She’s not a doctor; she just plays one on television.
But in real life, she has the “role” of Meryl Streep’s eldest daughter.
Mamie Gummer depicted the world of medicine last year in ABC’s “Off the Map,” and she takes an offbeat slant on it again as The CW premieres the seriocomic “Emily Owens, M.D.” Tuesday, Oct. 16. Gummer’s title character, a recent medical-school graduate, is alarmed that the themes of her insecurity-ridden youth apparently are repeating themselves at the Denver hospital that employs her … along with her former crush (Justin Hartley, “Smallville”) and an old enemy (Aja Naomi King).
“I’m getting a lot of questions like, ‘What was high school like for you?’ ” Gummer muses. “I’ve kind of blocked it out, but a good friend affectionately reminded me that yes, I was a dork. I was not a cool kid in high school.”
The fictional Emily certainly isn’t cool, either, which is why Gummer finds her endearing.
“She’s a human being,” Gummer tells Zap2it. “She kind of trips and falls down, but she gets back up, and you want the best for her. It’s a lot of fun to have license to slip up, and it’s funny because she is so together in some areas of her life. She’s really good at her job, and that’s really clear. It’s just all the other stuff where she falters a bit.”
Formerly a producer on such series as “Gilmore Girls” and “90210,” Jennie Snyder Urman, the creator and executive producer of “Emily Owens, M.D.,” explains the new show’s concept came from a familiar source.
“My college roommate is a doctor,” she reports, “and it was always just so bizarre to me that I would go over to her house, and we would be talking about boys and all this goofy stuff … then she put on what seemed to me like a costume, but she said it was her lab coat.
“People were asking her opinions, and she knew what she was talking about, so we were interested in that bizarre merging of somebody whose life is not quite together yet, but such an authority. And she was sort of telling me how a lot of high-school stereotypes are still present in the hospital.”
Though that is a major element of “Emily Owens, M.D.,” the show still aims to be true to the medical aspect. As for many actors, the terminology is challenging for Gummer, who says that for one scene she “wrote these huge cue cards and just, like, taped them up all over the room. I didn’t actually end up looking at them, but [it was a comfort] just knowing that they were there if I panicked. It’s hard to retain, then muscle memory kicks in, and you start sounding like you know what you are talking about.”
Urman intends to keep Emily off completely firm ground for as long as possible, however.
“It was always very important to me that she is a great doctor who really knows her stuff, and in those moments, she’s confident,” Urman says. “I thought that if she’s so insecure, you need something to latch onto, and you need to feel that what she does, she does well. That’s what I think makes her a more interesting person, and I think a lot of us can relate to that.
“The [personality] you put out at work is not always what you feel like on the inside,” Urman notes, “and particularly in that 20s-to-early-30s thing, it’s like suddenly you have this adult job, and people treat you like an adult … and you still kind of feel like, ‘When did this happen? Why am I the boss of this thing? I would rather be sitting with my mom and have her comb my hair.’ To me, it’s that time in your life when you look like an adult and you act like an adult, but you still feel like you’re a kid.”
With her sister Grace also an actress who appeared last season as Anjelica Huston’s daughter on NBC’s “Smash,” Gummer’s other television credits have included the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries “John Adams” and multiple episodes of CBS’ “The Good Wife” and Showtime’s “The Big C.” And her husband, Benjamin Walker (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), will be Brick to Scarlett Johansson’s Maggie in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” opening early in the new year.
While having a mother who’s a three-time Oscar winner, Gummer doesn’t have a sense of standing in anyone’s shadow.
“I feel like I’ve been the star of my own show for a while now,” says Gummer, who has also done New York stage work in productions of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and “Uncle Vanya.” “I was always putting on shows as a kid, and obviously, my household was really creative. My parents (also including sculptor father Don Gummer) both really supported it.
“I just liked it so much, I kept doing it and doing it, then I was at drama school doing it. Then I graduated, and all of a sudden, I was a person in the world doing it for real. There wasn’t any ‘spotlight shined down on me’ kind of epiphany moment, I just really loved it — and obviously grew up around it.”