Interview: Colin Donnell Returns To Center Stage In ‘Chicago Med’ Season 2

Move over, Dr. Ross and Dr. House – TV has a new top doctor as Colin Donnell continues to beautifully dig into his character in Season 2 of ‘Chicago Med.’

There will never be a shortage of TV doctors, but Dr. Connor Rhodes is in a class of his own. The driven surgeon from NBC’s Chicago Med stands out above the rest – because he’s played by Colin Donnell, who isn’t like any other actor.

Season 2 of Med has so far put Rhodes to the test, placing him on a collision course with new boss Isidore Latham (played wonderfully by recurring guest star Ato Essandoh) as he turns the page on his career and simply tries to figure out what’s going on with his life. And with every step that Rhodes takes, Donnell has been there to create a character much more layered and compelling than your average TV doctor.

“It’s been amazing,” the actor said when Hidden Remote connected with him last week to discuss the journey of his character. “I think the biggest gift any actor can get is more time.

“Since we’ve been granted that, the writers have taken these characters to the next level. They’ve had the whole hiatus to put together the arc of our season. We had a blast getting it up off the ground last year, but there’s always a very steep learning curve with the first season of a show.

“Now we all came back with that really great attitude of, all right, well we’re only as good as what we’re doing now. Let’s dig in, let’s do this, and make an even better show than we had last year.

“It’s cool to live in the skin of a character for so long,” he added. “It’s a different experience than being on stage in a long-running show, because it’s constantly evolving.”

Colin was one of the strongest performers in Med‘s first season, but in Season 2 he’s improved with that experience and is now tearing into Rhodes in a very watchable way.

That’s so far come in the character’s relationship with Latham; it’s clear that there’s no love lost between the two men and yet neither of them is going anywhere. So how much strife are fans really in for between Rhodes and his new superior?

“It’s mostly a lot of Connor trying to figure out how to deal with this type of, I hesitate to call it encouragement, because it’s not really that so much,” Colin told us. “He’s had a year of tutelage where he was led to believe that he was the end-all be-all, and the next big thing that could happen to surgery. He gets all those expectations shattered with Latham.

“They do butt heads a bit, but it’s mostly Connor trying to come to grips with the fact that he’s got to learn from this man.”

Their first interaction, in which Latham brought up the death of Rhodes’ mentor Dr. Downey, is one sample of that.

“I think it speaks to Latham’s personality that he doesn’t really have much of a filter,” Colin told us. “I think as the season progresses, he doesn’t have the best social interactions, the ability to socially interact with people.

“[That conversation] was just him being like, ‘Look, this is the rumor. I’m going to try to find some clarity in that, so why don’t you just tell me.'”

While the relationship between the pair is difficult for Rhodes, it’s provided a fresh and rewarding opportunity for the actor.

“It’s great,” he enthused. “Ato Essandoh is such a phenomenal actor, and they’ve written some really wonderful stuff for us in these first chunk of episodes that was done. It’s cool. It’s nice when you have scenes to play where you’re not right. It’s cool to be the one trying to fumble your way through a little bit.”

Those flaws are what make Rhodes, and Colin’s portrayal of him, so impressive. TV fans know the character type – the handsome young doctor who’s a bit of a rule-breaker but also kind of brilliant, and right, and witty, and the audience is supposed to fall in love with him. In other people’s hands, Connor Rhodes would be that guy. But because we have Colin Donnell, he’s anything but.

Not to say that he isn’t brilliant, or witty, or handsome. Yet he’s ripped that top layer off and shown so much else that’s ticking underneath. It’s that Rhodes can be wrong, and not just that he’s wrong, but that he doesn’t know what to do with being wrong. Or, as in last week’s episode “Win Loss,” that he can truly struggle with his cases and feel personally complicit, even when he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Colin explained that his character’s uphill climb is something that will go on throughout Season 2.

“One of the biggest things for Connor going forward this season is trying to find his way in this new field,” he said. “I feel like last season he was on top of his game in trauma surgery, and he knew what he was doing. He didn’t coast, he worked very hard at it, but he was always the hot shot.

“This season, so far at least, there’s a lot of very humbling moments that happen, and it’s been great for me to be able to play that, because there’s been a lot of stuff that’s taken the character down a peg. How does he deal with all of that, how much does it bruise his ego, how much does it fuel him to work harder? He’s in unknown territory on very rocky terrain.”

Another prime example is tonight’s episode, in which Rhodes has to undertake a very dangerous surgery and doesn’t exactly have the rousing endorsement of Latham. Not only does he have to tackle this incredibly high-stakes problem, but even if he succeds there’ll be a price to pay. Take a look:

Even Rhodes’ personal life is going to change. Something else in the cards is that he will eventually find a new romantic interest in Dr. Robin Charles, who’s played by Mekia Cox (currently starring on ABC’s Secrets and Lies) and makes her first appearance in the episode airing Oct. 13. Yet in keeping with this train of doing things differently, don’t expect immediate sparks.

“It’s a very slow interaction,” Colin teased. “We actually just shot our first scene together a couple days ago. I’m looking forward to working more with her. I think they’re doing fun stuff with the character and the relationship, so we’ll see where it all goes.”

Connor Rhodes is a character in transition in every sense of the word. That’s great, but it means nothing if you can’t employ an actor who can get the most out of that uncertainty, who can truly walk the audience through the journey that he or she is taking. And it’s in that aspect that Colin Donnell truly shines.

He has a gift for putting the audience right in that moment, for being able to convey exactly what his alter-ego is going through, and he’s able to do it in such nuanced and subtle ways. It feels like there’s always two tracks going on: what’s happening with Rhodes in the scene and what’s happening in his head, and that transparency makes him so much more involving as a character.

He’s so complex because Colin has enabled him to be that way, and especially on procedurals where character development often comes second, that’s not easy. What is easy is seeing the mark left on the character by the actor and understanding that he wouldn’t be the same if anyone else was playing him.

Perhaps the reason he’s so effective is that he comes originally from a theater background. Well before Chicago Med came calling, the name Colin Donnell was known on the stage and in some pretty big ways.

He earned multiple award nominations for his leading role as Billy Crocker in the 2011 Broadway revival of Anything Goes, played Fiyero in the 2009 second national tour of Wicked, shared the stage with Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda in a 2012 production of Merrily We Roll Along, and tackled Shakespeare in the Park in 2013 alongside his wife Patti Murin. So you may be able to guess that he can sing – really sing.

“I think people are sometimes surprised to find to how much theater and Broadway that I’ve done over the years,” he said. “I am, as my wife is as well, a musical theater actor by trade. We spent the last decade or so in New York kicking it on the boards there. It’s always fun to tell people, ‘You can go on Spotify and look up my name and you can hear me singing.'”

There probably won’t be a musical episode of Chicago Med any time soon (although it can be done; remember when Chicago Hope did it?). But stage actors operate differently than actors who have come up through television. There’s an intensity, an ‘in the moment’ quality, a decided lessening of the fourth wall in their performances, even on film.

That’s the spark that Donnell brings to Rhodes every week. He’s right there, and he’s head-first into it, and you’re coming along with him either because you want to or because you have to see what he’s going to do next.

The show wouldn’t be the same without him, which is probably comforting to the fans who recall that he’s been killed off his last two TV projects. There’s no clause in his Med contract that says Rhodes won’t go the way of Tommy Merlyn on Arrow or Scotty Lockhart from The Affair, but he’s optimistic.

“There’s no such clause in any contract as far as I know,” he laughed. “We’re hoping that, both me and my wife, and hopefully the fans are all hoping that Connor stays around for quite a while. So far, so good. The scripts keep coming in and I’m still in them. As far as I know, they enjoy writing for me.”

And frankly, the series would be crazy to even consider getting rid of him. Aside from everything that he brings to the table as an actor, as a human being Colin is even better. There’s a warmth, a wit and an honest love of the work that comes through constantly, even in our relatively brief phone conversation. He’s one of those rare actors that you can completely understand being a fan of just as a person, because he’s that grounded and genuine.

He also happens to be having a tremendous amount of fun. For as serious as Chicago Med gets on screen, Colin said it’s equally entertaining when the cameras aren’t rolling.

“We’ve been having such a great time,” he told us. “We’ve got some great additions to the cast, of course. Nobody likes to mess with people more than Jeff Hephner, I think.

“It’s great, it is. It’s a very serious show, with a lot of serious subject matter, so I think our antidote to that is having as much fun as possible while still getting all the work done.”

Not only does Colin appreciate his colleagues, but when we ask him what he wants to talk about, he opts not to turn the spotlight on himself but instead focuses on his wife, who’s back to reprise her recurring role as pathologist Nina Shore in Season 2.

“She’s actually at work right now, which is hilarious to me,” he said. “I think it’s amazing. She’s on set at Chicago Med and I’m hanging out at home…I’m very excited for fans to be able to check her out and see what she’s doing.

“She’s the best. She just had her birthday yesterday, so I’m gushing all over her, and sitting next to one of our two rescue dogs. They’re our biggest little joys. It’s her number one passion for sure, but one that I am happy to latch onto myself as well.”

So, all in all, what’s not to respect about Colin Donnell? He’s taken a character who could very easily have been just like many others and made him into one that we can’t stop watching. The skill set he brings to the table has allowed Rhodes – and himself – to shine in a way that is unique. He’s found a journey for this character that not only is going to be different for him to take, but we can’t wait to see how he handles it and continues to dig deeper into the role.

And no matter what happens to Rhodes, if you’re a Chicago Med fan you should be a Colin Donnell fan. Regardless of his talent he is someone who deserves that recognition just for who he is and how he handles himself. He’s a standout actor, but he’s also a standout individual, and we don’t have enough of those. While Connor Rhodes is out there saving lives, Colin Donnell is making the acting world just a little bit brighter.

While there will never be a dearth of TV doctors to choose from, there’s not one like Connor Rhodes, there certainly isn’t an actor as able to bring it all together as Colin Donnell, and Season 2 of Chicago Med should only push them both to even greater heights.

Chicago Med airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.