Keeping up with Kirby: Christian Slater and Joshua Jackson on ‘Dr Death’

Actor Christian Slater on playing the medic who tracks down a killer neurosurgeon alongside Joshua Jackson in the new mini series, ‘Dr Death’

Whether as the young Franciscan novice Adso, playing Watson to Sean Connery’s Baskerville in The Name of the Rose (1986) or as strait-laced Riley to wildly grandstanding John Travolta in John Woo’s Broken Arrow 10 years later, Christian Slater always radiates positive energy in his roles.

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And that energy is evident as the 51-year-old actor talks of his latest role in Dr Death over a video call for The Hindu Weekend. The mini-series — based on a podcast that focusses on medical malpractice — released globally last month. All set to have its India premiere this week, it tells the harrowing true story of a neurosurgeon, Christopher Duntsch (Joshua Jackson), who maimed and killed his patients. Slater plays Dr Kirby who, alongside Dr Henderson (Alec Baldwin), brings down Duntsch.

Speaking of their time on set for the medical drama, Slater recalls a scene with Jackson when they were in the operating theatre. “When you are shooting these types of uncomfortable scenes, you tend to find humour. Both Josh and I are so inept as surgeons that I found those moments to be quite humorous,” says the actor, who will also star in Army of the Dead: Lost Vegas that is currently in production.

A still from the show | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Baldwin on set

Though Slater had plans to meet Kirby, Covid-19 made it impossible. For the surgical aspects, he says he spent time with his brother-in-law who is also a vascular surgeon like Kirby. Admitting to playing characters that possess energy and charisma, Slater says he and Kirby are similar in a few ways. “I enjoy life; I have a good time. I do have an energy that I think I need to taper a little bit. In order to play this character, I needed a certain amount of freedom, and I am grateful to Patrick [Macmanus, creator] for allowing me to be creative in the moment. That lent to the type of energy that came across,” he says.

Working with Alec Baldwin was a blast according to Slater. “I found him to be a hilarious human being. As an actor, he brings so much to each character he plays.”

Remembering ‘The Name of the Rose’

  • We cannot let Slater go without talking about the theological thriller set in 1327 in an abbey where the monks are dropping dead in a variety of inventive ways. “To get the opportunity to work on The Name of the Rose [released in 1986] with the brilliant Sean Connery and F Murray Abraham was something I cherish. I was 16-years-old when I was making that project and had no concept of how unique and wonderful that opportunity was. Today, I try to appreciate the moments that I’m in.”

Duntsch in the dark

While Slater had fun playing high-energy Kirby, Jackson, 43, had to go into some dark spaces as Duntsch. “For a large part of the show he does not know that he is the bad guy. He did not have the ability to see the effect of his actions,” says the actor, who rose to fame as Pacey Witter in Dawson’s Creek. The weight of the cognitive dissonance between what was so obvious to everyone else but Duntsch was quite a burden to bear for Jackson.

The show, with criss-crossing timelines and disturbing content, is a gripping one and credit for that goes to Macmanus, he says. “Patrick had the entire show, every image of it catalogued in his mind. He was an unbelievable resource,” he says.

Choosing his roles, meanwhile, comes from a feeling of discomfort while reading a script. “Something that feels challenging or off-putting or scary — those are the ones that I have the best experiences working on. It generally starts from a gut feeling of ‘I’m not sure I can do this but I really want to try’,” says Jackson, adding, “We are all the compilation of everything that has happened in our lives. I carry some of the battle scars and joyous memories from on and off camera. Not every moment has been a success, but every moment has been a lesson.”

Dr Death streams on Lionsgate Play from August 20

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