Dana Delany on her polarizing, 'House'-esque character on 'Body of Proof'

Dana-Delany

Image Credit: Donna Svennevik/ABC

Television veteran Dana Delany makes no apologies for her polarizing character on the upcoming ABC drama Body of Proof. In fact, she loves the fact that the “psychically tortured” former neurosurgeon-turned-medical-examiner she plays, Dr. Megan Hunt, is intelligent and flawed. At least, Dr. Hunt’s life certainly is flawed: She gets divorced from her husband, loses her daughter in a custody battle, and gets into a life-altering car accident. It will hopefully make for character-driven TV on a should-have-been “CBS-type” procedural, she says.

In a chat with EW, Delany talks more about her new show’s initial expectations, the undeniable House and Bones similarities, and its eventual evolution into something she hopes will resonate with TV viewers when it premieres March 29 at 10 p.m. on ABC.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So I watched the pilot, and I found Dr. Hunt to be what can only be described as a painfully intelligent person. What did you like about role?
DANA DELANY: Oh, Gosh. I did like that she was smart. I’m sort of laughing inside hearing you say that about “painfully intelligent,” because that’s exactly how I see her. I just got off the phone with a male reporter who found her annoying. [Laughs] And I laughed because I said to him, “You know what, only men say that.” I never once had a female have that reaction to the character, and I find that very interesting because I think it’s gender-oriented. I don’t usually think of things in that way — because I think people are human beings more than they’re men and women — but it’s been an interesting reaction that I’ve gotten. I think that “painfully intelligent” is the right description because I’ve seen it happen. It’s hard when you’re the smartest person in the room. You get impatient with people because you know the answer, and that person in school that was always raising their hand first, they can be annoying! [Laughs] People have compared the character to Dr. House, but I think that her crutch, as it were, is not a cane or drugs. It’s that she’s psychically wounded.

Interesting comparison.
She was raised to be a very successful, intelligent brain surgeon, who, in her family, was rewarded by professional success. So most of her life was spent in her head, literally operating on heads, and to the detriment of losing her husband and her daughter. Then she has the car accident, and she can no longer do what she did well and was successful at. [It] was how she defined herself. I think it’s an interesting crossroads of who is she now. Where does she find meaning in her life? In an odd way, through working on these dead bodies, she’s learning how to feel for the first time.

I’m glad you brought up her family because it’s not common for a female character to be so void of that maternal connection. But on the show, your character is very estranged from her young daughter.
I thought it was great. I relate to that because I was raised by a working mother. My whole family was raised to be workers. I’m a worker — I love to work. It’s what makes me happy. When you’re raised like that, I think you really don’t know how to be a mother. Nobody taught you. You didn’t get a lot of mothering, so you don’t know how to be a mother — I think that she’s not a very good mother, that’s all. And not everybody is. Not every woman is meant to be a mother, and we’re not allowed to admit that, you know? I don’t find myself very maternal, and yet, I’m fiercely protective of people, which is different. So I think that she is learning from her daughter. It’s almost like her daughter is parenting her.

So you think that the fact that she’s not maternal is what’s polarizing about her? It just fascinates me that a male reporter you spoke to said that.
And he’s not the first! It’s been very, very interesting. And women like that she’s sassy, they like that she kind of has an attitude, and I think that it’s an interesting problem for men.

Now, speaking more generally about the show, it’d be easy to say this is procedural, but I found myself more attracted to the character aspect. Which part of it do you like?
I like the character stuff. I like the science because I find it interesting myself. I personally love science, and I love learning about stuff like that. I find that kind of fascinating. But when it came to the script, I understood the character stuff, so they let me have a lot of input on that. I think ABC in the beginning wanted a medical procedural because they didn’t really have that. I mean, they have their medical shows, like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, but they didn’t have a procedural. So they wanted more of a CBS-type show. In the beginning, they were making us end every act with a procedural moment, some kind of clue, and what was nice by the end of the 13 episodes was that they started to trust that you can end it with a character moment, and that that would carry the show through the commercial, and that that would hold your interest. So I feel like by the end of the 13, we really found a nice balance between the mystery and the character.

I’m glad to hear that because everyone knows that pilots really set the tone, but I like that it makes that shift.
Yes, yes. Which is what I love about television, that you keep developing it.

Did you enjoy where it ended up more than there it started?
Yes, I did. I mean, I always like pilots because they’re always very crisp, and you kind of just commit to it and hope for the best. But by the end, I feel that we found different nuances and I think that Megan becomes much more vulnerable. I mean, she really goes places emotionally by the end of 13.

In a weird way, the character really struck me as similar to Temperance Brennan in the early seasons of Bones. Do you watch that?
You know, it’s funny you say that because I actually optioned those books years ago, the Kathy Reichs books. I had dinner with Kathy in North Carolina, God, 11 years ago [and talked with her] about doing them as a series of TV movies — like doing a three in a row kind of thing. We never got a script that we liked, and the option ran out. Then somebody else got the rights and kind of refigured it. You know, I was thinking more closely to the books, which are much darker, and [the character] was an ex-alcoholic and older than Emily Deschanel. So it’s smart what they did. They made it more right for a series. I think it’s interesting what they did to the books and lightened it a little bit, made it its own for the series. But I definitely love that character. That is a great character.

You can see so much of her in this character — what you’re bringing to it.
It’s a classic, you know. It’s become, I’d say, in the last 20 years, classic. Kay Scarpetta and Temperance — those are more modern female characters, I’d say.

How would you say this character evolves in the first 13 episodes, and what are we going to see as her goals this season?
To become more human. I think she’s letting these dead people teach her how to live. I think that’s the biggest thing in terms of character, that she’s learning to be vulnerable and admit that she might know everything in terms of her work, but that she doesn’t know anything about the human heart. You can’t really learn that, you just have to experience it. You can’t study that.

(Stephan Lee contributed to this report.)

Comments (44 total) Add your comment
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  • L

    I’m interested in this. I love Dana Delany, hope it gets a chance to get to the slightly softer side she talks about. I think House is interesting, because even though he’s horrible, he’s really charismatic at the same time. You need to be able to root for your main character, even if it’s just to not be so broken. My two cents anyway!

    • sally

      this show is beyond stupid, a neurosurgeon can’t just become an ME, that requires an additional 5 years of residency and is not the natural fallback for a surgeon. as for her ‘attitude’ – its lazy writing, every character who is supposed to smart is portrayed as being a jerk/socially awkward/arrogant. this show is full of cliche and my guess is it will be cancelled soon

      • jessie

        EXACTLY, I have a friend who is a pathologist and their residency training is about 5 years and it is a hard 5 years because their training is vastly different than all other medical specialities, its basically lab work, no one can just decide to become a medical examiner, the premise of the show is an absolute joke. If she lost the ability to operate her best bet would be to retrain as a neurologist (taking 3 years) which at least has some relation to her prior field rather than take on all of pathology or at the very least become a post-op clinician

      • elizabeth

        Actually, you should read some of the stuff Kathy Reichs and others in the field have written about this (both in her Bones books and elswehere), about how each jurisdiction is different, and requirements differ. The ideal is to have that residency in a related specialty, but evidence gathering at this level is still relatively new, and some jurisdictions would thrilled to get a brilliant former neurosurgeon as an ME, b/c that is someone who is not just a doctor, but can learn the job quickly. (And it’s no accident that LVPD was among the first to have a full-blown CSI unit.)

    • Jenny

      Thank you Sally. Another ABC show trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes falsely promoting an agenda that is not possible in the time mentioned.
      Plus Delany is one of Hollywood’s WORST actresses..always giving off a facial expression of self arrogance. She stunk on DH and she’ll stink on this piece of trash show. I hope this show BOMBS!

      • chris

        Really the worst actress? Dana Delany has won 2 Emmys for best actress for China Beach. What in the world is a facial expression of self aggrogance?

      • Garry

        Jenny, I’m betting you didn’t have your morning coffee yet. Or are you always wishing failure on others?

      • Dav

        “falsely promoting an agenda…” Really? Have you never watched TV before? Ever? There is no hidden agenda here. It is just Hollywood bending the rules to create an interesting character for a TV show. This happens everywhere on every channel on almost every show. Welcome to TV.

    • Margie

      I think it looks really interesting. And what’s also interesting to me is how smart Dana Delaney is. She’s got a lot to bring to this show. I’m looking forward to it.

  • Carol

    The previews for this are TERRIBLE.

    • Fortune

      agree

    • Tarc

      They look good to me.

  • LizzieE

    I’m torn because I have semi-followed DD’s career since China Beach (check it out sometime). I will probably watch the show but it’s taking Detroit 1-8-7’s timeslot. Unfortunately, a better rating for Body of Proof will definitely spell the end for one of my new favs.

    • tvfan

      I don’t think Body of Proof’s ratings will have anything to do with Detroit 187. Sadly, Detroit’s ratings themselves have already spelled the end for it.

  • Lyn

    DD’s character on “China Beach” was wonderfully real and complex . . . I just hate to see her in a TV plot that looks so derivative. (And in that ridiculous “real housewives” hair that TV shows inflict on virtually every female no matter how tough or professional she’s supposed to be!) Would love to see her in a fresh role . . . not another House or another Bones or whatever. Enough cops, coroners, lawyers and doctors!

    • chelsea

      I gotta agree. This show just looks bad. Love Dana but she needs to pick better projects. She’s an awesome actor.

  • Bobob

    I know it’s “just the Internet,” but this piece still needs to be copy-edited.

    And negative style points for pointlessly including the interviewer’s own “ha” within the text of the first question.

  • Cat

    Sounds interesting.

  • jfms777

    It’s Dana Delany. The nicest thing is that there are now so many TERRIFIC actresses starring on tv. And you cannot say the same thing about actors on tv. Several good, but not wonderful.

  • Javadude54

    One of the things I’ve always liked about Dana Delany is that she’s very bright and spends time learning to understand the characters she plays, her part in bringing them to life, and is very good at articulating these things. That is much more refreshing than reading comments from many actors who sum up their characters by saying things that amount to little more than, “well, I think she’s/he’s really cool, ‘ya know?”.

  • HD

    Dana Delaney saved Desperate Housewives. Her season’s mystery was the show’s best. I used to love China Beach as a kid and hope this does well for her too!

  • Vago

    Remember DD from an L Word episode…look forward to seeing her again

  • jmcg

    I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t care for those cbs procedurals at all. Every once in awhile I might watch criminal minds because its so awesomely bad I find it fascinating. I hope this show isn’t patterned after those cbs procedurals, I’m looking forward to watching this one. I’m surprised they didn’t mention crossing jordan from nbc. I would think this show would be more in tune with jordan instead of bones considering they are both about m.e.’s who have issues-that show was largely character-driven too.

    • murley

      i am with you, i am not a fan of procedurals. i think they can’t help but be derivative and unoriginal. i watched the first season of criminal minds because matthew gubler is a friend of mine and i wanted to support him, but stopped after that because it just isn’t my kind of show. the only one i watch is bones, which i watch because of the characters and the fact that it stars some of my favorite actors.

    • GS

      You are high if you think Criminal Minds is bad. It’s a great show. It has matured as have the actors and the storylines are great. One of the best on tv.

    • Kay

      GS takes it a bit too far. CM is no where close to being one of the best shows on TV and some of the writing is cringe-worthy but….It has definitely gotten *MUCH* better since the first season. Season 1 was utter crap but they started to improve around the end of season 2 into season 3. There is some really good character stuff but you have to wade through all the standard procedural stuff to get to it.

  • rayme

    Did they really schedule this on Tuesday at 9? Opposite Parenthood and Good Wife? All with strong casts – and all with great female leads >> Dana Delany, Lauren Graham, and Juliana Margulies? I wish the DVR had another tuner.

    • elizabeth

      Sorry I didn’t see your comment before I made mine, and your point about the female leads is excellent.

  • elizabeth

    I WAS looking forward to this show until ABC stupidly scheduled against The Good Wife and Parenthood, which not only split the SAME demographic, but already each have devoted fanbases. Most DVRs only allow watching of two shows at once. And ratings are based on watching the show, not downloading it (as if I could, having only access to dial-up like a third of of Americans). I swear ABC programming people have a serious case of head-in-butt syndrome. Maybe they’ll figure out their idiocy and move the show so it has a chance to be seen and be renewed, but probably not, given their long track record of similar stupid programming decisions.

  • Jules

    It’s airing against the The Good Wife? Sorry but as much as I love DD, I am hooked on TGW. Watch ABC will move the timeslot and it will ruin any chance the show has.

  • BRETT

    No one cares about this show. It has minimal buzz. You have an interview here with the star of the show yet only 25 (now 26) comments. Pretty sure this show is going nowhere fast.

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