Canadian actor stars with Marcia Gay Harden Luis Guzman
Imagine being the lone Canada goose in a room full of bald eagles. Now imagine that room is the 20-by-20 foot trauma bay of Los Angeles County Hospital, an overcrowded and understaffed shuffle of blood and muscle and guts and gore.
That was Benjamin Hollingsworth’s experience — give or take a few ruffled feathers — on the set of Code Black, a new emergency room drama debuting Wednesday on CBS and CTV.
“I have a very different relationship with the health system than my American castmates,” says Hollingsworth, a Brockville, Ont., native who plays first-year resident Mario Savetti on the show.
“I moved to the U.S. around 2008, but I still maintain a residency in Canada, because I love Canada and the people here. But also, the health care that we are so lucky to have in Canada is not present in the U.S. at a universal level.”
Based on the real-life ER featured in Ryan McGarry’s like-named 2013 documentary, Code Black shines its fluorescent lights on residency director Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden), senior nurse Jesse Salander (Luis Guzman) and their new group of first-year residents.
It doesn’t take long before those fresh-faced underlings realize the ER in Los Angeles County Hospital isn’t your average ER, both figuratively and statistically.
The show’s title — Code Black — refers to the state in which there aren’t enough resources to treat the influx of patients at a given time. The average U.S. ER is in code black five times a year. Los Angeles County Hospital reaches it about 300 times a year.
“L.A. County is a county hospital, which essentially means that that’s where people can go for minimal, if not completely free health care,” says Hollingsworth. “We complain in Canada that we wait a long time, but their average wait time is 24 hours.”
Code Black’s cast and crew — including McGarry, an executive producer — take pains to create an authentic experience on the set.
The show is shot in the real-life hospital’s trauma bay, each medical crisis is based on a real event and the extras include actual nurses and doctors. Even the prosthetics are uncannily lifelike.
“One day they rolled in this 350-pound 18-year-old that had been shot in an artery in the neck,” Hollingsworth says.
“We thought this actor was doing some method acting or something, lying completely still. Everybody was dead silent, and we slowly went up to touch him. And it was a dummy, completely rigged so I could do chest palpitations. The detail was so real.”
Code Black is the first medical drama Hollingsworth has worked on. His other TV credits include Blackstrom, Cult, Suits and The Tomorrow People. But he says it was Code Black’s distinctive take on the medical genre that sold him on the show.
“We wanted it to be like if you were sitting in the waiting room and you see someone come rolling through, and they’ve just been in a car accident and you get a shiver because you know that’s a life-and-death thing,” he says.
“That’s the moment we’re striving to create — this aggressive sense of authenticity.”