Dave Annable brings a lot of himself to his latest role as Dr. PierceHarrison in the new medical series “Heartbeat.”
Based loosely on the life and achievements of Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world, “Heartbeat” airs at 8/7c Wednesdays on NBC. Melissa George stars as Dr. Alex Panttiere, the fictional stand-in for Magliato.
Annable plays Alex’s boyfriend, a kind and compassionate liver transplant surgeon. He likes people and wants to see them happy, Annable said.
“I think that’s something that I have in my life that I brought to this character,” he said. “he knows everyone’s name and he’s high-fiving people down the hallway.”
I chatted with the easygoing Annable in January at the TV Critics Association meeting in Pasadena, Calif., where he showed just how likable he is when talking about daughter Charlie Mae, his and wife Odette Annable’s first child.
First off, congrats on the kid.
Thank you so much. Thank you. There’s nothing better. I mean it. I really am just the happiest guy. It’s pretty boring but we’re just loving life—my wife and I. We have a healthy baby. It’s funny, you hear that from friends—we just want a healthy baby—before you have a kid and now I get it. That’s all you care about is the health of your child. She’s healthy, so we’re happy.
I love kids—until they start talking back.
Yeah, I’m not there yet. Our kid is at the point where she’s smiling and you can make her giggle and it’s just the sweetest sound you’ve ever heard.
She’s no longer squishy?
Oh yeah, yeah. [Laughs.] At first it’s like the definition of delayed gratification: you’re putting in all this work and it’s the hardest work you’ve ever done and the highest stakes because you got to feed the kid, but there’s nothing back from them. They’re just pissing, shitting and eating and puking. That’s it. But then you get that smile and you’re like, “Oh my God, it’s worth it.”
How is Dr. Pierce different from Dr. Alex?
Well, I think Dr. Pierce happens to be a guy who I think is much softer and I think he’s this sort of hero guy that you’re cheering for in “Heartbeat” because he’s very open. I hate to use this stereotype, but he’s the girl in the relationship where he wants to talk about his feelings and is very open and Alex is very much more guarded. And I think that he’s this character who is just probably a little more sincere and just a little more happy.
Does he just like to get along with everyone?
I think so. I think we’re still working this out, but I think he’s 100 percent a people pleaser. He loves it, loves people. … And I think that’s really cool. I like that.
He and her ex-husband are friends. Then her old mentor, Dr.Jesse Shane, comes into the picture and Pierce seems to befriend him. Will that last?
I think he’s friends with the ex-husband Max and I think that’s a really sort of fun relationship. You don’t see it on TV; her ex-husband is gay but he still is taking care of the kids and they’re all there in sort of this one big happy modern family, if you will.
When her mentor comes to the hospital, I don’t think Pierce has any sort of knowledge of how many feelings Alex may still have for Jessica. That will play out.
I love the line where your character says, “I saw the way he looked at you but I wasn’t worried. And then I saw the way you look at him.”
I thought that was great. I think that’s just such a well-written little speech where it’s like, “Look, I’m here to ride out any of your insecurities.” I think he said we’ll put a pin in things we haven’t quite figured out yet—as long as I know I’m the guy. But if it’s about another guy then I’ll walk. I think she’s honest with him that it’s Pierce, but that may change throughout the series.
Talk about the tone of the show. Watching the two episodes I did I was almost confused about whether it is a comedy or a drama?
I think that tone is really important; that’s where our show could shine. In life there are moments of comedy and drama. I don’t think our show wants to be labeled as a drama or a comedy and it lives in that dramady world, like a “M*A*S*H.” “M*A*S*H”was very dramatic, but it was very funny.
You have actors like Jamie Kennedy, D.L. Hughley on the show who bring this natural comedy to it. I think that our show is finding that right balance. It’s all about with new shows finding what it is they’re good at and that balance. I do feel lucky that we have Jill Gordon and Amy Brenneman as producers; they can help sort of navigate that line.
Dr. Kathy Magliato said in her experience doctors have humor that’s not necessarily gallows humor but it is off a bit. Has she talked to you guys about that?
Yeah. We were sitting with Kathy while shooting the pilot and talking about something as serious as suicide. It was really funny; it may be hard for people to believe but it’s the truth. She was telling a story about a guy who was going to commit suicide and put the gun in his mouth. She told him, “No, no, you’re not going to kill yourself, you’re just going to permanently injure yourself. You’ve got to aim it higher.” Like that’s just her humor. She’s really this sort of fierce, intelligent woman. She’s serious, but she takes everything with levity and makes a joke of it. That’s the Alex character and that’s the world where we’re trying to live.
She seems like the kind of person whom you would just totally always want to please. How is the set when she’s around?
Oh, it’s great. I think without faking it, everybody has the most respect in the world for her. She’s light, she’s easy, she’s funny but she’s smart and she’s one of very few women in the world who do this. I think that really encompasses who she is and who Alex is in the show. People may have a hard time believing that a person like this actually exists. That’s why she’s such a great resource to have in the writer’s room and to have coming down to set and talking to us through an O.R. scene.
It seems Kathy would have had to be so hard to get where she is professionally that you would think by now all that light would be gone. You’d think she’d be mean.
Yeah, the meanest—just cold and angry. She talks a lot about that in the book of her difficult road to get to where she is and the sort of gender inequality and the stereotypes. She had to suffer through male surgeons saying no female is going to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and being in an O.R. when a surgeon pinches her ass. Having to deal with all that and still come out with that positive personality—she’s someone special. She really is someone that I think is a role model, not only for women but for men and people.
You got to hang out with her real-life husband, Dr. Nicholas Nissen, who is a prominent surgeon as well.
I did. He’s fucking great.
You were in the surgery with him. Are you OK around that kind of stuff?
It’s changed since the last couple of times I’ve played a doctor because I’m not. Seeing my own blood is fine. My younger sister is a physician’s assistant and my mom always wanted to be a doctor, so they’re really interested in that stuff. I was all sports and all that stuff growing up. During “Red Band” I got to stand in on a surgery. That was my first time ever seeing the blood and smelling all that stuff.
With Kathy’s husband—I mean I’d never seen someone cut open like that. There were a couple moments where I was like, “Holy shit.” But I went to that place and reminded myself, “Look, this ain’t about me. This is necessary and he’s saving her life.”
It was cool that I had met [the patient] earlier in the day. Knowing that he was saving her from certain death was fucking awesome; it was just incredible.
Do you have new respect for doctors?
100 percent. I’ve always had respect for doctors, but never anywhere near what I do now. As Kathy said they dedicate their lives to helping people. I’ve now been fortunate enough to see it firsthand when meeting a bunch of doctors and working with them and watching them sacrifice. They have personal lives. They have kids at home. Kathy and her husband are both top-tier surgeons and that requires a lot of work. They have balance, but still their dedication to helping strangers is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Is Dr. Pierce a badass like Dr. Alex?
I think in his own way. I think he’s a badass surgeon. I think he knows what he’s doing and I think that’s something that turns Alex on because I don’t think she would be with a bad surgeon.
Oh yeah, we saw how much his surgery skills turn her on in the third episode [“Backwards,” airing at 8/7c March 30].
That’s really funny. His skills do turn her on in that one. But I think badass in terms of the personality, sure, he’s much lighter than Alex.
Will we see them in therapy a lot?
I’m not sure but I had so much fun with those scenes with D.L. Hugely [who plays therapist Dr. Hackett]. I thought those were really cute scenes. I know in an upcoming script I have some one-on-one time with D.L., which is great. I think there’s always something with Dr. Hackett. He certainly is going to be an advocate for helping Pierce navigate through Alex’s rougher edges.
Dave Annable talks “Heartbeat” at the January meeting of the TV Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif. (Chris Haston/NBCUniversal)
Dave Annable plays Dr. Pierce Harrison in NBC’s “Heartbeat.” (Colleen Hayes/NBC)