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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday’s episode of Chicago Med, “Mistaken.”]
Pulling from the headlines has been a tried-and-true practice of producer Dick Wolf for more than two decades, and his latest series, Chicago Med, wasted no time following suit. The fourth episode of the freshman hospital drama took on a particularly hot topic — gun violence in America — in an episode centered on the aftermath of a movie-theater shooting seemingly inspired by similar incidents at screenings of The Dark Knight Rises and more recently Trainwreck.
However, Chicago Med offered a new twist on the topic. While in the care of Dr. Charles (Oliver Platt), the man who shot the suspected gunman discovered later in the episode that the assailant was actually armed with a leaf blower and not a gun, as part of prank gone horribly awry.
“I wish that an episode about gun violence would be, frankly, so sensational and unusual, and the great tragedy is that it isn’t,” Platt tells The Hollywood Reporter about the installment, which comes just seven days after the San Bernardino, Calif., tragedy.
Platt also spoke with THR about his character’s “gamble” with another patient, adding a psychiatrist to the TV hospital drama formula and his long-standing friendship with Wolf.
THR: Obviously shootings are in the news right now because of San Bernardino. What was your first reaction when you saw that Chicago Med was going to do an episode based on such a hot-button issue? What do you think fictionalized takes like this add to that conversation?
Platt: It does that in a pretty thoughtful way. … The episode asks some unexpected questions and is really much more about perception and the assumptions people make based on the first thing people see on the Internet or the news. On some level, it’s a lack of patience that we all have — what this appetite for immediate knowledge has created which leads people to draw conclusions immediately, and what the consequences can be, positive and negative.
In the episode, Dr. Charles has another patient, Anna, who may be anorexic, and he uses a placebo to figure out whether she really is or not. It rubs Natalie the wrong way, but what do you think is Dr. Charles’ defense for his methods?
He’s been doing this for awhile and he would never stray from protocol in a reckless way if he didn’t have a really strong hunch or a good reason for doing it. In this case, the placebo that he prescribes is, in fact, a Tic Tac, so he knows it’s not going to do harm. What he’s really trying to do is reveal behavior in this relationship between the mother and her daughter that might prove his intuition that his colleague is perhaps making a diagnosis based on her own previous experience as opposed to the evidence that’s in front of her.
Look, it’s a gamble. At the end of the day, he is weighing it like everybody else, but I think he’s playing a strong hunch. It’s not reckless in the sense that the worse thing that would have happened is that he would have wasted a bunch of people’s time and wouldn’t have learned anything.
Dr. Charles has especially stood out so far on Chicago Med, because it’s rare to see a psychiatrist play such a large role in a TV medical drama. Why do you think it was important to include this kind of doctor?
That was what was so interesting about it to me. As somebody who grew up with great medical dramas like St. Elsewhere and ER … there’s never been a psychiatrist as a primary member of the ensemble. It was such a smart idea of Dick’s. Dick was absolutely determined that there be a psychiatrist in the mix, and at first, I was sort of skeptical. One of the things that I was nervous about was, wait — is there precedent for this in the real world? I was thrilled to find out that there are actually psychiatrists all over emergency rooms. I think that one of the things that Dick and I talked about about this character is that, most of the time in film and television, psychiatrists are represented as the guy with the office and the couch. [Dr. Charles] is more interested in the people that don’t have $400 an hour who he knows are going to be walking through those doors.
One of the other things that was also really surprising to me in terms of hanging out on a day-to-day basis with psychiatrists is realizing the degree to which psychiatry as a discipline still remains misunderstood. There’s no blood test for anxiety. You can’t x-ray a nervous breakdown. The stakes very much went up for me when it became clear to me how important it was that psychiatry be appropriately represented.
What else do you think Dr. Charles brings to the group that’s unique?
He’s older. He’s been doing it longer. He’s been around medicine longer, so maybe there’s a little wisdom that only experience can bring. It’s very easy to turn him into an all-knowing character, and it’s important for me to resist that.
Your character also seems to have a sense of humor, which is very important in the life-or-death situations everyone is dealing with day in and day out. Where do you think he gets that from?
First of all, I think it’s a practical method of survival, a part of Dr. Charles’ coping mechanism. When you put yourselves in the shoes of people who work at hospitals and you start to understand the amount of life and death decisions they make literally before breakfast, it’s extraordinarily humbling. I think on one level humor is just a coping mechanism. It’s not about being glib. Because mental illness can be so brutal and so disturbing, you understand why humor is something that people use as a way to navigate through the day. You need to have a sense of irony to get through life anywhere, but especially in a hospital.
What else will we learn about Dr. Charles coming up? Will we meet any members of family?
That remains to be seen. We’ve talked about that, but I know Dick’s philosophy is, especially in the procedural realm, you really want to focus on the story and learn about the character through what they do and give the personal details away literally in drops. Specifically, when it came to Dr. Charles, what’s really important to me is that I think this is a very private guy. Dick and I both agreed that you’re not going to learn a lot about Dr. Charles from Dr. Charles. Anything you’re going to learn about him is by watching him do what he does. I never get more bored than when you start a movie or a TV show and then some character sits there and starts to explain themselves. Show us. Do stuff.
It sounds like you have a good rapport with Dick Wolf. How long have you known him?
Dick and I did another show together way back in 2000. It was actually my first adventure in network television and the show that we worked on was not a success, but Dick and I formed a very real friendship and I have a tremendous respect for Dick as a producer. One of the things I learned working with him — despite the fact that the show we worked on, Deadline, was not a success — was actually how much I loved working in television. So here we are 15 years later, Dick called me up and said, “I’ve got this part for you.” When Mr. Wolf calls, you pick up the phone. I was only too thrilled to get that call.
It’s a big commitment, because it’s a network drama and you had to move to Chicago. What hesitations did you have about saying yes?
I might be in denial, but I think of myself as commuting between here and New York, and yes, I’m totally prepared to spend a lot of time in Chicago. Chicago is one of the main attractions of the job, given that that’s where I’m going to be spending a lot of time. I’ve always wanted to know Chicago better.
The other thing that was very appealing is what he has built here in Chicago. It’s astonishing nobody’s ever done it before. If you really think about it, producers have obviously spun shows off for years, but they’ve literally spun them off and what Dick is doing is, essentially, spinning shows into this living community of now three groups of interrelated first responders. Once I got here, I realized, ‘Oh, I’m not just working on one show. I’m working on three.’ So is everybody who works on one of these shows, but that’s part of the fun of it. God knows we don’t get bored, because you go and visit your friends on P.D. and Fire, and they come and visit us. And not just that, but right after Christmas, our first three-episode crossover is going to air. That’s the other really clever remarkable thing that Dick is doing — in a very subtle way, he brought serialization to the procedural. That’s not easy to do, but all three of these hours still have to hold up as a closer hour. It’s deceptively sophisticated stuff.
So how has the weather been in Chicago so far?
I love the winter. Talk to me in a few months. Maybe I’ll be singing a different tune, but I’ve got my big parka. I’m ready.
Chicago Med airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
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