Before there were such medical conveniences as antibiotics, there was “The Knick.”
New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital is the setting of the early-1900s Cinemax drama series from executive producers including Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”), also the show’s director. Premiering Friday (Aug, 8), it stars Clive Owen as skilled but arrogant chief surgeon John Thackery, who uses primitive treatments — even on himself, for his drug addiction — while engaging in office politics.
“It was one of those scripts that reminds you of why you do what you do, really,” Owen tells Zap2it of the pilot by “Knick” creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. “Steven had called me and told me a little bit about it, and while I was shooting something else and sitting in my trailer, I started to read it … and 40 minutes later, I’d read the whole thing and just knew there was no way I wasn’t going to do it.”
Also in the “Knick” acting ensemble: Andre Holland as the hospital trustees’ pick for assistant chief surgeon over Thackery’s own (Eric Johnson, “Rookie Blue”); Juliet Rylance (“Sinister”) as the chairperson of the trustees; Eve Hewson, a daughter of rock star Bono, as an inexperienced nurse; Michael Angarano as a surgical newcomer to the Knick; and, briefly, Matt Frewer as Thackery’s chief-surgeon forerunner.
Also given its early-20th-century atmosphere (boasting a wardrobe by veteran movie costumer Ellen Mirojnick), Owen points to “The Knick” being “so brilliantly researched and so informative in everything. It’s all inspired by real events. The world of medicine at that time was hugely exciting; that was a crucial time for it.”
It also was a graphic time, gauging by the way “The Knick” depicts operations. Owen allows the first such scene was “greeted with these sorts of ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ ” from foreign buyers at an early screening of the premiere, “but the reality is, that was how [surgeons] did things then. We had this amazing expert we just leaned on so much; he knew the historical accuracy, so it’s not a bloodfest just for the sake of it.”
Already renewed for Season 2, “The Knick” gives Owen his first continuing television role since attaining movie stardom (“Closer,” “Sin City”), but it’s not his first series. In his native England, he appeared in “Chancer,” “Sharman” and the “Second Sight” mystery franchise.
“It’s really a chance to explore much more fully and deeply than you would get in a 90-minute movie,” Owen reasons. “You also can take risks and do more things with your character, so having this length of time is a real luxury.”