Jason O’Mara has a calming presence. Even talking with him over the phone made me feel less nervous about actually talking to him. Right now, we’re getting to see him hard at work as Dr. john Ellison on USA’s “Complications”.
Read our interview below. We talked about John, life, and all the complications of both.
Last night’s episode was absolutely spectacular first of all. That definitely had me sweating by the end of it. Worried what’s going to happen.
“It was intense, yeah? The last one was sort of intense and this one was just tense.”
Definitely. Has there been any one moment in filming that has had you stressing or sweating it out about as bad as John probably was during that scene?
“Whenever I have to do the medical stuff. I guess it’s sort of the scenes you least expect are going to be a problem. The scene where I go in and ask the guy if he talks to Spider, when Darius sends me in to get information and I have to use a drug to wake him up. Then I have to get him awake and talk to him while also being aware of other doctors seeing me and stuff like that. Those scenes really stress me out because there’s so much going on, including the medical stuff. Administrating drugs and filling up a needle and getting it into the IV line and everything. That’s the stuff that I find really hard. It’s not really the stuff where I’m like running around and being crazy.
The scene from last night’s episode with the interrogation was actually really, really enjoyable. Brent Sexton’s a terrific actor. I had this terrific scene where I just lie my ass off. That’s just fun to do because it’s just pure acting. Yeah, I find the medical business the hardest.”
You have a medical consultant on set, correct?
“Absolutely. We had a medical consultant called Sunshine Bartell who’s our tech advisor. She is just fantastic. She’s the one that basically tries to marry the real-life medical stuff with what we need to do to help the story and show. That’s a lot to do, you know? She helps a lot.
We shoot very fast so sometimes the prop that I’ll have to use might not be quite ready in time to practice a day in advance. Sometimes I only get the prop the day before, practice a bit, and then of course it’s all different when you’re on set with the prop and the other actor and the lines and the dialogue. It just makes it more difficult. I’m not complaining. It’s just that they’re the hard parts. The other stuff is fun. The action stuff I love. The heavy dialogue stuff where I come out to play. That’s just fun.”
Well, your performances – yours and the entire cast – are absolutely beyond reproach. I can’t wait to see more.
“I’m glad you’re a fan. That’s cool.”
What was that first day on set like?
“You mean on the pilot? Gosh. That was like a year-and-a-half ago. I think it was a year-and-a-half ago. What was the first day? I think we were on the hospital set. I think my first scene was John’s first scene in the hospital in the pilot. It couldn’t have been that good, because I think we re-shot that scene. It couldn’t have been the best day ever. You know what was tough? In the pilot script, there was much more of an emphasis put on John’s fatigue; that he was exhausted obviously from what had just happened with his family, but also from his job and just struggling with the hand he’s been dealt with.
We found that it played that he was depressed and pissed off, which isn’t the great introduction to a character in a series. We re-shot it and played that down a bit. Gave John a little more energy. I think that scene became the Bed Tetris scene with RonReaco Lee. He’s a great actor. He brings so much energy to the ER and as a doctor. It’s great to have him against John’s kind of beleaguered, fatigued self. It gives more of a contrast. Yeah, that was my first day. It seemed to go fine at the time, but I think looking back, we thought we could do better.”
So things definitely seemed to have evolved the longer filming went on?
“Yeah, they evolved. Sometimes you’re half-way through the first season and you go, “Oh wait a second. Now I get that scene that we were trying to get in the pilot.” It’s a very rare luxury because everything is ordered so tight and the budget’s so tight that you can’t just go and re-shoot whatever you want or add bits or take away bits. It’s a very, very delicate balance. We were fortunate in that regard that we were able to at the end of a normal shooting day of a normal episode, kind of go back and quickly grab what we needed to grab from another episode. We don’t re-shoot 99.9% of the time, but now and again we might want to if we feel like we can do better or we feel like we have to do better.”
Everything came out great. Everything we’ve seen so far. All the characters Matt Nix creates. He’s a creative genius in my opinion.
“Yeah, that was one of the reasons I wanted to do it. It wasn’t just the script and the character and the story, which was crazy and mental and unlike anything else I know of on television, but it was the fact that Matt was involved. I just wanted to work with him. I wanted to be in business with him. I was like, “Whatever you want to do, wherever you want to go, I’ll follow you.”
It was a bit of blind faith involved, but he’s such a good guy. He’s so talented. He’s also really convincing. He presents really intelligent, convincing arguments. Only someone of his intelligence could create such a web of deceit and dare I say it, complications. There’s so much going on. It just gets worse and worse for John and Gretchen. When every episode goes out, it’s like how is this going to resolve itself? I just think it’s a fun ride.”
It’s an absolute thrill ride so far. I don’t doubt that it’s going to be for the rest of the season.
“From here on out, you’re on the train and it doesn’t stop. You won’t be able to catch your breath from here on out. The last three episodes are my three favorite and the best of the season. I’m really excited about everyone seeing them.”
I don’t think I’ve caught my breath yet. So, if you could have portrayed any other character in the show, what character do you think would have been your choice? This isn’t to say the other actors aren’t doing an amazing job, of course.
“No, no. Of course not. That’s a good question. I think Holden’s a great character. I think he’s intriguing. I think he’s needy and there’s lots going on there. We’re going to see a lot more of him. I’ve played a lot of cops. I’m always attracted to that cop role. It’s a constant dilemma. I don’t think there really is another character I’d rather play. There’s so much meat on the bone. I think, not that I would play Gretchen because that would just be weird, but I think she’s a cool character. It’s quite grave. Jessica plays her beautifully and perfectly. I can’t imagine anyone else playing that role. She’s quite abrasive. It’s quite grave I think for a TV show to have such a strong female character.
As the series goes on, you start to feel a lot more sympathetic towards her and you start to understand what makes her tick. You get to know more of her back story and you realize why she’s so dedicated to trying to fix the world. We already know why John wants to, but we’re still not quite sure what makes Gretchen want to. You’re going to get a lot more of that towards the end of the season too. There’s much more balance between John and Gretchen, again, as we continue. That part’s really gratifying… I haven’t really answered your question. [Laughs].”
No, that’s all right. It was an absolutely great answer. What’s something that you hope the audience learns from your portrayal of John and what would you say is something that’s made you sit back and reflect on these experiences?
“What the audience will learn? I think it’s ultimately about making a difference. I think the whole series is about making a difference and trying to turn human pain, the sort of pain that we walk around with everyday as human beings, the pain of loss and grief, feeling that things will never be the same again, and just sort of trying to survive with that pain. Also, trying to channel it into something to give it meaning. To take the loss and give it some meaning. To make positive changes in the world. I don’t mean on a grand scale. I mean in your community, on the street, in your city.
I think part of John’s frustration is that he can’t really do anything about the problems that bring people into the ER. He can fix bones and he can stitch wounds, but he can’t get to the root of the problem unless he leaves the hospital. That’s kind of something he learns and goes and does.
Obviously, I’m not recommending anybody goes about trying to make decisions like Ellison does. He’s lying to the police and doing all kinds of shady things, drumming up blood money, and all kinds of stuff to fix the immediate problem which is obviously what causes all these complications in the first place.
His goal is to have a positive effect on his immediate world and to try to stop the violence and the pain and the trouble that’s going on around him. I think Gretchen’s similar. I suppose that’s what I want the audience to take away. That there is some sort of message of hope, not just for the individual, but for society generally.
I think for me, just again about trying to channel the pain into something positive, to try to focus it, and use that energy to have some sort of positive effect in the world. That’s a message that doesn’t get old for me.
I think playing John Ellison helped me remember that that’s possible. Sitting at home or going through your daily work life like a zombie because you feel like you can’t move or the pain of life can really hold you back in life. If you can somehow find a way to harness it and move on and help others, then I think it’s a way of trying to make sense of whatever it is that’s gone or lost.”
That was wonderfully deep. Thank you very much for the interview, Jason!
“Thank you Robert. Listen I really appreciate that you have an interest in this and I hope you really enjoy the last four episodes left.”
Yeah, I’m going to enjoy these next episodes and I can’t wait for the announcement of Season Two.
“Yeah, me too. We’re all waiting to hear. Fingers crossed.”