thing that we can go to whenever we want. It is just a matter of making sure we set up our characters, but you'll see much more with Jay and Will.
How has it been jugging appearances on all three series?
Let's just say when we have a day off, it's not really a day off. A lot of these shows are ensemble shows and if you have a lighter episode, you have the ability to go over and do a little bit on another episode of [another show]. It's required, but it's like, absolutely, we love doing it. That's what makes this whole franchise so unprecedented. They're seamlessly intertwined, it's synergy at its finest. An actor, when they get on a TV show, they're unavailable because they have no time, but here you get to book other jobs on top of that, like going to the other shows. It's a dream come true, really.
Chicago Med airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.