CBS’ A Gifted Man gets an injection of heavy-duty medical drama cred this Friday at 8/7c, when ER alum Eriq La Salle begins a multi-episode arc as Evan “E-Mo” Morris, a top-shelf, double-boarded neuropsychiatrist and “medical sleuth” whom Dr. Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) seeks out for professional and personal reasons. TVLine spoke with La Salle about why he forsook his “no more doctors” rule to tackle this role, how “E-Mo” differs from Country General’s Peter Benton, and how the character might help Michael with, you know, the whole “ex-wife’s ghost” thing.
TVLINE | How are you summing up Dr. Morris?
He’s a driven, talented guy who I think has found a really nice balance between what he does and how he lives his life. Unlike the Benton character, there’s a healthier balance — he really enjoys what he does but he also enjoys the life part as well. He has a great sense of humor, and he loves laughing. He’s a very robust, passionate character.
TVLINE | From the clip I’ve seen, he’s not as super-intense as Benton.
Exactly. Or, his intensity comes out in different ways.
TVLINE | How is he brought into Michael’s world?
Michael seeks me out because I have a great reputation in New York, and Michael feels, since the return of his ex-wife, that his game has been thrown off in a lot of ways. He brings me in to do an analysis, and because he ends up really respecting my character, Michael invites me to join his practice. I give it a trial run, so we’re able to approach things from not just a neurological point of view but from the psychiatric point of view as well.
TVLINE | But in seeking out this consult, how forthcoming is Michael about what or who is “spooking” him?
Not at all. He’s very, very vague, but I think part of his respect for my character comes from me calling him on it. I keep telling him, “I know there’s something going on.” I think Michael is oddly attracted to someone who can read him, and he knows that I could be an asset to him. The great thing is they’re both “men’s men” – they’re very much into sports, being fit… there’s a lot of testosterone flowing. [Laughs] Michael’s not going to walk over E-Mo, and E-Mo isn’t going to walk over Michael. They’ll bump heads, but if they have an argument it’s only because they have very strong opinions about a subject, and at the end of the day they respect the other person’s stand, whether they agree with it or not.
TVLINE | I have to suspect you had an unwritten rule about not doing another doctor role on a regular basis. What about A Gifted Man made you decide to go for it?
Well, he’s a psychiatrist. It’s great that he gets to dabble in the physical medical world, but he approaches everything from a psychiatric point of view. The running joke is, “I do not want to be seen in scrubs.” [Laughs] This guy in his wonderful three-piece suits will once in a while, if there’s an emergency, roll up his sleeves, but 99 percent of the time its about him being a psychiatrist, and that was very attractive to me. It’s close enough [to ER] but far enough apart. You’re right, there was the unspoken rule, but again, every character is different. I’m not saying I would never play a doctor, but it’d have to be so vastly different from [Benton]. Most actors worth their salt don’t want to retread old ground.
TVLINE | Ever since ER‘s debut, we’ve seen TV serve up a lot of mentor/mentee relationships that try to evoke the Benton-Carter dynamic. During those early years, did you sense you and Noah Wyle were creating one of the gold standards?
No. No. Actors act, and we show up to do the best that we can with the material, and we were fortunate enough to have great material from some very talented writers and a very, very talented showrunner. Noah and I had amazing chemistry, but you don’t necessarily know whether you’re creating anything great; you just know that you feel good about what you’re doing and who you’re working with. Where it goes from there is really out of your control, and I think it’s wrong to show up thinking, “We’re going to create an iconic relationship that people will be mirroring years afterward.” We tried to be as honest as possible with our approach to the material, with each moment, and out of that hard work and blessing of talent and potential, people took to those characters. It then became what it became.