“Black Box” has shown its leading lady Catherine Black make a number of hard decisions during the course of its first six episodes, some of which have been hard for audiences to agree with. As a brilliant, bipolar neurosurgeon, Catherine has gone off her meds, put herself in danger and been a destructive force in her relationship with her fiance Will.
In episode 7, “Kodachrome,” Catherine finds herself as a crossroads as she continues to try to be the right woman for Will, but is still drawn to her colleague Dr. Bickman. Zap2it spoke with star Kelly Reilly about her journey with Catherine and what she is most proud of accomplishing in Season 1.
Zap2it: What can we expect to see play out in this episode?
Kelly Reilly: This is a great episode. I think it’s a very strong episode. Episode 7, it’s a pretty tense episode. As always, there’s a lot going on. There’s a woman who’s a political photographer and journalist. She has a bullet in her head. She’s airlifted to the Cube, where Bickman is the neurosurgeon. He’s one of the best in the country, and he’s assigned to remove it. I try and help him out with him because I’ve seen where the bullet is, and basically they shut down anything electrical or anything that could make this bullet catch fire or explode. Obviously that would kill the woman instantly and put anyone around her in danger. We have to shut down the entire hospital unit in order to remove this shrapnel bullet from her head.
What do you think that Catherine sees in Bickman that she doesn’t see in Will, and vice versa?
Will is such a good man, you know? He’s a kind man. He wants to give Catherine the world, really. I really believe that if you’re not in a great place in your life, you could have the perfect human being wanting to love you forever, and if you’re not ready for that, you can pass them by. And I think Catherine does a little bit of that. I think she really isn’t ready to receive that level of love and commitment, because she’s not there.
Bickman, he’s his own person. He lives with no commitment in his life. I don’t know if that’s necessarily appealing to her. I think morally she understands why Will is such a wonderful person, but I think on a more primal level, Catherine is drawn to Bickman and his work ethic. He’s brilliant at what he does, and he’s a little bit more of a rogue. There’s much more adrenaline with her than there is with Will, and that appeals to Catherine in her own sense of that part of herself that she is very keen to hang on to.
As episode 7, this episode is the midpoint of Season 1. Can we expect any sort of big plot development here?
This season of this show, I think the first 6, 7 episodes, we’re really trying to figure out what it’s voice was, and I think by episode 7 on, it’s really starting to find it. I really think that it has a unique [voice]. The ones I’m most proud of, they’re in the last 6. They’re the ones that the writing became a lot stronger, and it’s almost like the tension gears up. It just becomes a lot more powerful.
What have you been the proudest of in Season 1?
It’s such a learning curve for me. I’ve never done any television before. I come from film and theater. I’ve done episodes of TV, but that’s not the same. So going on an arc of something like this, I’m proud to have got through it, proud of what I’ve learned and the people that I met; a lot of very intelligent, very hard-working people. I loved working with an American crew. They’re the best people I’ve ever worked with.
I’m proud of the fact that we tackled mental illness, and the level of care that was taken. I’m proud of the research we did and the fact that it meant something to me. It wasn’t just a regular role. I actually felt a responsibility to the bipolar community about taking on something so complicated, and tried to do it with a conscience and integrity. I think a lot of actors are hard on yourself, and I think if you know you worked hard and did your best, whether or not people respond or not, at least you know you can sleep at night and that you did the best you could. Would I change some things? Yes. [laughs] But I learned a lot, and I feel like I did the best I could, and I’m proud of that.
Have you heard any response from the bipolar community now that six episodes have aired?
Yeah. I mean, we delve into the bipolar within the first two episodes, and then Catherine is toeing the line. Here’s the thing: This is a character who is addicted to her illness. If she was bipolar and she took her medication, yes it’s still a struggle, but this isn’t who she is. She’s someone who enjoys where she goes, where the illness sparks her brain and what it makes her feel; the adrenaline rush. It makes her very irresponsible and it puts her into a lot of danger. It’s almost like it’s a high. It’s almost like she’s taking drugs.
It’s not just someone playing bipolar. It’s someone who’s also an addict. This is never going to be a documentary on bipolar. This is one individual, one imaginary character, which was based on many different characters through the writer. I have so many letters each week from people, very touching letters, people who want to share with me their experience and people who I met whilst preparing for the role; individuals who invited me to their homes to talk about their life and their reality with bipolar — and not just bipolar, but many different forms of mental illness that is a grey area.
What did they have to say?
Their feedback to me was very, very important, because if I took this on, more and more mentioned the word “responsibility.” It became personal. It became that the people meant something to me. My heart went out to them tremendously. And I love Catherine. She’s not always likeable, but I don’t think any of us are always likable. They’re not black-and-white. I always think that these antihero characters we see in film and TV, they’re all men. The women, you’re either a femme fatale or you have to be an angel. Why can’t there be complex, layered female characters that you’re not sure where you stand with them? That’s what I was interested in finding.
I fell in love with her by episodes 8, 9, 10, 11. [Episode] 12 is my favorite episode. By the sheer practicality of having 10 hours worth of work that takes five months to shoot, living with her from 5 in the morning to 10 at night some days, I really was able to find those depths that I would never have been able to find if that was a movie. Therefore I was able to go deeper. This sounds like such an answer from an actor, but I don’t know how else to talk about it.
It becomes very perfunctory. The audience can discover as well. You can have an opinion on something one week, and then by episode 8 or episode 12, you’re changing your mind. By the end, you’re in a completely different place than where you were in episode 1. For me as an audience, I love that. I love someone changing my mind. If I knew this was just a 2-hour film, I would have played her very differently. I don’t want to alienate people from a 2-hour film for the first half an hour, because you’ve only got an hour and a half to get them back. But in 13 episodes, I can get to play some of that darkness in her, that unpleasant side, and then you realize that her heart is completely broken, and the only thing she’s good at is helping other people and being obsessed with her own patients. Her love for herself is nonexistent.
I just had the chance to watch episode 10 early, and I thought it was a perfect example of Catherine toeing that line.
Oh, thank you very much. I’m really proud of that one too. That’s what the show can be in Season 2. I actually don’t think it should be about going on and off meds. By episode 13, we’re left in a completely different place. Obviously I can’t tell you, but it just opens so much up. We’re a slow burn, so I just hope people are going to come on the ride because it’s going to pay off.
“Black Box” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.