Code Black: Marcia Gay Harden Learns the Tough Truth About Doctors

Oriana Schwindt
CODE BLACK, based on the award-winning documentary by Ryan McGarry, is CBS's heart-pounding new medical drama that takes place in the busiest, most notorious ER in the nation where the staggering influx of patients can outweigh the limited resources available to the extraordinary doctors and nurses whose job is to treat them all -- creating a condition known as Code Black.  At the heart of the ER's controlled chaos is Residency Director Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden, center), renowned for successfully performing high risk procedures in Center Stage, the trauma area reserved for the most critical cases.  Her confidante, Jesse Sallander (Luis Guzman, right), is an amiable seen-it-all senior nurse who manages the residents. The series premieres Wednesday, Sept. 30 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT),on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Neil Jacobs/CBS ©2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Fall TV PreviewCode Black is a loose ER term referring to the number of incoming patients outstripping a hospital’s ability to treat them all. It’s a harrowing experience for everyone involved—even when the patients are mere actors, according to Code star Marcia Gay Harden. The 56-year-old actress may be an Oscar winner (for 2000’s Pollock), and this isn’t the first time she’s donned the white coat (her Trophy Wife character was a doctor), but playing Leanne Rorish, Angels’ Memorial Hospital’s residency director, is proving to be quite an education. “I’m like, ‘SAG [Screen Actors Guild] is after my name, not MD,’” Harden says with a laugh.

What is it about Leanne that speaks to you?
She commands on her own, but she doesn’t exist on her own. She needs everyone around her. And sometimes those people make you…you. Like her relationship with Chief RN Mama (Luis Guzman)—it’s like the yin and the yang.

The show is based on a 2014 documentary of the same name, and its style even mimics the doc’s a bit.
There are no clean shots; there’s blood and paper and sutures and things flying everywhere. You never know when you’re on camera. You just hope when the camera’s down on the ground that it isn’t getting all seven of your chins.

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Did the producers put you through tough medical training?
It was boot camp! They were saying things like, “We want any of you, at any time, with your eyes closed, to be able to do an intubation, a chest tube, a central line or sutures.” The level of medical knowledge they’d like us to have, to keep the show in the realm of authenticity, is vaster than anything I could have imagined. “What is a chest tube? Why would you use a central line rather than a regular IV?”

What’s been the most eye-opening thing you’ve learned in making this series?
What ER doctors actually do: They stabilize patients. They’re not really supposed to solve all the problems. I didn’t realize that. It’s in that process that sometimes they end up doing surgeries or losing a patient. These doctors deal with life and death every day. And sometimes they end up dealing in grief.

Code Black, premieres Wednesday, Sept. 30, 10/9c, CBS