Zach Gilford talks OFF THE MAP

As a fan of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, it goes without question that I will follow my favorite Panthers and Lions to wherever else they show up.  In the case of Zach Gilford, the Panthers’ #7, he went ahead and found himself on a sunny island in Hawaii, shooting a show produced by hit-maker Shonda Rhimes.  His new show, OFF THE MAP is back tonight (after premiering to solid demo numbers last week amid a confusing schedule) with an all new episode that finds the doctors dealing with an anaconda, and Tommy learning a little bit about the cultural divide.

To celebrate, I chatted with Zach about what drew him to the show, what’s happening tonight, and why people need to tune in and watch!

What was it about OFF THE MAP made it a show that stood out as something you wanted to be involved in?
There were a lot of things.  Starting with the people who created it.  The network that it was on.  And the script that I saw.  I thought it was all good.  It had a lot of potential to not just be successful but something I could be happy to be a part of.  And on top of that, it was very different than what I’d been doing for a while.  I loved what I’d been doing, I never wanted it to end, but you know, I always knew the next job had to be something different because you don’t want to get pigeonholed as one character and never be able to branch out.

Right away from the pilot, you can tell that this is definitely a different character.  How are you describing the show to people when they ask you what it’s about?
You know, I guess I describe it as kind of a fun action adventure doctor show.  I think the action adventure is key because it’s kind of like MACGYVER in the jungle, instead of GREY’S ANATOMY in the jungle?  It’s like Dr MacGyver!  We don’t have the laser medical equipment or even x-rays.  We’re always having to do things either the way that America did it 40 years ago, or in these under funded clinics, the way they do it there, because they don’t have the medicine or the tools that we have the luxury of using here or in any developed country.  And a lot of times, we’re doing search and rescue type stuff,where we’re going out on a site and all we have is you know, an oversized medical kit or first aid kit in our backpack, and you’re doing surgery on the ground.  It’s fun and exciting.  I don’t know how realistic that is [laughs], in those situations, I don’t know how often they would cut him open right there, or make the effort to get him back, you have to put this person on the stretcher, carry them miles, put them in the back of a pick up truck and sometimes you don’t have that time.  I think it lends itself to more excitement than your typical doctor show.  Where it’s like “oh, you have this problem. We need to rush you into the ER, we still have time to scrub down, and put on our sterile gowns and gloves and anesthetize you”.  It’s like, “NO NO NO! WE HAVE TO CUT YOU OPEN RIGHT NOW! IN THE DIRT!”

Do you have technical advisers to help you through the medical jargon?
Yeah, we have a med tech and we have search and rescue consultants.  We have this guy, Chris Hanson, who worked on ER for a while.  He’s really great, and really helpful.  He has a way of taking these surgeries and all of these medical stuff that obviously, none of us went to med school, and making it make sense, in a way?  You know, and not over medical-ing it for you.  Just telling you, here is what you’re doing.  This organ is having problems, so you’re stopping the blood to it, you know what I mean?  Putting it in laymen terms, so you understand literally what you’re doing, which helps a lot, and just makes everything makes sense, and it makes it more fun, because you feel less like a robot that’s just told, put your hand here, the scalpel here, and let’s move on!

What can you talk about for what’s coming up in tonight’s episode and what’s coming beyond that?
I think you start to see, as far as the show as a whole.  The first few episodes keep being very big catastrophes, in a sense.  In the next episode, there’s a huge anaconda that kind of wraps itself around someone.  And then a couple episodes later, I don’t even remember, there’s these big things that happen.  That’s a running theme, and then that slows down a little, and that happens almost every other episode.  You start to get more of an idea of the culture.  So in the next episode, I’m kind of dealing with this girl who has seizures, she’s 15 or something, and she’s got this scar on her face.  She’s completely alienated from the community, everyone doesn’t want to be near her.  They think she has seizures because demons entered through the scar in her face.  And my character, his initial response is, what is wrong with you people?  She has seizures because of this reason;  if she takes the pills, she’ll be fine!  They have this local medicine man who Cheech Marin plays, and he’s awesome, he shows up a couple more times.  They won’t do anything medically unless he tells them it’s okay, and I offend him at first.  It’s kind of like bridging that gap, and you learn about how the relationship has been developed between the clinic and this medicine man, you know Eastern, Western, or whatever, and this is a long winded way of saying, it’s kind of, like establishing the place a little more and the culture we’re working in.  In terms of characters, I mean, mine specifically.  He’s a better guy than he lets on, initially.  I think is one of those people who played a role forever in his circle of friends.  He was the fun, funny, cool guy, you know, could drink a whole case of beer, you know what I mean?  That frat boy.  That’s not even truly who he is.  I think he starts to realize that being down there, it’s a place he can actually be himself a little more.  He starts to realize that he can actually use his medicine to help people, and not just to do nose jobs on kids whose noses aren’t actually even fully developed yet.

Why should people tune in?
It’s fun.  It’s a fun, action adventure kind of thing.  You’re going to get into the characters.  Especially mine, because I’m so much fun!  [Editor’s note: it’s hard to express the sarcasm and charm he had in that last “full of himself” sentence ha]  The relationships get really interesting and heartfelt as well.  With Martin Henderson’s character, he starts, initially, we hype him up as a super doctor, super do-gooder, but you start to learn how he’s flawed and that he does have a darker side.  As it is with any good show, people start to get more interesting.  Initially, you can only show so much in 45 minutes, especially with 8 people that you need to show, I think the more you can flesh them out, the more involved the relationships become. I don’t just mean involved romantically, but different friendships develop and different mentor/protege relationships develop, which I think will be really fun, and interesting to watch.

Check out our interview with two other OFF THE MAP leading men, Martin Henderson and Jason George right here!

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