The former Prince of the City on playing surgeon Nathaniel Grant
Heartland is a new TNT series in which heart surgeon Nathaniel Grant's (Treat Williams) dedication to his work takes a toll on his health and his relationships. Recently Williams sat down to discuss playing a man with many responsibilities who also has a lot of problems.
When you first read the script for Heartland what about the story appealed to you?
Treat Williams: David Hollander wrote a script about a subject that I don't think has been tackled before: the concept of heart and organ transplants and the relationship between the donor and the recipient. There is a mystery between the two that has never been talked about in terms of the ramifications of what it is like for someone who's received the heart of another person and what kind of responsibility they have to the person whose heart they've received. I also love the character.
Describe your character, Dr. Nathanial Grant.
Treat Williams: He is an extraordinary surgeon who has high expectations for himself, and consequently, he has high expectations for those around him. When others don't live up to them, it makes him angry. He has very little patience for anyone who isn't working as hard as he is, but not many people work as hard as he does.
Your character is a hero, but he's not perfect. What makes flawed characters more interesting to watch?
Treat Williams: People identify with these types of characters. Most of us are flawed, complicated people, and we're all trying very hard to disguise that or hide it from the public. Ultimately, we respond to someone who's capable of doing heroic things but has issues or problems in their life that they can't seem to resolve. I believe audiences identify with that. All of us have those secrets and those things that we wish we could improve about ourselves. And when you have someone who's heroic and flawed, I think it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Dr. Grant spends his days saving lives. Do you think he'll ever be able to salvage his own?
Treat Williams: I am hoping that salvaging his life will be Nate's journey over the next four or five years. I think that David and I both believe that this is a character that is going to unfold. I don't think he knows who he is at this point in his life. He is a person in transition, and he's really trying to come to terms with parts of himself that he haven't worked out. He has a vendetta against death, and he has a capacity to give more life to people that really would have died. That's an extraordinary gift.
One of the most unique things about Heartland is the theme of second chances, the opportunity to turn one person's tragedy into good for someone else. What is Dr. Grant's role in that theme?
Treat Williams: To me, the idea of second chances is the most exciting part of this show. Dr. Grant has an attachment to those who died, and a certain responsibility not only to the patients who are going to be getting a longer life but also to those who have given up something of themselves to provide that.
What role does conflict play in the drama of Heartland?
Treat Williams: I think that all good dramas are rife with conflicts, and the conflicts have to be resolved. What I think is so great about a show that takes place in a hospital is that you have so many different people with different needs. And sometimes all those can be in conflict, so I think it's going to make for a very interesting show. The drama of Heartland also comes from the group of people waiting, and they are sometimes agonizingly waiting for a new organ for their body in order to survive. So the show is so much about survival, which creates a sense of urgency to get the organs, to talk the people into giving them, to get them into the bodies of the recipients and to keep the recipients alive and positive while they are waiting. I think that sense of urgency is probably the most prominent dramatic quality to the show.
How did you research your role in Heartland?
Treat Williams: I went to UCLA and stood in on an open-heart surgery on an 18-month-old boy for about five or six hours. I met with our technical advisor and learned about the ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine, which takes over and performs the body's functions for the time of an operation. I spent time in different hospital wards, including the intensive care unit. I also spent time with families and patients from 2 to 80 years old waiting for someone to give them a few more years of life. It is an extraordinary concept to give someone a longer time on this earth by replacing their organs with those from another human.
What is the most challenging part of playing a doctor?
Treat Williams: Learning the big words.
Do you have any personal experience with organ transplants or donation?
Treat Williams: No, but I did give blood in college to make money for pizza.
Heartland premieres Monday, June 18 at 10/9c on TNT.
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