A new Alex interview. In this IESB.net interview he mentions that he is SINGLE… a detail for fans who thought he might have mentioned a wife in his Craig Ferguson interview.
Three Rivers is a new medical drama, for the CBS fall television season, premiering on October 4th, that goes inside the emotionally complex lives of organ donors, the recipients and the surgeons at the preeminent transplant hospital in the country.
Dealing with donor families in their darkest hour, and managing the fears and concerns of apprehensive recipients takes much an elite, highly-skilled team to manage such a high-stakes arena. Leading this team is Dr. Andy Yablonski, played by Alex O’Loughlin, who is best known to audiences for his role as vampire Mick St. John on the drama Moonlight.
During a recent set visit, in which they gave the press a tour of the new look for the hospital, the show’s Australian star talked about taking on such an emotional role in the intense world of organ donation, and how what he’s learned about the occupation has changed his outlook and appreciation for life.
Q: What has the emotional journey been for you, getting into this character and this world?
Alex: One of the things that affected me the most was going on rounds with Gonzo Gonzalez Stawinski, at the Cleveland Clinic. I did pre-op and post-op rounds in the OR, and I met a woman who needed a new heart. She was dying, and she wasn’t that old. She was in her 50’s or early 60’s. She had grown-up kids. She allowed me to come into the room when Gonzo was talking to her for an evaluation, and there was a lot of administration.
There’s a lot of bureaucracy in this world. You have to meet the criteria, or you don’t get the organ and you die. Something had happened and she’d apparently been refused an organ. Gonzo went and met with her, and I sat and watched him talk to her. He said to her, “What do you want?,” and she said, “I just want to live. I just want to be alive.” He said, “What would you do if I could give you another five years of life?,” and she said, “Take walks. Go to the lake. I’d tend to my vegetable garden. I’d have dinner with my kids.” This was a person like you and like me, and all of us who just want to live life and be with the people they love and do the things that bring them joy.
I don’t know whether she got the heart that she needed, but that’s the world that we’re in. People like Gonzo and my character, Andy Yablonski, deal with, on a personal level, and meet, get to know and fall in love with these people, and lose these people, every day. He’s in the business of life. He chooses to give life. The emotional journey is enormous. It’s immense. I know that these surgeons have days where they wonder, “Is there a God? And, if there is a God, where is he and what the hell is all this about?”
Q: Does it make you appreciate life a little bit more now?
Alex: Absolutely, of course it does. I try to have an appreciation of life, as much as I can, anyway. I’m very lucky. I’ve got a great job. Look at my life, it’s ridiculous. A lot of people aren’t going to eat today.
I was hesitant to take the role because it’s so immense. This is a really important story. The stories that we’re going to tell are about life and death. Every episode is about life and death. Without the death that we’re going to deal with, people don’t get to live on our show. Someone has to die. When someone dies, it affects someone else. I’m sure all of us have had some type of exposure to death. I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. A lot of people, believe that there is nothing else, after this. So, there are some really, really big things that I’ve had to contend with, moving into this and being in the show.
Q: Is it hard to leave all that emotion on the set, at the end of the day?
Alex: It’s always hard to leave it at the set. I’ve always taken my work home with me. It’s unintentional, but it happens. I’m a single man, so I guess I can do that.
Q: How do you get that out of your head?
Alex: Scotch. No. I have things that I do to decompress at home. Where I live, I’m very private and I have a real sanctuary with a little garden. I just go home and do my thing. It’s very calming.
Q: Did you attempt the Pittsburgh accent for your character?
Alex: We spoke about that. Andy is a Pittsburgh boy, but he has moved away from his old life. He has a past that people at the hospital don’t know about. One of the things that he’s done is make a departure from his working-class background. That’s why we chose to go with a more generic American accent.
Q: Will we see him interacting with that past life?
Alex: Absolutely. You’re going to get a taste. You’re going to learn that there’s more to Andy than meets the eye.
Q: How complicated is his backstory?
Alex: You’ll have to wait and see. He’s from the other side of the tracks, and he’s got some history that we’re going to find out, as the story unfolds.
Q: How similar and how different are you from this character?
Alex: I’m a very passionate person. I’m very positive. I’m very tenacious. I can be outgoing, and I’m a go-getter. When I believe in something, I go after it. If the unjust thing has happened, I’ll go after the justice of the situation. Those are all things that Andy and I share. I also come from a working class part of town, and I’ve had my share of rough and tumble times. I’ve got some stories of my own. So, I’m actually very similar to this character.
The thing that I need to be conscious of are the differences. Not that I’m going to focus on those, but those are the things that separate me from my work and my character. Those are crucial things because the departure from myself is where it gets interesting.
Q: What was the experience of filming in Pittsburgh like? Was that your first time there?
Alex: Yeah, and it’s a great town. It’s such a beautiful, poignant little city. There’s something about it that made me really love it. It’s a doorway, in a way. As you drive there, all of a sudden, it feels like it is opening before you, with the water and the bridges. I fell in love with it. There’s also something haunting and sad about it. It’s one of the cities in America that we almost forget about. It feels like you’re in another time when you’re there.
Q: Did any Moonlight fans find you?
Alex: Not that many found me, but I have had experiences with Moonlight fans, from all around the world, wherever I go. That show has very long arms, and I appreciate that. It was very close to my heart. I love my Moonlight fans, as long they don’t come at me with sharp objects and are over-excited.
Q: What was it like to experience the level of fandom that you had with Moonlight?
Alex: That was the first time that I’ve really been overwhelmed with letters and fans and love from people, for a job that I did. I guess anybody who’s gone through it would probably feel the same thing. It’s very strange and surreal. At first, there’s something a little spooky about opening hundreds and hundreds of letters from people you’ve never met, and that know so much about you and have an intimate connection with you. Now, I’m much more comfortable with it. Without my fans and their support, my job is pointless.
Q: Is there any future for that show, maybe even in other mediums?
Alex: I don’t think so. Joel Silver called me about a movie last year, at some stage, but I’d just done another movie and now I’m doing this. So, I just don’t know, but I don’t think so.
Q: Do you think they will follow you to this show?
Alex: I hope so. They’re not that snobby.
Q: You have Whiteout coming out on September 11th, right?
Alex: Yeah. I play an Aussie pilot in the movie. I’m okay in it. I don’t really love anything that I’ve ever done, and this is no exception to that. But, it’s a fun movie, and it’s worth going to see.
Q: What about the film that you finished with Jennifer Lopez, The Back-Up Plan?
Alex: I think that’s going to be good.
Q: You’re happy about that one?
Alex: I don’t know. We’ll see. But, I had a great time.
Q: Did you have the show already lined up, when you did that movie?
Alex: I was shooting the pilot, when I got offered the movie. I took the movie, and then the pilot got picked up. So, of course, you think about that stuff like, “What if the show goes for seven years, and I could’ve had a film career?” You can’t do that. You have to put it out of your head. I’m just happy to be working.
Q: Do you think you could balance both careers, and find the time for that?
Alex: I’ll find a way.
Q: Do you go back to Australia much?
Alex: Yeah, a couple of times a year.
Q: When was the last time?
Q: Are you going back this year?
Alex: Absolutely, if I can. If the show gives me a break.
Q: Did you know that this show is running in Australia, at the same time that it’s running here?
Alex: I didn’t know that, no. I’ve been thinking about Australia a lot, lately. I’ve been working so much, and I haven’t had a vacation in awhile. I’m not going to get one now. I had one day off, between the movie and the show, and all I can think about is Sydney, in the winter. It’s cold there right now, and everyone is watching the waves crash and the rain. It’s crazy, but I miss my Sydney.
Q: What’s your work-out routine?
Alex: I’m pretty committed to it. I run up in the hills, I box at a boxing gym and I circuit train. I do interval training, which is really high intensity training without breaks, for a period of time.
Q: How often do you do that?
Alex: I try to train about five days a week.
Q: What’s some advice that you’ve taken to heart, with all these health issues? Is there anything specific that you’ve learned?
Alex: Yeah, not to smoke cigars. I’ve modified that as well. I’m not smoking cigars as much anymore. I’m smoking one, every couple of weeks. I’m still conscious of that. I used to smoke one a day and, even though it’s not cigarettes, I would run up a hill and feel it. And, I’m very conscious of my diet. I’ve always eaten well, but I’ve totally changed the way that I’m eating now. I’m actually using a company that’s got really low cholesterol and really low sodium food.
Q: You get it delivered at home, every day?
Alex: Yeah. It’s good because I don’t have time to cook it, and it’s so easy to just grab a fatty thing.
Q: How do you avoid craft service on the set?
Alex: Iron-clad discipline.
Q: Do Australians have a different outlook on organ donation?
Alex: I don’t know if it’s a collective mentality. I think it’s more of an individual thing. By no means, do I feel like it’s something that everyone should do. It’s a personal thing. If it’s something that you want to be a part of, then you should absolutely go and be a part of it because it’s so special It’s such a beautiful thing, and such a gift of life to give to someone.
I understand that people have personal, religious and superstitious views that may stop them from doing it, and I don’t judge that at all. But, I really want to become a spokesperson with Donate Life America, to bring an awareness to people who might not know about it.
Q: Were you an organ donor before this show? Has being involved with this show changed you or your understanding of that world, in any way?
Alex: When I was in my late teens, it just seemed like the cool thing to do. And, what I have actually learned on the show is that there’s a lot more to just checking a box and putting the sticker on your license. I believe there are a few other things you need to get in order, if you want that to happen, if anything happens to you, God forbid. But, I don’t need it anymore. I don’t have any religious bonds, or anything, that stop me from doing that.
Q: Has it affected you even more so, being in this world?
Alex: Yeah. I’ve seen all the procedures now, except for a heart transplant. That’s one thing I haven’t seen, but I’ve seen pretty much every other operation available to do on the heart. And, my understanding of the importance of this has been heightened so much.
Q: What is the learning curve with the medical terminology, on top of speaking with an American accent?
Alex: Very extreme. The accent stuff is not such a big deal for me, anymore. I’ve been doing that, for a long time.
Q: How do you prepare?
Alex: You study and read a lot, and you practice saying, “Hypotrophic myopathy,” over and over. When I first the read pilot, I met with Carol Barbee a few times, and she had to talk me into it. I was so nervous when I met her because, embarking on this journey, if you take it seriously at all, is enormous. I haven’t had any training in medicine. There’s so much to learn, even just to get off the ground and be convincing when you say the words. The whole time we were in Pittsburgh, and before that as well, I was into medical journals and I was researching all night.
Q: Did you speak to any doctors?
Alex: Yeah. I was back and forth from Pittsburgh to Cleveland. I spent a lot of time flying and driving over there, and I spent a lot of time in the OR. Now, I’m obsessed with it. I’ve chosen the wrong profession. I’m so boring. I should have been a doctor. I found out that my father wanted to be a cardio-thoracic surgeon. That was a dream of his. It was something that he was obsessed with, as well.
Q: What does he think of what you’re doing now?
Alex: We weep together about it. No. He’s thrilled that I’m doing the show. It’s overwhelming how much I don’t know.
Q: What was it like for you to be able to watch a real surgery?
Alex: The first thing I noticed was how resilient we are, on the inside. Once I got through the initial, “Oh, my God!,” and I got my head around that, I was like, “Oh, wow, I’m not a fainter. Cool. I can watch this.” The biggest thing I was scared of was fainting. I was like, “How on Earth am I going to know if I can watch this?,” and the the surgeon was like, “Well, if you get sweaty and you feel cold, and you are thinking about your mom, and you look at the roof, then you should get out.” But, the organs that I saw were in sick people, for the most part. They are people who have a certain lifestyle, and it’s from doing the things that we do, from time to time, like smoking, drinking and eating bad stuff. And, there is nothing like the smell of a sick heart and a sick organ to turn you off of a burger and fries. I was like, “I’ll take a salad and a water tonight.”
THREE RIVERS premieres on October 4th on CBS, WHITEOUT opens on September 11th.