“But I know what makes a good role,” said the actress who couldn’t even consider the lead in Heartbeat as a female cardiothoracic surgeon given her obligations to HBO’s The Leftovers. Heartbeat sprang from Dr. Kathy Magliato’s book Heart Matters: A Memoir Of A Female Heart Surgeon. Upon coming away from a meeting with Magliato, Brenneman said to her filmmaker husband Brad Silberling, who also serves as EP, “That woman is a TV show.” The high stakes here: Magliato is one of only 200 female heart surgeons in the world.
What struck Brenneman, Silberling and EP Jill Gordon was Magliato’s breaking-the-glass-ceiling story. “My mother became a female judge in Connecticut because of a man — a gatekeeper who let her in. So with Dr. Kathy we wondered who let her into her position. What is that relationship?” said Brenneman to the TCA press corps this afternoon. In the show, Grey’s Anatomy alum Melissa George plays Dr. Alex Panttiere, the TV version of Dr. Magliato. “How this woman came to be was our North Star,” explained Brenneman.
The pilot episode is inspired by a scenario Dr. Magliato found herself in when she was returning with her family from vacation; her skills were urgently needed with a crisis on a plane. “Your life is being on call. You’re so specialized that you’re kicked to the front of the plane,” said Brenneman about what she found riveting in Magliato’s life. The phrase “full metal jacket” in Magliato’s book also struck Brenneman; how this surgeon has to wear and take off her full metal jacket depending on a certain situation.
Said Gordon: “We get the opportunity to explore unique areas of medicine. For example, there’s an episode where a chimpanzee is given a human heart transplant.”
Of course, creative medical licenses abound.
Exclaimed George, “Kathy doesn’t have as many lovers as I do on the show!”
Said Dr. Magliato, who also serves as co-EP: “In regards to the people in my life and past, I never got that much action (as this character is getting) on the set. I did ask my husband about love triangles (for the show).”