The Cast of Trauma

Cliff Curtis, Aimee Garcia and Dario Scardapane talk about their new NBC drama

NBC has not one but two medical dramas premiering this fall in Mercy, which takes a look at the nursing world, and the much different Trauma, which premieres on Monday, September 28 at 9 PM ET on NBC. Stars Cliff Curtis, Aimee Garcia and executive producer Dario Scardapane recently held a conference call to discuss the new series, and here's what they had to say.

Dario, when you were conceiving the show, you know, there's already so many medical shows out there right now and there's Nurse Jackie and Hawthorne just finished up and NBC also has Mercy coming and CBS has Three Rivers. You know, why did you decide you wanted to do another medical show?

Dario Scardapane: Well because we didn't want to do another medical show. In a lot of ways, you know, you look at what these other shows are and they're indoors. And there's a pace and a kind of tradition that I wanted to mess with. And this idea of outdoor medicine, the idea of the half an hour before you hit the double doors of ER. Everybody in television once ER went off the air there was this idea of okay what is the next generational medical show? And between Pete Berg, myself, NBC and a lot of people one of the ways that we thought might be an interesting (impress) your way in was with paramedicine; was with a show that was outdoors, in motion, more immediate, more about the accident rather than the medical mystery. A lot of the shows you just mentioned are fantastic shows and they're traditional medical dramas; we're not a traditional medical drama.

Besides out doors how do you guys hope to set yourself apart?

Dario Scardapane: Well, I mean, it's the immediate care of keeping a person alive for the 10 minutes before they hit the double doors and go into the emergency room. Our stories start in the Trauma and resolve themselves in the hospital. In a lot of ways it's ADHD medicine; it's the immediate, quick, save a life or not save a life to get them into the hospital. It's not something like House, which I love, which is more of a detective show; that's a medical mystery. Nurse Jackie is more of a character study in a very, very cable thing. These are - this is borderline action show. I mean, I think it sets itself apart from the pack pretty easily actually. We blow shit up.

Cliff, what's your draw to this project?

Cliff Curtis: Truly I would have to say the character of Rabbit. He's, you know, I've done about a couple of decades of theater and film. And I've never played a character with this kind of range and possibility. He's got comic possibility; he's a bit of an action hero. And he's got dramatic possibilities and then he also gets with the girls - he also gets the girls - plural - so, you know, I've played a lot of character roles. And I really - if I was going to transition from feature films to television I would clear I wanted something that was challenging and was a clear opportunity for me to stretch myself and to, you know, and to do things that I haven't had the opportunity to do. And he's all of that and some. And then beyond that I just - I did ask the question was like does the world need another detective so medical show or lawyer show and I was - does the world really - and I was doing meetings at the time. There was interest from other shows. And I just sort of thought well, this really does break the mold. It is an action - there's an action - we're like making a movie a week. I mean, I can't wait to see how television audiences respond to it because we - these shows are huge. And every week...

Dario Scardapane: The network tells me like - the network says to me on a pretty much daily basis, Dario, Dario, have you figured out yet that you're not doing movies? And I'm like no, I won't accept that.

How intense has it been shooting all the stunts?

Cliff Curtis: Well that's - it's been, yeah, it's been - that's been hugely intensive process. I mean, you know, as Dario said we are blowing things up. But, you know, and we're crashing into things and, you know, and, you know, we have what we call an MCI, sort of a core things of each - not every show but frequently we have an MCI - a multiple casualty incident. So we follow three paramedics and they're EMTs. And they each have different threads. But quite often each episode will have an MCI where they're all pulled together and it's a huge incident which calls on everybody's expertise and resources and have all got to be involved. And, you know, they're huge incidents. I don't know what else I can say. Dario, I don't know what I'm allowed to say.

Dario Scardapane: Well, I mean and it's from air, land, water. It's pretty much.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah.

Dario Scardapane: The thinking of accident Traumas - good morning - thinking of the things that we can do in such a visually stunning city as San Francisco has been a lot of fun for the writer's room but probably pretty grueling for the cast. And I know it's been hell on wheels for our line producer.

Cliff Curtis: Actually it's a huge amount of fun because I don't know, I mean, the people in our industry and especially in film and, you know, maybe in television, you know, we're not really built for office jobs, you know, it's great to be outside, it's great to be like on the streets and hanging off buildings and on the motorway and on the water and all of these elements that we - dealing with the elements. I think it really invigorates...

Aimee Garcia: Yeah, and I think all of those things that involve San Francisco you can't copy on a lot. I mean, when you have, you know, (unintelligible) and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background you can't build the Golden Gate Bridge, you know, on the Universal lot. And it doesn't look at authentic if it's CG. Then we actually have, you know, cars going into things and we had an incident on - in an upcoming episode where a car crashes through an outdoor market. And it wasn't going fast enough for our, you know, director, (Justin Reiner). He said, I know it's going 10 miles an hour I want it to go 25. And so, you know, it's not a CG car and I think that people nowadays are craving authenticity. And we do a lot of our own stunts. And it's an actual car and an actual helicopter, it's not a CG'd helicopter. And so I think that, you know, San Francisco in itself offers, you know, a different character. And you can't take being cold other. When you're shooting at 3:00 in the morning outside and we're shivering, you're not acting, you're really cold. And again you don't get that with even LA weather. So I think it adds a whole other dimension that you don't get in any other show let alone medical shows.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, that's the other thing really cool thing about San Francisco is that, you know, a lot of the shows on television they're not actually shot on location, they're show in LA in the lot and then they do location shots. They'll pretend they're in San Francisco or wherever they're pretending to be. But we're actually in San Francisco and we do have San Francisco, you know, as a character in the show. We're in every neighborhood, every day of the week.

Aimee, why do you think people want to spend their time and watch the show?

Aimee Garcia: Because they're going to a big budget movie, getting great Indy-film characters and they don't have to leave the house. I mean, it's, you know, one of those things where you do have the Peter Berg stamp on it. There will be explosions, there are helicopter crashes and people are hanging off of buildings but you also have, you know, great actors, you know, you have Anastasia who has left her stamp, you know, on HBO and, you know, Cliff who has worked with the greatest, you know, Scorsese and holds his own with, you know, Clooney and anybody else and then you have (Derek Luke), you know, who has an incredible career. And I think it's very rare to find actors who have never done television before and who have only done like Emmy-winning shows and with obviously, you know the great writing of Dario. I mean it's very rare I think to find such great talent behind and in front of the scenes. And I for one think it's so exciting to do that I hope it's just as exciting to watch. I mean we're not faking it, we're so concerned like Cliff said with the medicine. We're dealing with, you know, actual incidents a lot of times. So if they're crying in the middle of a scene you have to deal with that. And I was doing a scene with Anastasia and a crazy person walked in between us and we just continued on with the scene. I mean, it's really one of those things where you are in this kind of, you know, urban warfare zone and I think that that's going to read on camera because it's not pretty. You don't come to set thinking you're going to say your lines exactly like they're written and everyone's going to go home. No, you're either going to have actors like Cliff who are going to push you and say that doesn't make any sense; why doesn't this make sense? We have to raise the stakes, you know. Why isn't this thing like - and he pushes you it's not just you get your paycheck you go home. You have writers who are willing to rewrite even though it's more work for everybody because it's going to improve the quality of the show. And I think it's very rare to have that kind of passion, you know, behind and in front of the camera for people who are doing this as if, you know, they're going to die tomorrow. And I think it reads on camera. So that's why I think people are going to like it because I think it's like nothing else that's ever been out there.

A lot of people have talked about how amazing the pilot is and have wondered if the show can continue that forward, you know, with Episode 2, 3 and onward. Have the subsequent episodes in your opinions lived up to the pilot?

Dario Scardapane: I'm going to jump in on that one just for a second and then these guys will chime in. I was so worried about this. You know, you get a pilot, you have amazing amount of time and money to really put a lot on the screen. So when it was time to shift into episodes I made myself crazy and neurotic over how much bang can we get? How much bang can we get? And then as we're now seeing what we've managed to do even the people who are there putting your feet to the fire, the bean counters are like oh my God you got it on the screen. Is it, I mean, without giving away too much of the pilot, you've seen what happens in the pilot. Is it that huge every week? Nothing could be. But it is on par - it didn't drop off; it's not like one week you see the sinking of the Titanic and next week a smart car crashes into and in and out. It's on par with what we did in the pilot and I think certain episodes deliver even more.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah might I say though, to pay a compliment to the writer's room I think the scripts have gotten better and better. You know, I mean like Episode 2 - we were all kind of nervous about that. And Episode 2 I was so excited then 3 then 4 then 5 then 6 and the scripts are getting better. We're getting better character acts. And like Aimee was saying we're all very concerned with bringing the best to the table every day and that's really happening. And we've inherited some great writers, Peter Noah amongst them. And I love getting the new script and sitting down and reading them. And I've been so impressed each week because that would be a nightmare. That would be a nightmare to come in and sort of like read a script and go oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into. But it's not, it's just been fantastic. It's been a real pleasure to see everybody working really hard to raise the stakes.

Aimee Garcia: And also to compliment the writers as well, I mean, you know, explosions elicit a reaction in viewers. Well so does human body parts leaving the body. I mean you don't have to blow something up to feel squirmy. And I think that the human body is so fallible that these paramedics are really first on the scene. They are the Navy Seals of the medical world. And so they see the accident right after it happens when the leg is 50 feet away from the body. They see when the blood is, you know, spewing out uncontrollably. And there's no explosions in any of that. And they also see more than anything not only the victims but, you know, the people who are in the car. Maybe it's a mother, you know, who's a victim and it's the 12 year old kid who's looking on. And how the paramedics not only have to deal with stopping the blood so that it begins to clot but also calming the 12 year old kid by not treating him like a child but explaining to him exactly what's going on. And that to me doesn't require building explosions or anything it just requires, you know, raw human dealing with human. So that is I think the heart of the show is how these unsung heroes really go into unfamiliar environments sometimes not even speaking the language if they go into, you know, a family that only speaks Mandarin; they have to deal with that. They have to get information from the patient without even speaking their language. So that to me is the heart and intention of the show.

Cliff and Aimee, you know, you've talked about that the show has so many great elements of a movie but, you know, obviously it's a television show and with that comes its own unique challenges and scheduling, you know, issues. So what was the feeling about doing a television show right now for the both of you?

Cliff Curtis: Well it's great. I mean we have a fantastic team like I said. I feel like we've all - all like standing around thinking could it be this good? Is it really as good as we think it is? We've got a great production crew, (Steve Saturn). We are doing 12 hour days. And I've done movies where we shoot like two pages a day. We're shooting six, sometimes eight pages a day and we're doing no overtime. Some days we've had about four or five days where we've finished early. That's how tight the team is, the crew is. You know, a big compliment to (Seth) in the way he's running the show and (Jeff Reiner) who's hit the tone and the pace of how we shoot with multi-camera. And this does not feel anything less than shooting a movie a week.

Dario Scardapane: Well and the crew is - a lot of the crew is from features.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, oh yeah, our stunts guy, (Kevin), he's never done - he's never done a TV series before. I've never done a TV series and neither has Derek Luke. So - and we've got a number of camera crew and designers they're all from feature work. And I think Pete Berg sort of pulled in a few favors there along the way. And so it really - and we're doing it I think - oh that was the other key to actually doing the show. As I looked at the different - few different formats when my agent was talking to me and it was crucial for me to have an ensemble cast. Firstly because I didn't want a one-trick pony that the whole show was centered around sort of a single procedure, I mean, you see that duplicated every week. I think with an ensemble cast you get great discoveries like Aimee Garcia, you know, and - yes, yes, that's true Aimee G. No it's true because essentially, you know, she came on the show and she was my (unintelligible) and I've seen rewrites being done and it's like through the tests audiences are like - audiences are responding to that energy. And so we get to rewrite that and sort of, you know, give her some more juice. Same with Kevin Rankin, you know. And I think it's, you know, that element of having an ensemble cast keeps it interesting and fresh for me and it also means that I, you know, we get enough breadth and the audience gets enough going on for them to keep it interesting.

Aimee Garcia: Oh well thank you, Cliff. And just to kind of piggyback what Cliff said is, you know, I think you're only as good as the people you work with. And they really kind of - everyone from like I said Cliff and Derek and Anastasia and Jamie and Kevin and Taylor - everyone really - it almost feels like I'm doing a play in Chicago. And I really have to compliment the writers for writing to our strengths. And I think even though we're only doing 12 hour days and it's TV and it's much more fast paced I really feel like the writers are picking up on each person's idiosyncrasies and not being afraid to - they're giving us an opportunity to do our best work. And I think in TV where so much money is at stake and Nielsen ratings and all this stuff it's very rare for a network - and I have to compliment I guess NBC for just trusting (Reiner), trusting Peter Berg and say here you go, go do what you do and just letting us feel so comfortable that we get to do our best work. And we don't feel, you know, the network looking at their watch tapping their foot. And I think again that's just going to make this different than other shows is we're on location; we don't even see billboards. I don't even know that they started promoting, you know, us on buses. And I think that's a good thing because we're so wrapped up in getting our medicine right, you know, going out and spending time with each other on the weekends; it's kind of pathetic how well we get along - that we're not driving to the 101 Diner and seeing ourselves on billboards.

Now in doing all these like stunts and stuff I'm not sure how much background you have in doing kind of these crazy helicopter hanging off building type stunts. But has it lead you to kind of want to take, I don't know, like for you Aimee, helicopter lessons...

Dario Scardapane: Oh boy, don't get her started on the copter.

Aimee Garcia: Yes the helicopter is a very sexy machine that has definitely infiltrated my dreams, literally. And is it worth, you know, maybe on hiatus, you know, I might have to keep from NBC but it's a pretty incredible thing to feel like you are flying, you know, it's different than obviously when you're flying a commercial flight there's so much metal between you and the air that you don't feel like you're in anything but a moving building. But when you're in a helicopter there's something really intriguing about being able to land anywhere. I mean I never ever, ever not smile when I see my copter even though Cliff always says it's his but it's mine - land, you know, on the Embarcadero, land in the middle of the freeway, land on the Bay Bridge. I mean, I can't tell you - we get in these flight suits and I just look at that beautiful piece of machinery and I think man, there's something so cool about landing from air, you know. Humans have always had a fascination with flying. So yes if I ever do have enough time to put in the hours to fly a helicopter I will definitely do so and it's purely because of this show.

And what about you, Cliff, are you planning on maybe doing some extra stuff on the side maybe bungee jumping, I don't know, or copter...

Cliff Curtis: I've always done my own stunts.

Dario Scardapane: Cliff here is a super hero by the way, I mean...

Cliff Curtis: There's one particular stunt which I know impressed Dario a bit.

Dario Scardapane: Yeah, amazing.

Cliff Curtis: You'll have to watch the show to catch that one. But it's a medical stunt and it's not CGI it's real.

Dario Scardapane: Cliff performed a procedure on himself.

Dario Scardapane: Yeah. And jaws dropped - a veteran paramedic was like I can't believe he just did that.

Oh my God.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, they - I said okay have you ever seen this? And he said never in 30 years of being a medic have I ever seen anybody perform that procedure on themselves. So, yeah, he said that I'm welcome in his house anytime. So that was kind of cool, you know, we're dealing with real medics on the set and...

And we can't divulge what that procedure...

Dario Scardapane: God no.

Cliff Curtis: But, yeah, absolutely I think that's the fun - that's the part of the fun of doing movies and these kinds of movies that turn to (unintelligible). We're trying to disguise the set of movie - or a TV show but it's not really. But no absolutely I totally love action and outdoor pursuits and sort of kayaking and abseiling and jumping off things; it's great. And, yeah, I've, yeah, I look forward to those things. And I've also worked with Kevin on a movie - our stunt coordinator on Three Kings so - with George Clooney. While he was still working on ER actually. And, yeah, I've always done my own stunts. And Kevin and I we're already talking about the kind of shenanigans we're going to get up to this week.

Dario Scardapane: When those two start talking - when those two start talking the line producer gets very, very nervous.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, so, yeah, whatever Dario can dream up and we can physically achieve I'm - I'll put my heart and soul and my body on the line for it, yes.

Aimee Garcia: And I have to say too Cliff actually asked the set dresser if they could put in a weight room so that while he's waiting in between scenes he's actually lifting weights. And I said, wow, I didn't see this in the, you know, in the break room.

Cliff, an actor once told me that whenever he gets a character with a colorful name he rejoices because he's already halfway there in figuring out his character. I'm not entirely sure he's right but what do you say? The guy who plays this adrenaline junky named Rabbit. What do you have to say about that?

Cliff Curtis: You know, I've had a very happy and so far well relatively long career and I have - I must have gotten some of the worst names in film history. I mean, I'm not going to say them it's just so embarrassing. So Rabbit is like I love Rabbit, you know, Rabbit just sounds like fun. And, you know, we've got a bunch - like I was saying - we have some really interesting characters, you know, Derek Luke is a beautiful actor and he's so emotionally engaged and (Sas) is, you know, is, you know, completely, you know, can totally - also very engaging in terms of like heads first into the drama of a situation. And I've sort of done my chops on dramatic work as well. So Rabbit to me is just kind of like - it's just full of a promise of fun. And not matter how tough or how hard the day is how serious things get he's going to have a different angle on things. So Rabbit was a huge - he's a huge clue to this character. So I'd have to agree with - I'd have to - well, I'd have to agree with your friend on this instance where - other times I've often asked for name changes but Rabbit was just the winner right from the start.

Cliff and Aimee, a common theme in the pilot is that these horrific accidents go with people doing stupid, stupid, stupid things. And even though you're thrill seekers evidently does it make you more cautious in your civilian life? Do you think twice for example before doing a conference call while you're driving?

Aimee Garcia: Well in part of preparation for this role we went on 911 ambulance rides - they call it ride alongs - and I remember interviewing a paramedic, I was in the ambulance and he said, you know, there's two types of people, they're either stupid or unlucky. And during the course of that ride along, you know, I saw - we picked up a young gentleman who was 18 but looked 35 because he was a heroin junky and ran out of veins on his arm and his neck so started injecting in his forehead and OD'd. And, you know, from my personal perspective you just realize how really fallible we are and how scary, you know, and how quickly things can change. You can be in first class one second and the next no longer be breathing, you know. But so for me personally I'm very cautious, I'm very similar to Marisa in that way that I value my life and I want to, you know, stay alive as long as possible. I take calculated risks, I love adventure but I'm not going to just, you know, jump out of a plane with anybody. I mean, I take - and, yeah, I mean, being part of a show like this makes you realize how - like I said you're either unlucky which has nothing to do with you or you're stupid. So as long as I can stay out of the stupid category I lower my chances of injury.

Cliff Curtis: That sounds like a tricky question. Are you asking me to admit that I'm stupid? So I'm not going to. No, no, you know, has the show affected me? A little bit, a little bit. Yeah, a little bit. It does make you think. And I've, you know, and I'm - and I actually do enjoy looking at the medicine and sort of looking at the situations. And that's I think the fun of a show, so like if it's done well is you get the opportunity - well any good storytelling actually hinges around the single question I think for an audience that's engaged; what would I do in that situation? And then you get to see what our characters do. And luckily our characters are really heroic.

Aimee Garcia: Yeah and just to say one more thing, you know, I had a personal incident where a dear, dear friend of mine had a horrible head injury and I was by myself with my friend. And I called 911 and in that moment those three or four paramedics become the most important people in your life.

Cliff Curtis: That is true.

Aimee Garcia: And I remember looking at the paramedics more than I was looking at my friend. And that's what these people do, you know, these people walk into people's lives on their worst day. And you can't really beat that; there's very few professions, you know, except for being, you know, a military soldier where you just walk in on people's worst days and you never know what to expect. You know, so that makes for really interesting stories and really rich, rich kind of messed up characters.

Now Aimee how would you describe the dynamic between Marissa and Rabbit?

Cliff Curtis: What are you laughing so loud for?

Aimee Garcia: Well... I think that - I think it's very rare to see a man and female interact in a non-sexual way and yet somehow very intriguing chemical way and that's what they have. They have a, you know, brother and sister kind of teasing sarcastic tone between them but they also have this deep, deep-rooted respect for each other. And I think that if it came down to it they would probably take a bullet for each other but they would never, never admit it of course. And it's one of those things where, you know, Marissa grew up in the boys club, I mean she did two tours of Basra, Baghdad, and Fallujah. She's essentially one of the boys and so this is a way that they interact, you know, they tease, they give each other a lot of crap, there's usually a dick swinging competition between them. If he's going to do something well then she's going to do it even better. So I think that, you know, and they have - he's kind of sarcastic funny rapport between them but in the core I think that they're pretty equally matched except for, you know, the medicine. And in real life Cliff actually really does push me to kind of not, you know, not just accept anything. He's like we can do better, you could do better. And he pushes me and I hate it. But I love it, you know, because it really does bring out good work. And in that same way I think Rabbit, you know, in the pilot Marissa is the only character that calls Rabbit on his bluffs. And I think that Rabbit doesn't like it but he appreciates it. And if someone didn't care they wouldn't say anything. So I think in the same way Rabbit calls Marissa on her bluffs in upcoming episodes and she doesn't like it either. And the other day we did a scene where Cliff literally made my face red. And I was so angry I wanted to just hit him, you know. And I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me red and I just left.

So what's one of the - what's one of the interesting things you learned about flight medics that we probably wouldn't know about?

Cliff Curtis: Well one of the things is that, you know, if you want to become a medic you usually start of as an EMT which means you drive the rig, you know the ambulance. And then once you've done your time doing that, you know, you have your basic medical qualifications that you can get to be an EMT. And then you work your way up to become a medic and then once you become a medic you can sort of like add on qualifications like getting your certificates and sort of respiratory or - and then you get - once you become a medic the difference between the medic and an EMT is the medic can do...

Dario Scardapane: Advanced life support.

Cliff Curtis: Yeah, advanced life support medication. You know, he can push drugs I call it. So then a flight medic often termed a (paraguard) is that they actually have to be more qualified than any other medic. And they can just add on and add on. So, you know, Rabbit is kind of like a medic - an adrenaline junky. And he's joined the TAC team, you know, special forces. He'll do anything just to get another qualification. So if any emergency goes down he'll do white water rafting, he'll do abseiling. He has to be able to parasail out of the helicopter. I mean he has to be able to do all of the medics and hanging from a piece of rope on the side of a building, you know. And so that's the difference between a flight medic and a medic that's on the ground. And especially - and I've met a couple of them too and they can be pretty loud, brash guys but pretty confident guys about what they do in their life. They're basically - also another thing that people don't - might not realize about medics is that quite often they're teamed up with the fire department. And, you know, a lot of kids grow up thinking I want to be a fireman...

Dario Scardapane: I have a fun fact that Cliff probably doesn't know.

Cliff Curtis: Okay.

Dario Scardapane: That emergency helicopter pilots and medics it is the highest death rate of any occupation second only to commercial fisherman.

Cliff Curtis: Wow.

Aimee Garcia: Oh wow.

Dario Scardapane: Because there are... the number of crashes per - more emergency medical helicopters crash than combat helicopters.

Cliff Curtis: Oh my goodness. Okay, thanks Dario.

Dario Scardapane: Yeah, no problem, I thought you'd be into that one.

You can watch all the drama of Trauma when it premieres on Monday, September 28 at 9 PM ET on NBC.