The Surgeon: articles

Justine Clarke

Justine Clarke as Dr Eve Agius takes on the blokes and a tough local drama market.

Cutting edge theatre

Taking a break while filming Ten’s new drama The Surgeon, Justine Clarke is finding it easy to empathise with her character.

As Eve Agius, she is a surgeon who uses every skill at her command, every trick she can think of to keep patients alive. And she finishes her working day utterly drained.

Playing the lead in a series where she is in almost every scene, where success rests largely on her shoulders and where days often start and finish in darkness, she doesn’t have to dig too far to find that same exhaustion.

“It’s been a long day,” Clarke said, still in the hospital scrubs Dr Agius wears and with her blonde hair tucked into a surgical cap.

“Each episode is centred around a single [surgical] procedure and today has been particularly… interesting.

“I’m looking forward to wrapping things up so I can finally get home.”

Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for Australian television, that might be some time if Clarke and Ten are successful with this latest addition to struggling local drama.

Delving in to the high stress world of a woman literally at the cutting edge of medicine, The Surgeon takes a different view of the medical world to what we’ve seen lately.

With less emphasis on hospital romance and more on the drama that is surgery, all crammed into a tight 30-minute package, the hope is that a more realistic look at doctors will win an audience.

“While episodes are brief, they are very, very intense and that’s a reality of surgery we’re trying to show,” Clarke said.

“A half hour is just four eight-minute segments and some of that is shot to be seen in real time so you experience, in that short amount of time, just what a surgeon has to go through.

“They literally have someone’s life in their hands and one or two minutes at most to save it and that’s a pretty dramatic thing.”

Clarke plays a female surgeon alone in a male-dominated field. In her final year of surgical training, she is struggling not only to save lives, but to find her own amid long hours and the monstrous egos of colleagues.

“Eve is a tremendous character to play,” Clarke said, “she is immensely capable but at the same time she’s pretty isolated and lonely.

“Because she is a woman in a field where most of her colleagues are men, she has become so focused and so driven to succeed that she really has no social life and is still trying to figure out how to have one.

“And from what I understand that’s pretty normal for a lot of surgeons, of either sex. They’re in this unique position where at work they are the absolute centre of the world.

“They hold out their hand and ask for something and it’s there. They ask for something to be done and it is. They’re involved in this very cerebral process where procedures are logical and follow an order and when they do it right they save people’s lives.

“As an actor I found it hard to be able to get into that mindset because we usually go with the moment and react to what’s happening. In surgery you have to know in advance exactly what is going to happen and steer things to that point.

“It really made me appreciate just what kind of a person it takes to do this work, and hopefully we can get that across on screen.”

It’s a hope shared by the show’s producers.

From the same team which gave us The Secret Life Of Us, Ten is hoping The Surgeon will survive where other local dramas, notably Nine’s The Alice, have failed.

The difference, they hope, is that their emphasis is based on reality.

Filmed in a hospital ward, with operation footage edited into scenes and doctors on hand to make sure medical procedures are followed, the result is frighteningly convincing.

“There is blood, there is bad language, there are some scenes that have been tough for actors to play,” said series producer John Edwards.

“But this is about the people you give your lives to. If they weren’t passionate about doing that, you wouldn’t want them to be doing that job.”

The Surgeon, Thursday, Channel Ten, 9.30pm.

By Scott Ellis
October 10, 2005
Sydney Morning Herald