This is the phrase most often spoken by New Amsterdam‘s lead character, Dr. Max Goodwin, played by Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist) as he tries to revolutionize the American health care system through one small act of goodness at a time. It’s a simple question, but a loaded one, full of potential and earnest, and only subtly indicative of the toll selflessness sometimes takes on a person. For Max, it means putting the needs of an entire hospital above his personal life and his health as he contends with a frightening cancer diagnosis.
The TV Junkies had the opportunity to speak with Eggold about his character’s selflessness in the face of growing adversity. He talks about working with the real-life doctor behind the series, Max’s drive to help people, and portraying a character that internalizes so much.
The TV Junkies: First of all, congratulations on the full season pick-up. How does it feel?
Ryan Eggold: It feels good. It’s cool because, you know, with any first season of a show you’re finding the show and what works and what doesn’t and who the characters are. I mean, I’m still finding Max. To start to tap into something and find it is great. I’m just so excited to keep developing it and let it stand up on its own two feet, you know.
TTVJ: Have you had the chance to see any audience reactions to the series?
RE: Yeah, it’s really cool when people come up and say something about New Amsterdam just because the show is so new. It’s just cool that people are seeing it and taking notice of it already. It means a lot. It’s a show that we’re all working hard on and we’re excited about the potential of the conversation that the show can have and be a part of. And at the end of the day it’s based on real life, a real guy, so when real people have something to say, that’s the best part.
TTVJ: As you mentioned, your character is based on Dr. Eric Manheimer. How much were you able to collaborate with him on how Max is portrayed on screen?
RE: Eric is invaluable to us. He’s an amazing guy. He is on set from time to time and he’s a producer on the show as well. He’s always giving the writers ideas in terms of things that he went through, experiences he had, thoughts he had, all these things that come from his experiences with different patients from around the world. He’s also just very thoughtful and articulate about healthcare in the U.S. On the smaller level he was trying to figure out how they could do it better at Bellevue, this incredibly huge public hospital, which is a metaphor for the larger health care system.
TTVJ: Max has a lot on his plate: pregnant wife, really demanding new job, and on top of that the cancer, and he internalizes a lot of it. How do you approach playing a character like that?
RE: Luckily, that’s something I can relate to. First, I have Eric, as you mentioned, to meet and talk to. His energy and his enthusiasm is so present, which really informs the character in terms of pace and sort of general attitude and things like that. In terms of everything he’s dealing with, [he’s] trying to juggle directing and guiding this hospital, these doctors and different patients with his struggling relationship with his wife, which he’s trying to repair. And, as you mentioned, having a baby on the way. Now this formidable, intimidating disease to contend with. It’s a lot, you know. The writers and I sometimes talk about what is he hiding from in terms of always worrying about somebody else. [He’s] always thinking about somebody else and looking outward and asking, “how can I help,” which is great obviously, but there’s something to the character that’s afraid. He’s afraid to sit still with himself. And now with this cancer, that’s a pretty big, scary thing.
TTVJ: That internalization struck me most in an early episode where he had that moment with his wife where he wanted to be honest with her, but he knew how precarious her situation was with the baby, and she settled for asking Max to tell her one true thing. How do you contend with being able to show that emotion from a guy who’s really keeping it close to the chest?
RE: When the writing is good and you’re working with somebody that you like, somebody like Lisa O’Hare, who’s playing Georgia, who’s so wonderful and present, you just try to live it for the moment, which I guess is always your job as an actor. The stakes of that speak for themselves and it’s not hard to imagine the weight of having to tell your wife that, especially when she’s pregnant and struggling with so much on herself. It’s the gift of good writing and a good cast to work with.
TTVJ: You talked about his line ‘how can I help?’, and hearing that line as an audience member is pretty cathartic at a time when apathy feels like it’s at an all time high.
RE: We talk about apathy too and I think everybody is kind of rebounding from that now and wrestling with both wanting to get involved and ‘what can I do’ and ‘can I make a difference’ or do I just sort of give in to the apathy? But I think that this show is very optimistic and saying that the individual can make a difference in whatever field it is and we can all be thoughtful about whatever it is we’re doing.
TTVJ: What do you think drives Max’s need to help people?
RE: That’s something that we’re going to answer, I think, later in the season. Part of it is not that complicated in the sense that he’s an empathetic person, he has a big heart and he is capable of helping people. Eric spent his whole life in medicine and encountered just so many different kinds of people of different age, different ethnicity, different gender, everything. And I think coming in contact with that much humanity, especially when people are in pain or seeking help from you, I think that probably quadrupled the size of an already big heart, you know. So I think it’s a lot to do with that.
TTVJ: What can you preview about what’s to come for Max in New Amsterdam?
RE: Well, you mentioned the scene where Max struggles to tell his wife that he’s got this disease: that is coming very quickly. Their relationship really goes through a lot of change in the coming episodes. And Max sort of has this huge thing that he has to admit and deal with. At least speaking from Max, that’s where we’re headed. But everybody has an amazing arc coming up.
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New Amsterdam airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC and Global.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.