'ER' vet Anthony Edwards on finding 'Zero Hour'

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Image Credit: Phillippe Bosse/ABC

On ABC’s Zero Hour, Anthony Edwards sheds the skin of Dr. Mark Greene in almost every way possible.

Yes, his character Hank, a magazine editor, is a nice guy who’s dedicated to his family. But the journey Hank goes on couldn’t be more different than that of the fan-favorite doctor from Chicago General.

On the show, premiering tonight, Hank’s wife is kidnapped and on his quest to find her, Hank uncovers a treasure of secrets that leads him down a dangerous and complicated path — that will all unravel over 13 episodes. “They really wanted to make a movie for television,” explains Edwards, who starred on NBC’s ER from 1994-2002. “Our marching orders [were] ‘Go for it.’”

And in a chat with EW, Edwards explains that’s exactly what they did, and why he chose Zero Hour to be his first major TV project in more than a decade.

Doing 13 episodes a season is a major trend these days. Tell me what it was like for you to tackle 13 episodes of Zero Hour as opposed to the normal 24, like you used to do on ER?
It was exciting because you start [off knowing] the big general story stuff. [The writers] give you the big story you’re going to be doing, and the fun part is all the more detailed stuff you do episode to episode. So what it requires is a tremendous amount of trust, which is the best way to work. The thing we had here — which I think [executive producer Paul Scheuring] has said — is that he knew where we were going to end this story and that’s kind of how he conceived the show. He got to work backwards and lay it all out.

Was that part of the show’s appeal for you? Having a big end game and then getting there?
Yeah. It was starkly different in style, obviously, than ER, where what you’re really working on is minutia of reality in that [environment]. This is like using bigger brushes, in a sense. We’re talking about Nazis, the church, big deceptions, big ambitions and we’re doing it all around the world. So I think I learned early on if you want your audience to be interested and enjoy what they’re watching, you have to be. So it’s really important that you think your child is the most beautiful one in the nursery.

This kind of story requires a lot more of a commitment on an audience’s part. Is that something you’re worried about at all?
I know it’s what I like as an audience member. I like being committed to a story. And it works for me and my 12-year-old daughter. What happens next on Downton Abbey is really important to us. [Laughs] We’re really invested in these people, and we want to know what’s going to happen. Apparently something happened to Thomas last week and we haven’t been able to watch it. We have it on Tivo. But that was Paul’s [mode] and John Wells’s mode on ER: Never underestimate your audience. People are really clever, and when I think you condescend them with storytelling it doesn’t pay off.

You’ve been gone from network TV for a while. When you were exploring going back to TV, did you want something really mythology-heavy?
Well, I thought — it’s that ‘never say never’ thing. When I left ER I thought, I’d never do a network drama again — not because I didn’t love it but because it was so much work. Then when I started looking for a series in the last year and a half, I thought I’d be on a half-hour cable show — a one camera, Showtime-type show. That’s what I’d been developing and was looking to do. And as with all things in life, [I was] surprised — and the best things are surprises. I always laugh because the worst movie I ever made was where I met my wife. [Laughs] So right when I thought I was going to do something else, Zero Hour popped up.

Now, your character, Hank, goes through a lot of adventures, even in just the pilot. That’s got to have been different than hanging out on a hospital set on a lot for 18 hours a day.
Yeah, that alone — you know how shows are made. On an eight-day shoot, a show will be five days in a studio and maybe three days on location. On Zero Hour, we were maybe in the studio two days and out on location for six days. It was moving 100 people with lots of trucks all over New York every day. We were a really energetic circus. On ER, we’d spend seven days in the studio. It was like being in a submarine.

Doesn’t Hank go on an old submarine at some point?
Several times. [Laughs]

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