And so, another English actor crosses the pond to make his way through the rigors of American series television. This month, it’s Jeremy Northam. And of all those who have followed Hugh Laurie’s (House, M.D.) trailblazing since 2004, this is the one about whom I’m most curious.
Northam (Thomas More in Showtime’s The Tudors) is a classically trained English Actor (capital “A” intended). The son of a Cambridge University Ibsen scholar, Northam trained at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre. He’s crossed back and forth between the London stage and American cinema for years, and it’s interesting that he has now decided to try his hand playing a at American TV in the new CBS drama Miami Medical debuting tonight on CBS.
I’ve seen snippets of Miami Medical's premiere episode, and I’m intrigued. The series follows a team of trauma doctors as they go about saving lives at breakneck speed. (Time is of the essence during the life or death "Golden Hour" in these emergency trauma scenarios). Northam stars in the series as a brilliant, but world-weary Gulf War veteran who joins the staff as the series begins.
I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical about the series future and the confidence of the network in it, since it's been relegated to a deadly time slot at 10 p.m. Friday nights. How long it will remain on the air is still to be seen—even if the series is good (and the advance word is decidedly mixed).
In his new role, Northam speaks with his native British accent as Dr. Matthew Proctor, not following Hugh Laurie’s example when he signed on to play Dr. Gregory House in House, M.D.
During a press conference earlier this year, Northam explained that with the rapid fire dialog and technical jargon and other medical paraphernalia flying about, dealing with an accent (and a dialect coach) was not something he savored (nor believed necessary). Personally, I’m happy about that. I could simply sit and listen to Northam read the telephone book in his real voice. His American accent is pretty good (although not quite in Laurie’s league), but it would be such a waste of those silky Oxbridge intonations.
For those of you not yet familiar with Northam's distinguished film and are curious about where you might have seen him before after watching Miami Medical’s premiere, I present for you a guide to some of his more well-known (and accessible) works:
Emma (1995) Northam has said numerous times that he’s not happy donning the frock coats, top hats and stiff collars that go along with doing period drama. But he is so very suited to the genre, as I’m sure you’ll agree. In 1995, he co-starred with Gwyneth Paltrow (in a very Jane Austen-ish movie year) in an excellent filmed version of Austen’s 19th Century Classic. Playing the upright Mr. Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law, Northam showed an ability to melt hearts, exhibiting a subtle vulnerability in dealing with the exuberant and sometimes frustrating Emma. I'm hoping he brings some of that to his new role.
The Winslow Boy (1999) Directed by David Mamet, The Winslow Boy is adapted from Terrence Rattigan's British stage play concerning the explusion of a young cadet from a posh British military prep-school in Edwardian England. Northam plays Sir Robert Morton, the boy’s attorney and member of the House of Commons. Northam shines in the role, and manages to convey a large range of emotions in a role that could have come off as stiff and one-dimensional.
An Ideal Husband (1999) Filmed around the same time as Winslow Boy, Northam once again dons the stiff collar and top hat for this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s late Victorian play. As in Winslow Boy, Northam plays (a different) Sir Robert—also a Member of Parliament. It's a delightful comedy of manners (and errors) also starring Cate Blanchette, Rupert Evert, Julianne Moore and Minnie Driver. As you might expect from Oscar Wilde, there's some real social commentary about politics, women and relationships embeded in the lightness of the comedy. The “ideal husband” of the title, Northam’s politician possesses a big secret and clay feet (and, eventually, a lot of courage).
Gosford Park (2001) What is it about British actors who are also fabulous musicians? Northam plays real-life actor/composer Ivor Novello in Robert Altman’s Agatha Christie-esque who-done-it, starring such luminaries as Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Stephen Fry. They are all thrust into this fictional account of a murder at a weekend in the (English) countryside. Northam does his own singing and his on-screen piano playing. It’s a great (and fun) film.
Other noteworthy Northam films include Possession (2002), Cypher (2002), and Voices from a Locked Room (1995), with the extraordinary Northam in the dual role of a troubled composer and his highly critical music critic. It’s a brilliant performance in an almost impossible to find movie.
Of course there are many other Jeremy Northam offerings out there if you want more after seeing him in Miami Medical. He’s a great actor, and I’m very curious about what he’ll do in this new project.
Miami Medical airs on CBS Friday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET.