Joshua Jackson Wraps Dr. Death on Showcase

As his most recent hit takes a final bow, Vancouver-born Joshua Jackson chats with TV Week

As his most recent hit takes a final bow, Vancouver-born Joshua Jackson chats with TV Week

43-year-old Vancouverite Joshua Jackson has been scoring with audiences since the early ’90s, when he first hit the ice in Disney’s Mighty Ducks flicks. He went on to become a TV teen idol on Dawson’s Creek, followed by acclaimed runs on sci-fi thriller Fringe and romantic drama The Affair.

Putting his innate boyish charm to more sinister use, Jackson plays the title character in this limited series, which wraps up on All Hallows’ Eve. Based on a podcast of the same name, it tells the true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch—a Texas neurosurgeon as arrogant as he was incompetent. In 2017, Duntsch’s career came to an end when he was finally brought to justice after inflicting grievous harm on more than 30 patients.

TV Week: Whenever you tackle a new character, I’m guessing you start by trying to ground yourself in some sort of relatable human experience. But how do you do that when the character is a sociopath?
Joshua Jackson: The first place that I needed to get to with him was past my own judgment of him. For him, he is at the centre of his own story. He’s the hero of his story, whereas for us as an audience, he’s clearly not [laughs]. And the outcome of what he’s doing is so egregiously bad that my natural position is to judge him quite harshly, as he should be judged. But as an actor, it took a second for me to get past that and recognize that part of his sociopathy, part of his lack of empathy, was his own inability to see himself inside of this. Because he had already decided that he was a brilliant surgeon and a brilliant medical mind, anything that confronted that had to be wrong. If [he] had a bad surgical outcome, that had to be somebody else’s fault, because he’s a brilliant surgeon, so he couldn’t have a bad outcome. It’s a very twisted mind to get inside of, so that definitely took some time.

Your co-star Christian Slater told us this is the Jaws of the doctor world, that you could’ve had the music playing…
[Laughs] Yeah, the one piece that we maybe missed was a really good piece of sinister theme music every time Duntsch comes onscreen. I needed my Vader entrance music, or my Jaws music.

When you’re playing someone who exists in real life, does that change or complicate your process as an actor?
I think there’s more limitations in doing somebody who is broadly inside of
the popular consciousness. If you’re playing Madonna, everybody has an opinion of Madonna—I don’t know why she’s my example today, but she’ll be my example today! That’s a much more difficult character because you have to both play to people’s expectations and then defy their expectations. For somebody like Christopher Duntsch, even for people who have listened to the podcast, the man himself is kind of a mystery. So I had the benefit of all the research material that was done, which was extremely thorough, without the burden of having to satisfy people’s expectations.

This show is quite salacious and tabloidy at times, but it also takes care to flesh out and really honour Duntsch’s victims. Was that a tricky balance to strike?
Yeah, I think—and this is all a credit to Patrick [Macmanus] and the writers, but particularly to Patrick, I want to give him his roses here—you have to serve a couple different masters, if you want to. The easiest version of this story would be the salacious version, because it is salacious. The story is outrageous. The man is outrageous. The outcomes are shocking. You could have just gone down that path. But I think, for Patrick, he wanted to tell a story that was compelling in a different way than the podcast is compelling. But he also wanted to take the responsibility of the story seriously. This is a true story and Dr. Duntsch’s patients are real people who are going to be dealing with the outcomes of those surgeries for the rest of their lives… He wanted to make the series feel interesting and not like it’s a lesson in the American medical system for eight hours and to keep it engaging so an audience wants to come along with the story, while at the same time balancing out the reality that, ultimately, there’s no amount of fiction that we could put into this show that is heavier or weightier than the reality for his 33 victims.

Dr. Death airs Sunday at 6 p.m. on Showcase