“Emily Owens, M.D.” is considerably more lighthearted than most medical dramas we’ve seen on television. Mamie Gummer’s titular character is as bubbly as she is awkward and as hopeful as she is quirky, which makes for a hefty dose of comedy. Still, the show does take place in a hospital, and things can’t be happy-go-lucky all the time. In this week’s episode, Micah (Michael Rady), who is quickly becoming one of Emily’s closest friends, entrusts her with the care of his mother, who is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer. It’s a sobering reminder that despite all the laughing (and cringing), there are high stakes involved in this show.
We visited with Rady on set to talk to him about what’s to come for Micah and his mom — as well as the burgeoning love triangle between Micah, Emily, and Will (Justin Hartley) and the squeamishness that makes some of his surgical scenes more difficult than you’d imagine.
Zap2it: I just watched you rattle off a bunch of very confusing medical jargon on set. Do you have to Google every other word in your script?
Rady: Wikipedia saves my life. We get pronunciation guides for each episode, which is awfully helpful, but I also like to know what the hell is a thoracotomy or whatever. I like to kind of know what I’m talking about. It helps to remember it if there’s an image or some kind of knowledge behind it. When you get the note ‘Say it faster!’ for that kind of stuff you pretty much want to die.
The show leans toward the comedy, but we learned in the pilot that Micah’s mom has terminal pancreatic cancer. That’s not a funny diagnosis.
Not one of the better ones. It’s a sad, fast, wicked disease. Jennie [Snyder], our creator, plays up the humor. She walks the line between the comedy and the pathos. You get touches of the heavy sad stuff certainly with that storyline, but it blends really well into the funny, quirky comedy right afterward.
What can you tell me about how that storyline progresses? Micah and his mom seem close.
It’s a very strong relationship. You get the sense that they sort of count on each other. There’s some really touching stuff coming. Ultimately, my mom wants to know how her cancer is responding to the chemotherapy, and I don’t want to tell her too much, because I don’t want her to freak out. She’s like ‘Maybe we shouldn’t be doing anything if it’s not progressing,’ and I don’t even want to go to that place, so I don’t tell her anything. She finds out from Emily, and I get mad at Emily for telling her. In there, there are some great charming, sweet, endearing moments. It’s a fantastic episode.
So much of the show is from Emily’s perspective. If we could hear Micah’s inner monologue the way we hear hers, what do you think he’d be thinking about all day?
I think nowhere near as interesting. To know Jennie is to know why Emily Owens exists. She’s the goofiest, silliest person, with the most dynamite sense of humor. It seems like everything that happens to her is funny, because every story that she tells you is relayed in the funniest way. Her observations are just hilarious. You just think she has the funniest, most crazy, bizarre life in the entire world. She blows me away with her stories and her life experiences. Micah’s would be laden with worry and hospital things. Nothing really interesting. I don’t think he could pull a whole audience along with comedy. Not that he’s a sad guy, but he’s a little deeper into the world of health care and adulthood. He’s a little more frustrated and cynical about things.
Where’s the love triangle headed? Micah seems very intrigued by Emily.
I think he’s immediately taken with her. She’s a breath of fresh air. She’s someone so interesting and funny and endearing and sweet. He just sees her heart; he sees that she’s a really good person. She has a nice way with people. Maybe he sees a little bit of himself in her, her being a nervous intern like that.
She’s got him in the friend-zone.
Oh, absolutely. Still, we’re on episode 8 right now, and he’s on the friend list. He is one hundred percent friend-listed.
I’ve heard that you’re particularly squeamish. Eight episodes in, how are you handling the blood and guts?
I still hate literally handling it. When I watched the pilot I was like ‘Oh, god! How do I work on this show?’ It really grosses me out. It’s so fake and rubbery but it looks really freaking gross. It’s my sense of empathy that triggers it for me. I’m not like ‘Oh, blood, gross.’ I just imagine it. I think about the needle poking through the skin and going through whatever, the lining of the artery, and into a freakin’ vein, so it’s from the outside, going in — oh, my god, even right now, I’m shuddering. Cracking ribs open? Oh my god. Oh god. Oh my god!
How do you even get through the scenes?
With the surgery masks on I just stand there saying ‘Oh my god, this is horrific. This is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.’ And then we go in and do ADR and it looks like I’m saying ‘Okay, I’m going to crack the rib and go in over here, can we get the sutures and tie off that bleed’ or whatever. But really I’m just like ‘Oh my god. Oh, yuck. Oh no.’ I was doing a liver surgery and I lifted the liver out and I look down into the cavity, and I thought they would just put stuffing in there or whatever, but there’s all this stuff — so I just started saying ‘Oh my god! That’s a heart! That’s a heart!’ I had a surgical mask on, so it’s going to look good. Don’t worry.
Emily Owens airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.