Ryan Eggold

The Blacklist and BlacKkKlansman star Ryan Eggold talks to TV Drama about taking a 180-degree turn to step into the role of Dr. Max Goodwin in the medical drama New Amsterdam.

After playing Tom Keen, the spy unafraid to deceive or take lives in The Blacklist, and Walter Breachway, the rabid racist and member of the KKK in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, Ryan Eggold took a 180-degree turn to step into the role of Dr. Max Goodwin in the medical drama New Amsterdam. Goodwin is the newly hired director of the oldest public hospital in the U.S. He is brazenly battling bureaucracy to put patients first when he learns he has cancer. As a saver of lives who is fighting for his own, Eggold gives a performance spanning from the assertive can-do attitude of a leader to the fear of a stricken man hiding his vulnerability.

***Image***WS: A nurse I know told me that out of any show she’s seen, New Amsterdam offers the most accurate portrayal of the workings of a hospital. Is that important, and how does the show accomplish that?
EGGOLD: It is important, and the most wonderful compliment always is that compliment from a nurse or a doctor who says, Yes, that’s what [working in a hospital] looks like, that’s what it feels like. The accuracy comes from Eric Manheimer’s book, Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital, about his experiences running Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. He is providing a lot of that authenticity and a lot of true stories. And [showrunner] David Schulner and the writers do an amazing job of then dramatizing that and making that story work and have emotional arcs. We also have doctors and nurses on set who help keep us honest, who say, No, that’s a little phony, it wouldn’t happen that way—it would happen like this. For me, not having gone to medical school, not being a doctor, I imagine being in a situation where someone is flatlining and the cardiac monitor is beeping—my blood pressure would go through the roof! But as a good doctor, you are assessing the situation and what needs to be done, and you are working. You are thinking about what needs to happen and it’s not as emotional. It’s not as crazy as it would be for a layman or someone like me. So the real doctors and nurses on set are always a good reminder to think, Oh yeah, this is work; I’m trained to do this and now there is an emergency happening, so let me solve it. It’s interesting.

WS: What was it like shifting gears from being Tom Keen on The Blacklist to being Dr. Max Goodwin? How did you enter the role?
EGGOLD: When I finished The Blacklist, I was really lucky to go right into Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, which is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, and I’m so grateful for it. It was an incredible true story about a guy, Ron Stallworth, who infiltrated the KKK—and Ron is an amazing guy. I had wanted to do true stories. I watch a lot of documentaries, and I’m fascinated by real life and real people. Working on that was amazing, and it further whetted my appetite to participate in stories that reflected real life and real people because then it feels there is a reason to tell this story. Again, it’s not that a television show is going to save the world, but if you can be a voice for the people who are effecting change in the world, that’s exciting.

WS: I find that at times characters you get attached to can illustrate an issue far better than a news report can, because you are emotionally invested.
EGGOLD: You have an emotional connection—exactly right! Health care, particularly in the U.S., is a touchy subject and is divisive, like so many other issues. If you can experience people’s humanity in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t, which is what you get with a good drama, then you might think about it differently. Whereas you might write someone off [in real life], when you can experience it through a show, you can perhaps think differently about the conversation, and that’s exciting.

WS: The other thing I love about New Amsterdam is that there are often characters with divergent opinions, but they can reach common ground.
EGGOLD: Yes, I love that, too. I get excited when the writers represent multiple points of view on a subject—this person agrees, this person disagrees. Especially when the U.S. and so much of the world are so polarized, reaching common ground, finding out what we can accomplish together and how we can get there, is such a refreshing change.

WS: There are many emotional moments in the show. It starts with the writing, but do these moments provide fertile ground for you as an actor?
EGGOLD: Oh yeah, [the writers] do such a great job and it makes my job easier. If you have a bad script or a bad director, you have to work overtime to try to make it work. But if you have a great script and great directors, you don’t have to work as hard because the truth is there for you to be a part of. You don’t have to manufacture it; you just try to get out of the way and let the writing be what it is, and let the director do his or her thing. If it rings true to you, it feels honest; you don’t have to muck it up with too much acting, which is great.

WS: In every episode, there are life-and-death moments for the patients. But then, your character, Max, is diagnosed with cancer. Is that emotionally difficult?
EGGOLD: Yes, it can be. It depends—some days there will be a very dramatic scene, but there will be laughter in between takes and we’ll be goofing around, too. Other days, it will be a certain kind of scene where you don’t want to laugh in between because you’re staying in a certain emotional place or it’s affecting you in a certain way. It depends. But in general, there is a lot of humor and fun on the show.

WS: You need that humor, don’t you?
EGGOLD: Yes, because it does get so heavy. Otherwise, we would get too miserable. Probably the work would suffer; it would get much heavier, so we try to keep it flowing.

WS: Do you shoot in a real hospital?
EGGOLD: We do.

WS: How does that work, and does it help?
EGGOLD: It helps tremendously because it feels more real to be in a real hospital where, one wing over, actual patients are getting real treatments. And you remember this is the story we’re telling—it’s about these people. That’s helpful. Kings County Hospital in New York is very gracious. We shoot there. We also shoot at Bellevue, which is the hospital the show is based on.

WS: Why is it so hard for your character, Dr. Max Goodwin, to take care of himself?
EGGOLD: That’s a good question. He is comfortable being a leader and an agent of change, trying to direct the hospital. He is not comfortable with vulnerability or intimacy in certain ways or being out of control or letting someone help him. Why he is that way remains to be seen in terms of backstory. I think losing his sister at a young age is part of that. He entrusted doctors to take care of his sister and they most likely, through no fault of their own, or potentially through their fault, lost his sister’s life. That affects his ability to trust—especially when you are a kid and any trauma is so much more traumatic. Someone who does want to be in control, who does want to make the system better, who is trying to help people, is clearly afraid of letting go of that control and trusting that someone’s going to catch him.

WS: In one episode, Max is getting chemotherapy and the other cancer patients are making jokes about cancer.
EGGOLD: It was an interesting episode because [the other patients] are so comfortable with cancer as part of their lives, and there is an acceptance that they’ve found that Max has not found yet. Each of them [is able to think] I may die, I may not. This is what I’m facing. I’m going to face it with a smile and some humor. There is something so moving about that. But Max is not there yet. He’s trying to hold on to [his sense of having control]. [His fellow patients] on the other hand, are at the point where they can think, I’ve released some control. I’m going to fight and what’s going to be is what it’s going to be.

WS: While I was watching the show, a close friend of mine got a cancer diagnosis. That just pulled the rug out from under me and, of course, her.
EGGOLD: It blindsides you like that. We all feel invincible and then you realize how fragile we all are.