On a hot day somewhere in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, at what used to be probably a quite nice hospital, production is underway on the third season of TNT’s medical drama “HawthoRNe,” airing Tuesdays.
The crew has taken over the facility — with the production offices housed in the former mental-health ward — and when the A/C is turned off to quiet the area for shooting, it’s about as warm inside as it is outside.
And yet, star Michael Vartan, who plays surgeon Dr. Tom Wakefield, is wearing long sleeves under his scrubs. It’s not that he’s chilly, it’s that he has tattoos — and TNT does not approve. Luckily, the sleeves don’t bother him.
“It’s much better than makeup,” Vartan tells Zap2it, resting between scenes in the hospital lobby. “I’ve had tattoos my whole life. I got my first one when I was 18. I have a rather well-developed dark side, not anything too much. I don’t have any major elements in the closet or anything — nor am I coming out of it.
“I just think they’re kind of fun, and I like them.”
Fans have gotten to see a bit of Tom’s dark side this season, as an attack on his brand-new wife, nurse Christina Hawthorne (Jada Pinkett-Smith) — whom he wed in the season premiere — injured her, killed their unborn baby and caused vengeful Tom to get a gun.
“Yeah,” Vartan says, “a Glock. Fits into my scrubs nicely.”
As far as we know, he hasn’t yet killed anyone with it, unlike his previous TV job.
On ‘Alias,’” he says, “we shot guns all the time. That was fun. I do miss having a good gun scene. Tom — he just pines over his woman.”
Although Tom’s brief marriage has been through some serious turmoil, Vartan’s real marriage — he wed in April, so it’s only a few months older than his TV one — to Lauren Skaar, a woman he met in a Whole Foods parking lot, is going well.
“It’s fantastic,” Vartan says. “I really thought it would change things more, but it hasn’t, which is a good thing. It’s been great. It’s really nice. It’s just a little ounce more of, ‘Oh, you and me forever, cool.’ It’s just really relaxing.”
Asked if there will be any little Vartans, the actor says, “Soon, yeah, soon. I gotta get on that quickly. I still want to be able to skate with my kid. It’s funny, we talk about it all the time, and then once in a while, we’ll bet at Target, and there’ll be a single mother with three yelling kids, and we’re like, ‘Forget that. no chance.'”
While the Vartans are still working out that issue, they did decide on taking out the trash.
“That’s my job, obviously,” he says, “as it should be.”
Vartan isn’t currently contemplating adding significantly to his tattoo collection.
“Now that I’m actually thinking about kids, it’s going to be hard enough to explain these,” he says. “I’ve already had a few lasered off — an ex-girlfriend’s initials. I got [tattoos of] both my dogs. Never regret dogs.”
Because Tom is dealing with all of his emotional trauma, Vartan doesn’t have to spend all that much time pretending to do actual medical procedures — except for today, that is.
“In this episode,” he says, “actually, one of my friends, who was in the Gulf War with me, has a giant pole stuck through his abdomen. We’re trying to decide whether to remove it.”
At the same time, the patient has ALS, a progressive, debilitating illness sometimes called “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
“This scene deals with his wife finding out [about that],” says Vartan. “She doesn’t know he has ALS. He’s kept that from the family, but he’s told me.”
When it’s remarked that one can’t hide having ALS forever, Vartan says, “I know. That’s what I keep telling him. But, hey, it’s TV. It’s good drama.”