ABC’s new drama Combat Hospital is a fictional medical procedural set in Afghanistan in 2006. It chronicles the frantic lives of doctors and nurses from Canada, America and the U.K. in a makeshift hospital in Kandahar.
Elias Koteas (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) portrays as Colonel Marks, the head of the hospital, and Michelle Borth (Hawaii Five-0) plays Canadian surgeon Dr Rebecca Gordon.
The two paired up at an ABC press day to talk about their new series.
Give us a little sense of your characters and why you fell in love with them as actors?
Elias Koteas: He’s really smarter than I am, so I get a chance to say things that I would never utter. Being somebody having to step up and make life and death decisions, it’s written beautifully and the characters are complex, so all these elements to me were enough to jump in.
Michelle Borth: Going into the pilot season, I think I was looking for a strong intelligent confident character to play, who was also tragically flawed.
She’s a woman in a predominantly male environment and so her vulnerability is in her sensitivities have to be masked, because she wants to be seen as an equal and she also wants to gain the respect as such a young trauma surgeon and I’m really young to be a Major, so I have a lot to prove, I think.
She was dumped by her fiancé two weeks before she was deployed, and she thinks she’s pregnant, as she’s flying there. There are moments when she’s alone where you see her break, but when she’s with especially Colonel Marks, she’s tough with a chip on her shoulder and eager to please and have an opinion.
She’s a fantastic character, and I really wanted to sink my teeth into it. But she’s not just that, there’s a sensitive side to her that you will slowly see as the show unravels.
Have you had opportunities to meet real life counterparts?
Elias: There were a couple of guys from the Pentagon, and another guy from the army came in for the first week of production.
Michelle: I got to meet a trauma surgeon who was stationed at Kandahar from 2006 to 2009 and she was one of our first medical consultants and I would say, not that it’s based on her but if there was anyone this woman, she was just a badass.
She’s a military surgeon and so I was lucky to get to hang out with her for a little bit.
Why is this set in 2006 instead of today?
Elias: Because we wanted a time period that would convey a sense of urgency, when the world was still uncertain about our military presence, working out of makeshift hospitals without a lot of resources or technological advances.
How does this differ from M*A*S*H?
Michelle: It’s not M*A*S*H, but we do have funny moments. The content and the nature of it can be so heavy, so we are making a very big effort to find humor. Not so much make it comedic but find humor in real life moments.
My biggest thing is that people laugh at funerals, you can to find humor in everything, especially in such a close quarters environment, when things go wrong and relationships arise that are inappropriate. We find humor in it, and we’re purposely trying to do that so that it’s not just so heavy.
Is it intense too?
Michelle: Absolutely, it’s a super, fast-paced, high-stakes environment because we’re in a war zone, as opposed to medical procedures that take place in a hospital. Our lives are on the line every day when we’re doing this, so the drama is intense when we have possible air raids coming, it adds to a much more dramatic feel.
Do you ever get out of the hospital and go into the field?
Michelle: With my character, the only time I go outside of the compound is a woman’s clinic that they have, because women are not allowed to go to hospitals that are primarily male doctors, it’s against [their religion], so I volunteer at a woman’s clinic. It’s the one out that I have on the base.
Do you get off base, Elias?
Elias: No, not yet.
Michelle: Well, he runs it, this is his base and he’s got to be there.
Elias: My character rides his bike around the base.
Michelle: It’s a 185,000 square foot set, it’s the biggest set I’ve ever been on. The whole backlot has been designed to the actual, original Kandahar airbase looks like.
Elias: It’s phenomenal. It’s just outside of Toronto.
A few years ago a show like this might have been tough to get on the air, why do you think now is the time that we are able to hear these kinds of stories?
Michelle: It’s been a little out-of-sight, out-of-mind and I know that for my generation particularly who are more of a political state-of-mind than I think we’ve ever have been, so I want to know what’s going on, I think that that lends a big hand to maybe why people would watch it now.
How do you feel you’re representing these doctors?
Michelle: We focus on the difficult situation they are placed in and have to practice medicine to the best of their abilities. They are gifted and courageous people who can be calm in the midst of the storm around them.