DrDeathtalksaboutlife

Published date14 September 2021
Publication titleSignal
THE Canadian-American actor Joshua Jackson (43) made his name playing Pacey Witter in teen drama Dawson’s Creek. Subsequent TV shows include Fringe, The Affair, When They See Us and Little Fires Everywhere. He now stars in fact-based miniseries Dr Death, based on the podcast of the same name, about Texas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, who was convicted in 2017 of intentionally maiming his patients.

Were you a fan of the Dr Death true crime podcast before playing him on screen?

No, I came in tabula rasa. [Writer and showrunner] Patrick Macmanus gave me a broad overview of Duntsch’s story, then said: “Go listen to the podcast so you understand who we’re dealing with.” I binged the whole thing in a day. I found myself not only gripped by the story but the question of how this man happened, how he became so troubled and dark. A pit opened up in my stomach, but it was way too good to pass up.

Is it fun to play an out-and-out villain for a change, albeit a charming one?

I’ve played flawed characters before, but never anything close to this. We didn’t want to turn Duntsch into a moustache-twirling bad guy. It’s more compelling and truer to real life if the audience empathise with him at times. You glimpse pieces of humanity in him and go: “Gosh, did he really do this stuff? He couldn’t possibly. He doesn’t seem that bad.” But eventually it’s undeniable. None of us is completely evil or completely good. We’re all fascinating, complex creatures. Duntsch is no different. It’s a case of finding sympathy for the devil.

Duntsch’s age and weight fluctuate throughout the series. Did you go full Raging Bull and gain it all yourself?

I got around halfway there, then we let prosthetics finish the job. It was a challenge physically, but it’s also a great tool as an actor because it’s like Duntsch is carrying the burden of his crimes.

Was it the US healthcare system’s fault that he got away with those crimes for so long?

Well, he had the right pieces of paper and the right bearing. As a tall, handsome, erudite, blue-eyed white man in America, he checked all the boxes. Once he chose to work at the highest-level hospitals in Texas, which has incredibly regressive civil liability laws, those institutions protected this man above his patients. Inside a profit-driven system, he was more valuable than the patients he lost. That’s what it boiled down to, scary as it is.

Has the show changed the way you look at doctors?

I’d certainly get a second opinion now. The Duntsch side of...

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