'Chicago Med' Star on "Repercussions" for Connor, Team "Friction" and Expanding Outside the ER

"It's something that does come up very quickly," Colin Donnell tells THR about the question surrounding whether Connor played a role in Dr. Downey's death.
Elizabeth Sisson/NBC

Many of Chicago Med's main characters closed out the NBC medical drama's first season at a crossroads. For Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson), it was trying to figure out how to move on after her husband suddenly left her. For April (Yaya DaCosta), it was coming to grips with her TB diagnosis. For Dr. Reese (Rachel DiPillo), it was deciding what to do after rejecting her pathology match. But for Dr. Rhodes (Colin Donnell), the finale brought resolution. Following the death of his mentor Dr. Downey (Gregg Henry), Connor took some time off to travel to a tropical locale – Downey's favorite kind – and spread his ashes in the water as the credits cut to black.

However, questions still linger when the new season kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 22, particularly as to whether Connor assisted in killing Downey as he lay dying from cancer. To get those answers and find out what else is coming up, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Donnell.

What were your thoughts on that final scene between your character and Dr. Downey?

I thought, especially in the final cut, it did a beautiful job of leaving it all sort of an enigma. The right to die debate is a hot topic at any time and I think that there was certainly a valid case for Dr. Downey to want to have a little help to be on his way. I loved reading it. Gregg Henry is a phenomenal scene partner, we were super lucky to have him and I hated to see him go, but I was really grateful for the time that we had together. It did so much to propel Connor going forward so when we pick up in season two, he's still dealing with repercussions with that and he's also being quickly introduced to his new mentor within the cardiotherapy department because he's taken on the fellowship to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. And his new mentor is wildly different than Dr. Downey was, but very lucky, again, to have an incredible actor playing him: Ato Essandoh. The guy's got a rap sheet about a million miles long for all the stuff that he's done. It's all incredible work and he's a New York guy like I am.

How would you say this dynamic is different from the relationship Connor had with Dr. Downey?

The one with Dr. Downey was a highly nurturing mentorship. I think Downey became almost a surrogate father figure for Rhodes. This one, so far as I've seen, is pretty much the exact opposite of that. There's a lot more friction. In a lot of ways, Rhodes got built up by Downey; he sort of bestowed this golden boy title upon him, and Dr. Latham, Ato's character, is going to be a little slower to bestow that kind of respect back onto Dr. Rhodes. I think you're going to see Connor having to work a lot harder to make sure that he's living up to the expectations that Dr. Latham has for him.

How do you think losing a surrogate father figure impact him going forward?

It will be interesting to see how they bring the personal relationships back into it. I think when you go through a loss like that, it serves to, hopefully, make you a better person. He wants to honor what Dr. Downey expected of him. He wants to bring the same kind of glory that Downey brought to the hospital within the terms of being a destination hospital for heart surgeons and heart surgery patients. He's placing a lot of onus on himself to really live up to all those expectations that he was left with for better or for worse. I think when you're living with all that pressure, it's got to come out in some ways.

What kind of repercussions will Connor face? Will there be an investigation or something of that nature pertaining to Dr. Downey's death?

I don't know about that. It's something that does come up very quickly and it comes up very much out of the blue and in a very blunt way. Maybe he did [help Dr. Downey die], maybe he didn't, I think it's an interesting secret to have, whatever people think happened. But I think one of the cool things for me was being able to see, towards the end of the season, everybody was in such turmoil and it's this great launching point for season two. [Showrunners] Andy [Schneider] and Diane [Frolov] and our writer's room and Dick [Wolf] all have this giant diving board that they've leapt off from for the second season. The excitement of coming back was palpable because we knew that we would be getting off to a great start.

How long after the events of the finale does the premiere pick up?

It's about a month to to six weeks as far as I can tell. So there's been a little time for everybody to kind of process what's going on. I think Connor took some time to grieve what happened and then he came back to work. It's not a huge gap in time, but it's not immediate either.

What can you say about this personal life this season?

So far, it seems as thought the main focus for them is Connor's work life and how he's functioning in his new role within the hospital. It's been interesting because one of the things that I've been wondering going into this season was, if you take someone out of the emergency department, am I still going to get to see my people? But they've done a wonderful job. Very quickly you see that there are ways to incorporate still being down around everybody and still being very much involved of day-to-day aspects of what's going on. Even though he's doing his fellowship, re-doing another fellowship within cardiothoracic surgery, he sort of de facto became an attending trauma surgeon. So he's gone-ish from the emergency department and it's great. I thought the dynamics of the personal relationship he had in the beginning of last season were fun to play and fun to explore, but I'm excited to concentrate on this aspect of things and see how the personal relationship works with this new mentor figure.

Are there any other notable changes you've noticed? Or tonal shifts?

One thing that I love about Andy and Diane as showrunners and storytellers is, while they are writing within the confines of a medical drama, they care so much about the personal lives of these characters. They know, and Dick knows that, people are coming back week after week because they've fallen in love with the characters. They write very complex characters and very complex storylines that are wonderfully engaging. They do tie it altogether so beautifully with the day-to-day goings on of what's coming into the hospital. Now we have the opportunity to shoot outside of the hospital a little bit more because we're not starting in the late fall, so it's kind of cool to get outside. The addition of Ato into our world and Jeff Hephner coming onboard to play a new character – it's wonderful. We're really lucky to have amazing guest stars that come onboard for one episode, the people that have come back for multiple episode arcs are unbelievable and our core cast is so great. It's an embarrassment of riches.

What kind of talks did you have with Andy and Diane going into season two? How much do you know about your arc for the season, or at least the beginning of the season?

I haven’t really spoken too much with them about it. I think everybody's different about that. I trust them. They wrote me wonderful stuff in the first season and I knew that I would be excited and happy about things to come. They communicated every once in awhile and they would sort of drop hints of what they were thinking about for the future. I've just been really excited every time I open a script. There's really nothing to complain about, and I am happy to be a servant to the storylines.

Chicago Med's second season premieres Thursday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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