A lot of actors cringe when they see pages of dialogue full of often baffling, seemingly unpronounceable medical jargon, but Odette Annable says “bring it on!” Just please tell her how to pronounce it properly.
And she’s going to get her share: as a member of the ensemble cast of CBS’s new drama “Pure Genius,” the actress plays Dr. Zoe Brockett, one of the team of trailblazing, brilliant medical minds who’ve been tasked by a young Silicon Valley billionaire to make revolutionary strides in health care at a cutting edge hospital. The most up-front – blunt, even – member of the hospital staff, Brockett has to balance solving the rarest of medical conundrums with increasing interpersonal entanglements with her colleagues.
It’s a role Annable admits she coveted so much, it even motivated her to get back in front of the camera after the birth of her first child, with husband Dave Annable, last year — and to hit the Internet ahead of time to learn exactly how to enunciate some of that tongue-twisting terminology.
What appealed to you about your character Zoe when you read the script the first time?
Odette Annable: She is super frank. She is honest to a fault. She has an interesting relationship with James because I feel like she’s probably one of the only people that stands up to him, mostly because she’s a doctor and he’s not. He can be rude sometimes, and she doesn’t tolerate any of it. I think that, in my notes, what I wrote about her was that she thinks it will change the world. They probably will change the world.
Do you think there is a romance brewing between those two? We know that he has a crush on her, but is it mutual?
You know, it’s interesting. I think they’re developing a love triangle right now with James and Zoe and Malik, which is great because they’re two such different characters, and I think Zoe is painfully unaware that James is so infatuated with her, and she has such a different relationship with Malik in the way that they’re both doctors, and they can both, you know, do their work together.
But he also has such a different perspective. I think that’s why the show is so great because every cast member comes from such a different walk of life. Playing into the notion that there’s no bureaucracy in the show, everybody has a say. Whoever has the best idea is the best idea, whether it’s the janitor or the chief of staff.
How has high-tech medicine touched your life?
I wished it touched me more, and I think that’s why the show is so important. When I read the script initially, I certainly thought that there’s no way this can be real. It’s a great script. It’s fantastic. It’s Jason Katims. But then, the cast, we had an opportunity to go to Cedars-Sinai, and we sat in on a seminar: one of our consultants on the show, he was talking about digital health, and he was showing us so many examples of what they’re doing at Cedar-Sinai, and it’s exactly what our show is doing.
And it made me realize that this isn’t just a script that they made up. It’s important. It’s an important story to tell, and it’s something that, sure, we’re not quite there yet, but it’s five minutes into the future. It’s a few years away, which is really, really exciting to think that any family member could go to a hospital like this and possibly be cured. It’s so — it’s reachable.
What’s been your favorite day with the advanced medical jargon, and trying to land it convincingly?
My gosh! You know the thing that screws me up is: I go online, and there’s this website, Howjsay, and I thought I was doing my work by hearing the word back to me. So then I’m working on set, and one of our medical advisors comes up to me and said, “Okay, you’re saying the word wrong.” I’m like, “No, no, no. I’m not. I did my research. I know what I’m talking about.” He’s a doctor. So, you know, there was that. Then, because I had memorized it a certain way, it’s so hard to do it the right way, because I was already stuck in my head. So it’s those things that really sort of jar you.
But, I’ve got to be honest, after I shot “House,” my agent and my managers, they asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, I don’t care, but I want to play a doctor again. I really love it. I love the procedural aspect. I love that, fortunately enough — and on “House” as well, it was also pretty character-driven. But this show specifically is so nuanced in that way. Our storylines are so fantastic, and it’s so exciting.
Do you get to get out of the lab jacket every so often?
Every so often, but I feel really comfortable in that thing! So I’m cool with it.
You became a mom a year ago — what are the pros and cons of being back at work?
I think this morning was really difficult because I didn’t see her at all yesterday! I think that’s a difficult part of this job: that sometimes you wake up a five o’clock in the morning and you come home when she’s already in bed. For me, my mom always worked, and I never felt her missing. I know it’s important for me to take time to do what I really love, because it makes me a better mom. I want her to look up to me in that way, and I want that for her.
Everything was put into perspective after I had the baby. I wasn’t going to take a job just to take a job, which is sometimes what you do in this business, and you just sort of jump on the first thing, because actors always think they’re never going to work again. It’s a thing. And I read a bunch of scripts, and I really wanted to stay in Los Angeles because I just had the baby. Settling into a new home would be very, very difficult for us at the time.
So when I read the script, it really spoke to me, and I knew right then and there if I were able to be a part of this project, not only would I be at home in Los Angeles, but I would be working on something that was really important to me, and something that I really wanted to do. Waking up and going to work was really exciting to me, and it still is.
As hard as it is to leave Charlie in the morning, I know that I’m doing something that’s really fulfilling, and that is great work, and I’m working with such fantastic people. The show is so great. It’s got that special Jason Katims magic fairy dust sprinkled all over it. So it’s such a different show, and I’m really, really excited to see where it goes.
“Pure Genius” premieres October 27 on CBS.