There is much to appreciate about TNT’s Monday Mornings, but perhaps its best part is that it brings a very welcome face back to television. Jamie Bamber stars in the new medical drama as confident neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Wilson, and anyone who’s taken full advantage of their remote over the last decade knows that the British actor is very, very good at his craft.
Monday Mornings has an impressive ensemble cast, including Alfred Molina and Ving Rhames, but it’s the Wilson character who is positioned as the leading man, and it’s not hard to see why. Bamber is an actor that you build a series around. Yes, he’s ridiculously good-looking and undeniably charismatic. But more importantly, he does two things remarkably well. The first is that he is able to create and maintain a rapport with the audience; here’s somebody you can’t help but care about, no matter what role he’s playing.
The second is that he gets the most out of every scene. Watch him work for any period of time and you’ll see that even the smallest gestures or the briefest beats – the things that would seem inconsequential for most other actors – have significance somehow. This is a man who is really devoted to his craft. That’s the kind of person you want topping your call sheet.
And at this present moment, he’s content exactly where he is. “I really enjoy going to work,” says Bamber when we meet for a late-afternoon chat to discuss Monday Mornings. He’s charming and self-deprecating, everything you think he is from watching him on television, only moreso. If he’s ruffled by being the star of a highly anticipated TV series, it’s impossible to tell.
When he went up for the part of Wilson, it was without having read the novel that the series is based on. “In terms of auditioning for the role, I didn’t have the book, I just had the script,” he said of what drew him to the character. “It was just a response to that material, and seeing this contradiction of someone who’s had a terrible tragedy [happen] to a sibling, who’s tried to put it right in this slightly dysfunctional way by becoming the surgeon that never makes a mistake, and then [his] making a mistake. That was the attraction.”
Asked how actually playing the part compares to what he might have envisioned when he signed on for the job, he explains, “It’s better. It’s better because the ingredient you don’t know when you read a script is the other cast. You don’t know what that’s going to be, and then you meet them and you realize that these are people I actually want to spend time with and I admire their work, truly talented people.”
That extends to the creative team behind the scenes as well. “I’d never worked with Bill D’Elia, the director and also showrunner, before and he creates family,” Bamber continues. “He has this team around him that he’s worked on many shows with before that works, functions, he enjoys being with. Even when he’s not directing an episode he comes down on set just to hang out. And there’s a vibe that we all want to be together.”
Playing Wilson tests the actor’s versatility, requiring him to play much more than the stock hotshot surgeon at the center of the story. In the pilot episode, Wilson – who is described in terms like “confident” and “arrogant” – does make that aforementioned mistake. The scenes that follow are heavy material, the television equivalent of being punched in the stomach. How does Bamber handle moments that are that tough?
“I bring the feeling beforehand, I think,” he says. “It’s with me all day until I get to the necessary scene, because I know that I have got to have that experience as real in my mind to play the scene. I’m not the kind of actor that can go completely cold into an emotional scene. I have to transport myself emotionally by whatever means possible, and that basically means you carry the situation with you all week, all episode or all day beforehand.”
Characters who face the most difficult things on a daily basis aren’t new territory for the actor. He’s done plenty of heavy lifting over his career, from his early roles as Archie Kennedy in the Hornblower series and HBO’s acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers, to his breakout role as Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and more recently as Detective-Sergeant Matt Devlin in the first five series of ITV’s Law & Order: UK.
As he was on Battlestar, Bamber was a fan favorite on LOUK. His final two episodes are nothing short of gut-wrenching, above and beyond what you’d expect from a police procedural, ending in his character’s heroic death. It’s the general consensus that the show is firmly divided into Bamber and post-Bamber periods, and hasn’t been the same since.
“The thing about Law & Order: UK, which I loved doing and I loved [his co-star] Bradley [Walsh],” he says, reflecting on Devlin’s demise, “I was very pleased to have it done in a good way and I was very satisfied with it. I am very proud of the show.”
Bamber has a lot to be proud of. While American audiences likely know him best from Battlestar, that’s only one role on the resume. To think of him solely as Lee Adama is to see only one aspect of what he’s capable of. Watch him in the BBC’s Outcasts, where he’s only there for an episode but travels a complete character arc by the end of it. He played a true villain in the second season of Dollhouse, and yet even then was impossible to hate, because he had somehow humanized a character who smashed the lead character’s head into a desk. Ordinary actors can’t do that.
Ordinary actors can’t create Matt Devlin, who could’ve been a walking cop-show stereotype but instead became one of that genre’s most memorable characters. And it’s happening again with Wilson, who could easily be another handsome playboy doctor, yet even by the end of the pilot, is so very clearly not that guy – but he is someone you want to trust with your life.
This is not to overlook Bamber himself, who is as humble and approachable as they come. As our conversation continues, I can’t help but smile. I’ve wanted to meet him for years, and he’s everything I hoped he’d be. He’s a real leading man, not just in the sense of being able to carry a TV series but also because he’s a true gentleman off-screen as well.
Television seems to be the medium where you’re most likely to find him; Monday Mornings is his third series-regular role in the last nine years, not counting recurring guest spots on Body of Proof and TNT’s own Perception. That isn’t by design, but he’s not complaining.
“It’s definitely how it’s worked out,” says the actor, who’d like to do more film work, as well as try his hand at writing, producing or directing someday. “But I do think TV is going through an extraordinary era. I’ve gotten more joy from watching TV in recent years than film. There’s something extremely rewarding about following characters that you like and knowing that there’s as many hours of viewing as you have the appetite for. You can tell more complex stories, you can create more complex characters in the longer form.”
Now Bamber is about to create another memorable character, and he’s excited at the prospect. “I couldn’t be happier with where I am,” he says. And we couldn’t be happier to have him back.
Monday Mornings premieres tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on TNT – but you can read BFTV’s early review of the series now and check out our visit to the set. Stay tuned for our recap of the pilot immediately afterward.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick. Appears at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.