Off the Map - Martin Henderson
The legendary and enigmatic Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson) , who was the youngest Chief of Surgery at UCLA but who walked away from it all to found the clinic © 2011 ABC

From Executive Producers Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers [Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice], and creator Jenna Bans (Grey’s Anatomy), comes a new concept in medical dramas, Off the Map, which explores a team of doctors working in a clinic in a tiny town in the South American jungle.

Run by Ben Keaton, portrayed by New Zealand actor Martin Henderson [The Ring, Flyboys, Windtalkers], he must teach the new doctors how to save lives in the most challenging and treacherous environment they’ve ever encountered.

Can you tell us a little abut your character?

Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson) behind the scenes shot © 2011 ABC

Yeah. His name’s Ben Keaton and he founded this clinic with his wife and his wife is no longer in the picture. She is and she isn’t [he gives a sly grin]. He’s been there for about six years and it was their dream to provide health care to people who are unfortunate and didn’t have access to it. It was a dream they both had. She has money so they were able to start the project, but in order to keep it going we have to rely on some somewhat morally ambiguous means.

Added into that challenge is retaining doctors that are capable of working in that environment. A lot of doctors aren’t willing to work in a very unconventional way. Part of Ben’s challenge is to just keep doctors there because they keep disappearing. They’re like ‘Help! This is too hard’. Some of the best candidates are those with checkered pasts, because they’re looking for something to prove.

The show is about that; about who really has the guts and perseverance to stick it out. It’s usually the people who really need to prove something to themselves or someone else. They all have this flawed, mysterious background that the show investigates.

So the major challenge is just trying to do medicine in this third world environment?

Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson), Ryan Clark (Rachelle Lefevre) and Eddie Kaulukukui guest stars © 2011 ABC

They are all in situations where life throws you curve balls and the answer isn’t that clear at the beginning. The goal of the characters is to provide health care and the means with which to achieve that sometimes require you to choose the path that may be questionable…both in and out of bed.

How are relationships in the jungle different from the doctor relationships in a US city?

At their heart, they are probably the same. Human beings, no matter where they are, those drives are born of the same instincts; needing companionship or physical comfort or emotional connection. The core of the characters in that  regard are universal. Everyone will relate to that.

In this situation, they’re a little more vulnerable and confused so I think it’s in times like that that we make emotional decisions that we wouldn’t necessarily make if we were in our typical environment. Then the characters have to pay the consequences. If there is a [hook-up] what is motivating that? Is it loneliness, is it convenience or need? It might be more convenient to choose a lover that’s within ten miles. But that person might still be a good match.

Who is in line for a romance with you on the show?

1.05 - The legendary and enigmatic Ben Keeton (Martin Henderson) © 2011 ABC, Photo by Mario Perez

I have a bit of a romance with Dr Ryan Clark, the character Rachelle [Lefevre] plays, and there are other intrigues going on but my relationship with Ryan is complicated enough.

How as a cast are you getting along?

To have a group of people that do get along so well is very unique. It is a very fortuitous mix, because I think it does translate on the screen, as you will see as the relationships develop and characters become more involved.

Do you get to do any action, any Indiana Jones type adventuring?

There’s tons. There’s the zip lining, we have mudslides, underwater scuba operations.

Did you actually do that?

Oh yeah, sure. There’s a lot of stuff on the ocean, cliff jumping. We have an anaconda in one episode, a giant one. It grabs a couple of people. Also, we’ve got the infectious diseases and trying to diagnose things that you don’t have the equipment to make a snap diagnosis. There’s a lot of trial and error.

Why did you choose to do TV, and TV with a big ensemble of characters?

Martin Henderson at the 2011 Winter Press Tour at The Langham in Pasadena, California © 2011 ABC

I did a lot of TV growing up in New Zealand then Australia then when I came to the States, it was very clear that I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be locked down to one place, one spot. I wanted to travel and do different roles in different genres and I did that for about ten years.

I’d be in a hotel room with room service in a foreign city trying to talk to my family in a different time zone, without my dog, and I thought, ‘Is this the life I want for the next ten or twenty years?’ No, I’d like to find a show that I like that I could commit to. I have to know I wouldn’t get bored and would have fun with it.

I sat down with Shondra and she pitched me this idea and I thought it would keep me occupied and happy and the fact that we’re shooting in Hawaii was great. A lot of wonderful things came together.

So is your dog with you in Hawaii?

Oh yeah. That’s very important.

What kind of dog is he?

He’s a mix of a German Shepard and a Golden Retriever. His name

is Sammy and he’s wonderful. He was named after my first cat actually.

You take your shirt off a lot in the show. I’m not complaining, but is that in your contract?

[he laughs]. It’s not. In fact, I’ve managed to convince them I don’t think it’s necessary and sometimes feels a little gratuitous. If I’m swimming in a waterfall, that’s fine. If I’m covered in blood and I need to change my shirt, fine.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane