NBC’s hit summer drama The Night Shift started its third season on June 1st. The show follows the talented men and women- largely comprised of both active military and seasoned combat veterans- who work the night shift at San Antonio Memorial. We had the pleasure of talking to actors Robert Bailey, Jr., Brendan Fehr, Jill Flint, J.R. Lemon and Scott Wolf, along with executive producer Gabe Sachs at the recent ATX Festival and discussed the magnitude of their show, their characters’ growth and what happens in some of the lighter moments on set.
I heard you went to San Antonio. Did that happen?
Jill Flint: “It did happen- the last time we were here.”
Gabe Sachs: “We did go to San Antonio. I went to San Antonio for scouting because this year we’re opening up the show more. You will see San Antonio in the show. It’s kind of weird having a show in San Antonio when you rarely see it. (laughs). But now you see it a lot- you see it in the background, we use visual effects and we’re very excited about that. When we went, it was great because we shot an episode and it was fun to see. You never get to see an audience- you don’t get that immediate response which we love- so that was really fun.”
Jill, this question is going to you. Why do you think Jordan said no to T.C.’s proposal?
Jill: “(laughs) oh, I’ll tell you why! Let me take you back a little bit to season one. You meet Jordan and TC post-breakup. As you follow the story through you realize when he came home, he struggled a lot with PTSD which caused gambling, drinking, fighting, anger, rage- a nice, fun combination of things. Jordan stood by his side through all of that to the point that she just couldn’t do it anymore.
Fast forward into season two and you see TC struggling and trying really hard to be the man that he thinks Jordan needs him to be. If you’re following through the season, you see in episode six or seven that Jordan gets a stalker. The first clue you would find there is that there’s something fundamentally wrong in a relationship when you can’t tell your boyfriend that you have a stalker and that your life is potentially in danger because you’re afraid of how he is going to react.
He did a lot of work on himself trying to really move forward from Afghanistan, then Jordan gets pregnant- he’s about to be a father. It ends very tragically, but the first opportunity he gets, he goes back into a war zone, potentially unraveling all the work that he’s done.
For her, she gives him an ultimatum and says there’s a choice that he can make. He can go back into the war zone or stay here with her, be safe and raise the kid. He chose the war zone. I think she felt that he didn’t really want to marry her. He just wanted to do the right thing. He’s ultimately a good, noble man, but it wasn’t the right time. It’s sad, and it’s heartbreaking, and she’s heartbroken. I think she’s always going to love him, but it’s just not the right time.”
Gabe: “We did three endings- so we did not tell them which one we would go with, which makes it even harder for an actor.”
Jill: “It was a very emotional scene, and there’s three different ways it could go. Okay, this time, we want you to say yes, but the next take, we want you to say no. What?! (laughs)”
Brendan Fehr: “But it makes you explore everything. Then you come up with legitimate reasons why you would say yes. It’s great.”
Jill: “There is a universe where she did say yes and how that could be absolutely justified in the universe and the world that they could have lived in.”
Brendan: “It forces you to come up with different storylines and backstories as an actor, and different reasons why you do things. It makes it fun and interesting.”
Brendan, I’ll come to you. Drew got deployed, and we’ve seen quite a different side of him overseas. He’s been a little more assertive. This Drew that’s coming back to San Antonio- is this the same Drew or a different Drew?
Brendan: “It’s definitely a different Drew. When we first started, TC was the guy that Drew looked up to. We had heard stories about him, and I think in a way TC was his mentor. It was because he would break the rules and do those things because they were the right things to do. I think over the course of the first couple of seasons, he sees TC do that, but then TC always goes a little bit further. I think there came a point when Drew was like, ‘that’s not necessarily the route I want to go.’ He was forced to find his own way.
I think that rebelliousness- TC is doing it for different reasons- Drew will rebel against authority and break those rules because it’s the right thing to do. He’ll face the consequences if need be. Based on what he’s gone through, how he grew up and the things he’s had to deal with, there’s a true sense of justice that he’s always seeking that he didn’t feel that he got- especially being gay and in the military.
I think now that that’s taken care of- not that that’s still not going to affect his life- now he’s freed up to really go after who he is and who he wants to be. Part of that is that he needs justice. In a world that is unfair, he wants to make it as fair as possible and be an advocate for that. I think just like he’s willing to sacrifice his life by serving, he’s willing to face the consequences of disobeying and not shunning authority, but not paying attention when he feels there’s a greater good.”
What about Drew and Rick? Are they going to be okay this season?
Brendan: “(laughs) We’re already married- we don’t get to see Rick as much as we want to just because of scheduling conflicts with Luke (Macfarlane), but we try to include him as much as we can. You want him to be part of it, but you don’t want to always be saying ‘Rick, Rick, Rick,’ just for the sake of it because then it becomes frustrating for the audience. We wanted to wait until we could tell the story with him- which ended up being closer to the end of the season, unfortunately. You get to see them together and I think it ends up being a great story between the two of them towards the end and the direction they go.
This season for Drew is all about family. I think from the very beginning- I’m dealing with a little girl and her baby, I get into a family dynamic of sorts with Syd and her daughter coming back, and then around episode eight I go out in the field and get confronted with an issue. I deal with my father in episode three a little bit, and then I run up a case with a stepmother and her daughter- which kind of changes the course.
For Drew, the whole theme is family this year, and he gets to figure out what he wants and take stock of what he has. He takes stock of his past, what he had growing up and what being gay cost him. He wants to figure out how to move on from that and change that course and turn the clouds into sunshine as best as he can.”
What does it mean to you to be on a show that makes statements about both the military and the medical profession? What does it mean to you to be on a show of that magnitude?
Scott Wolf: “The fact that both worlds get treated with so much respect and honesty by our writers and producers is something that I know we’re all super proud of. We all recognize that we’re representing worlds that people out there actually live in. The work that they do- whether they’re soldiers or medical professionals- it’s life or death work. It’s remarkable, integral work. We want to portray it as honestly as possible, and we do.
There’s both military and doctors on the writing staff, so every story we tell- whether it’s a veteran story, military story or a combination- it’s drawn from real personal experience and expertise. As it moves down through the process, all of our art departments, props, and all the crew down to the cast, everybody takes it as seriously as you possibly could. When we’re stepping in to do a surgery, everything that we’re doing and saying is something we’ve researched. It’s something we’re being guided through by doctors and emergency room techs so that anybody doing that work- if they tuned into the show- would actually have a really good chance of it feeling authentic.”
Jill: “You also get the sense when reading these scripts that these characters are loved by the people writing it. You could say that about any show that obviously everyone is super invested in telling the best stories as best as they can, but you do feel that. You feel like each and every one of these characters are individually loved.”
J.R. Lemon: “Another responsibility I think that is not spoken about that much is the diversity of our cast. You have the medical aspect and the military aspect, but you also have this responsibility that people embrace- which is, what is it really like? What are the real issues that happen between a family that is so diverse?
I feel like we embrace that as opposed to superficially having a show that says, ‘we have this guy, this guy, and this guy- this looks great!’ Are we unafraid of telling the stories of what that really looks like for people that look like them? I don’t know how many episodes you’ve seen, but there’s a riot episode that we have that really speaks to what’s deeper than what these two guys (gestures to Robert Bailey, Jr.) look like. How can they be different, also? What are their differences and perspectives? I think that’s something beautiful that we embrace.”
Scott: “It’s a medical drama, but it’s also a family drama. It’s not just a Mom and Dad and a bunch of kids. It’s a family of professional people, and each relationship between any two characters is its own thing. It’s unique, but they’re all part of one, big family.”
Jill: “That speaks to the cast, too, and how we are with each other. We’re all very different people from different walks of life with different backgrounds. We’ll get into it with each other with debate and conversation, but we know there’s love. The writers and producers- Gabe and Jeff- are not afraid to take all that they hear amongst us in our conversations and figure out where they can put it in. It’s the truth- who they are as people- and they put it in front of the camera.”
Brendan: “I think because as a cast we do get to at the end of our personal arguments say ‘you’re still an idiot, but give me a hug,’ because we have that relationship, Gabe and Jeff see that, so they get to say ‘we can do something a little more controversial,’ and trust that we’re going to be cool with talking about it. I think that frees them up to write more interesting stories for us because they know that we’ll be able to handle it as professionals and respect differences and be agreeable if we happen to disagree.”
Scott: “The car accident story at the end of last season- one of the things that that highlighted in a very cool way is that yes, it’s easy to talk about the negative aspects that it had- a kid was paralyzed, and it was devastating for Scott to have hurt a kid that way. It highlighted my character who in the beginning when he showed up was a bit of an outsider, and represented a threat to TC who was primary to this world. Over time, those walls started to break down and there was less space between Scott and the rest of the group. But when the accident happened, there was this beautiful moment where this family gathered around him. It’s almost like that thing where it’s like, ‘I’m gonna beat the shit out of my little brother until someone else does, and then I’m gonna beat the shit out of them.’ It was this really great display of what camaraderie is and love is that is shared in this space. When they embrace him in that way- I don’t think he’s a guy who has ever been part of something like that.”
On that note, with you guys being so close and such a good squad, I’m sure there have been some lighter moments that we haven’t seen. Can you share some of your best bloopers or funny moments on set?
Gabe: “(laughs) You’ve got to remember that with these medical terms, sometimes they’re taking it so seriously and they’re so in character that they realize what they said about five seconds later and it makes no sense whatsoever.
But there’s stuff that happens that is completely ridiculous that you don’t have any control over. One of those is special effects. There was a time when in our heads we’re going, ‘this will be really funny- how cool will this be?” A guy spits blood at them, but then you have to control how much blood. It was like someone took a bucket, and they were still staying in character and doing their lines!”
Scott: “The guy was just supposed to cough a little bit of blood on us-”
Brendan: “It was me and Scott.”
Scott: “We asked the special effects guys, ‘what is it going to do?’ And they showed us a test. It was just a little bit of blood.”
Brendan: “It was funny because me and Scott were talking about it before going over the scene in our heads and Scott is like, ‘it’s not going to be that much,’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t think it’s going to be that much either. It can’t be.’ Just on a whim I ask our medical consultant what a doctor would do if he got blood in his eye. Do you bail on the thing? What do you do? She said you’d continue to do this and this, and then you’d go get tested. That was kind of a worst-case, never going to happen scenario, but I asked it out of curiosity.”
Scott: “The special effects guy showed us their test, and it was the most benign little test. Did blood even come out of it? Cut to us in the scene and they’ve got the hose hooked up, and it was like a firehose.”
Brendan: “It was Carrie! (laughs).”
Gabe: “And they’re still staying in character!”
Brendan: “Scott looks out of one eye and goes, ‘just take her down there and go!’ And just takes off down the hallway.”
Scott: “The whole crew was just dying.”
Brendan: “It was unusable, but it was hilarious!”
ATX is a TV festival for the fans, created by the fans. What does being a TV fan mean to you?
Robert Bailey, Jr.: “I would say that for me, as with most of the arts, when you listen to music or you watch a TV show, there’s a level of connection and relation and feeling like you’re not alone. When you connect to these characters, you feel like there’s somebody like me or somebody who is going through what I’ve gone through, so it brings people closer together even when you’re at great distances. It’s crazy to see our show in America and internationally- people responding a certain way to TC and Jordan breaking up, and Scott with the car accident, or Paul getting his hand burned and their engagement. The relationship that we all share is shown through being a TV fan. There’s a certain connection that I’ve found to be a part of it.”
Scott: “I think because people watch shows in their own personal space- on their couch, or their bedroom whenever they watch the show- they’re not going to some movie house. You’re sitting in your own space, so there’s a personal connection.”
Brendan: “We get invited into their living rooms.”
Scott: “They feel like they’re part of the family, and that’s the design.”
J.R.: “I think you see yourself on the screen. You see someone struggling with something that you may be struggling with, and you see them trying to overcome it. That’s what makes it so compelling to watch because you see you. You see the best version of you trying to do this thing.”
Jill: “As a fan, I have a few shows that I’m a loyal fan of. You may have an offseason, but I will stick with you to the bitter end. I’m invested in your character, I know your whole backstory, I have ideas of where you’re going, because I am that nerd that just sits there in my home binge watching for hours with tunnel vision.”
Scott: “That level of commitment- that commitment to a world with characters and a story- it’s intense, and it’s unique. And you could spend years with that group of people.”
J.R.: “That’s what is so great about it is that you get so much more than just a movie. You get years, episode after episode after episode.”
Brendan: “I think as the people telling those stories- we understand that. I think the point of telling these stories sometimes is that so people can watch and be entertained and escape from their problems, and sometimes in a way move those people and to come along side them in their problems. It’s not necessarily to give them a happy ending, but to say there are other people out there struggling through that. It’s not that you solve it, but they feel like they have someone to walk beside them and see the different ways it can resolve itself or how it turns out.”
Robert: “What’s really great about our particular case is that we have an amazing, committed group of fans that we chat with on social media. We’re constantly living through these stories together. It creates this sense of community so everybody is talking about these moments and what we’re feeling and what we’re going through as it’s happening. It’s its own special thing where even though you’re watching at home, you’re still part of this larger thing.”
Scott: “Because it’s a story that’s told over such a sustained period of time, you’re connected to the story and the characters. It’s different from a movie or a play in that it’s almost like you’re living alongside them and they’re part of your lives.
I know when I jumped onto this show, I binged Breaking Bad because we were shooting on the same stage with the same crew, and for the first time, I geeked out. (laughs). I went on a tour of Albuquerque to see all the locations because I was so immersed in that story that I just felt part of it and wanted to see the places. I’ve never done that with a movie or any other thing. I feel like being a TV fan means a level of commitment that makes it part of your life.”
This is your third season, and you’re produced by Sony, but NBC this year debuted Chicago Med. With that being on the air as well, has NBC come to you at all asking to change things around to make it more different?
Gabe: “Not once. Really, not once. They’ve been great. They get our show. They know it’s a different show and that we emphasize military and it’s a way different pace. They understand it, and they’ve been supportive of that. We’ve been able this year to tell the stories we want to tell- which is amazing. They’re supporting and they get it, and the changes have been very minor. That’s why we’re very excited about the new look of the show because we’re actually telling the stories that we want to tell.”
Who do you think has had the biggest character growth since the first season?
Robert: “I’m gonna say Paul. He started from the bottom. He was the very socially awkward intern on the show, and now he’s a surgeon this year. Scott is mentoring him and he’s constantly being told that he’s a gifted surgeon. But it’s kind of the situation where you’re growing up as a kid and you’re waiting to be an adult, and then all of a sudden you’re a certain age and you’re like, ‘am I an adult now?’ He’s this gifted surgeon, apparently, but he’s still coming to terms with all the responsibilities that he has. He’s still terribly socially awkward. (laughs).”
Brendan: “Yours has been the most obvious, but I think every character has. For Jordan to be able to grow and say no to TC is a huge one. Scott with the kid and the accident and how to get over that. Kenny investing his life savings. I think everyone has grown in a way. That’s the great thing. If you look back, we all have our own backstories so we’ve all grown more than what’s seen on-screen, we can all look at that from the first episode to where we are now. We’ve all gone on this journey where nobody is even close to the same space that they were in. It’s great for us as actors and is a testament to the writers. It’s moving forward, and there’s progress and evolution. It’s not stagnant, and that’s what makes it really exciting and fun.”
Where do you want to see your characters go, then?
Robert: “I would say that I know you guys haven’t seen the rest of the season, but for the most part I think we’re always really happy with the arcs that our characters are on.”
Jill: “I’m very comfortable with the journey that they are putting us on.”
Robert: “To see where we are at the end of the season- you start and say, ‘oh, this is what we’re doing,’ then you get to where you’re going and there’s a whole ride. You just say ‘oh, wow!’”
Jill: “None of us are bored. (laughs).”
Robert: “We all have really cool stuff coming up this year and big life decisions that we have to make. It’s always fascinating to see where we’re at as people. It’s always intertwined with who we are.”
Scott: “I would answer that where we would want to go would be way less interesting than where they’ll take us.”
Brendan: “I think the fun part there is that sometimes we get knocked back. I think that’s to give us another obstacle to overcome. Sometimes the fun part for the characters is getting knocked back or knocked down before you get to go forward- which are fun stories to tell, as well. It’s always moving forward, but not necessarily at an insane pace. It’s kind of two steps forward, one step back, and that can happen over half a season or a whole season, but we trust them. I have more fun just waiting to find out where they take me.”
Scott: “Part of the fun is that we’re learning the story bit by bit along with our audience. Every new script that shows up reveals where our characters step next.”