Dr. Grace Devlin cannot escape the reach of the Mafia. Her dad, her brother and now she all have ties that aren't easily broken in the Fox drama "The Mob Doctor," premiering Monday, Sept. 17.
Devlin (Jordana Spiro, "My Boys") is a third-year surgical resident who saw her first corpse as a girl. It was her father. He had vague mob ties; her brother's are stronger, and in the pilot, hers become deep. She's a rogue surgeon, infuriating her colleagues, doing what she thinks is best for patients -- even if that's not precisely within medical ethics or the law.
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"The Mob Doctor"Premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17, on Fox
"For me, her back story is her father was a wannabe gangster," Spiro says. "I think there is a power inside her. I think she is probably quite primal with her sexuality. She is probably a quite corporal person; she deals with blood and bones.
"There is a real power seeker inside of her. Does she go light or dark with it? She's not aware of where it will take her."
Spiro informed her character's back story by shadowing doctors in Chicago, where "The Mob Doctor" is shot. "For me, that's the very exciting part about acting," she says. "It gets me going. I shadowed a cardiac thoracic surgeon and then shadowed surgical residents. I did 24-hour rotations and was everywhere from the ER during cardiac arrests and went out to Wendy's at 4 a.m. with them. I got to experience firsthand why clogs are the shoe of choice.
"The first time I shadowed in the ER, they asked, 'Don't you get scared of blood?' I never thought about it before," Spiro continues.
Grace is tough, Spiro says.
"I would like to see her get a bit seduced by the power of the Mafia," she says.
That lure of power is part of the show's basis, says co-creator Josh Berman, adding that a mob doctor is not as far-fetched as it initially sounds.
"We went to do some research, and we found a book called 'Il Dottore,' which this whole series is loosely inspired by," Berman says at a news conference. "Sony bought the rights for us. (It's) based on a real mob doctor. And the more we dug, we found out how most mob doctors are motivated. When you look into it, the doctors to the mob are more motivated by greed. They get seduced by the mob world. It's not because of the reasons we have in our pilot, but I think we've kind of flipped that, and hopefully we're a little bit more (of an) idealized version of the mob doctor. But who knows what the character of Grace will be seduced by in the future?"
Grace's original motivation was to save her brother, Nate (Jesse Lee Soffer, "As the World Turns"). He owed a lot of money to bookies, who aren't known for forgiving loans. To save Nate, Grace agreed to administer medical help to gangsters. The show opens with her blithely extracting a screwdriver from someone's head. She is neither a gentle doctor nor a woman easily cowed.
The local mob boss, who is making even more enemies than local mob bosses usually do because of his sadistic ways, treats her very badly. Unfortunately for him, the man who had been the boss, Constantine (William Forsythe, "Boardwalk Empire"), is recently sprung from prison and has always liked Grace, in a paternal way.
Forsythe has played mob bosses before, notably Al Capone in the early '90s remake of the TV series "The Untouchables."
"I am a history person," Forsythe says. "I knew a lot about what (Capone) had done. I was able to talk to the most amazing people, 60 to 100 people who knew him. In Chicago, on the South Side, there are still all these kinds of people whose families are part of that world."
He plays Constantine with a steely reserve, as someone who can kill at point-blank range and moments later reveal a caring side.
The drama, which also stars Zeljko Ivanek ("Damages") as one of the top surgeons, is bound to touch on internecine politics among the sleep-starved, ambitious residents at the hospital.
"I feel like it really could have legs," Spiro says of the show's potential.
"What creates a huge hit show is so beyond a formula. I just don't understand what makes something one way or not. I believe in what the show could be if all of us keep pushing ourselves to make sure that nothing stays on the surface."