Thursday marks the return of Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) to ER (10 pm/ET, NBC), which raises at least one tricky question. Like: Didn't that character die? Don't worry, Greene isn't returning spectrally to haunt his former workplace. Rather, the episode is a flashback to approximately six years ago, when Angela Bassett's Dr. Cate Banfield, County General's current chief, first came to the ER — as the mother of one of Dr. Greene's patients. For Edwards, not only did he agree with the producers' creative vision for Greene's return during ER's 15th and final season, it gave him an opportunity to spotlight his philanthropy with Shoe4Africa, a nonprofit organization that uses sports, specifically sneakers, to promote health and disease prevention in Africa. Edwards took some time to talk to us about donning Greene's scrubs again, reuniting with his former castmates and whether he sees another TV series in his future.
TVGuide.com: Were you surprised when the producers contacted you about returning to the show?
Anthony Edwards: Well, basically I got an email from [executive producer] John Wells saying, "Listen, we're all sitting here in Hawaii and we're trying to figure out the last season of ER, and we've come up with a way of getting Greene back." And it makes such perfect sense how they did it, but I certainly couldn't have pictured it before. And for me, it's also perfect timing in that I was about to launch a big fundraising campaign [for Shoe4Africa]. So when John Wells asked, I said, "I'm happy to, but don't pay me. Let's get Warner Brothers to donate to the hospital." So in lieu of payment, they donated $125,000, which Steven Spielberg matched. John Wells kicked in $50,000 as well. It was really a win-win for me.
TVGuide.com: Flashbacks can be sort of hit-and-miss. How did they convince you that this would be a quality situation, that it would make sense and not take away from anything you did in the past?
Edwards: Well, I had eight really good years on the show and so much of that was about trust. I'd had 180 episodes of trust knowing that they were going to do interesting stories. So I knew they would take care of [Dr. Greene]. It's a funny thing: As an actor, you feel that you own the character, but the truth is, so do the writers.
TVGuide.com: What was it like being on set and putting on those scrubs again?
Edwards: It was like going back to high school, in the best possible way, having your favorite teacher and there's no test that day. After about a half-hour, it really felt like I'd never left. They had gone to great effort to make it look like it did six years ago, to have all the props and everything back to 2002. And then, you know, I got to work with Angela Bassett, so how lucky was I?
TVGuide.com: How did you two prepare for your scenes? There are some pretty intense moments.
Edwards: I wish I could say we, you know, went off and worked at a camp before we shot, but we really didn't. She's, obviously, Angela Bassett! So we just dove in and trusted each other. I'm glad it looked like we worked really hard.
TVGuide.com: Since this is a flashback to six or seven years ago, did they have to do anything to change your appearance?
Edwards: Luckily, I aged less in the last six years than I did from the pilot to when I left. When I look at those pictures I go, "Oh my god, I was a baby when I was 32." I've aged less from 40 to 46. And since I run I haven't put on any extra poundage. And because of the fact that Dr. Greene is going through chemo, we had a little flexibility in what he could look like. It seems to work. I don't think you'll look at it and think there's an old guy playing Dr. Greene.
TVGuide.com: Can you just place in the timeline where in Greene's career and life this episode takes place? It seems fairly close to the end.
Edwards: Yeah, it's not far from the end. He's still working. We really stretched out the whole cancer story over two seasons. It's pretty much just before he goes off to Hawaii.
TVGuide.com: Did you know going in that four or five of your other former castmates were going to be in the episode as well?
Edwards: No. I committed long before they had written it, because they needed to know if they could base it around the character. It was really fun to reunite with those actors.
TVGuide.com: Tell me what it was like when you found out that Dr. Greene was going to die.
Edwards: I said I would do eight years, and then I said, "Yes, I really am going to leave after eight years." So John Wells said to me, "[Mark] is such a central character, we really probably should kill you." And I understood. I just wanted them to do it the best way they could. So in that second-to-last year, we were able to explore the medicine of brain cancer. And then the final year, because we'd done the medical part of it, we could do more of the emotional family storytelling. That way it didn't have to end with Dr. Greene in a hospital bed dying of cancer.
TVGuide.com: Did you ever regret that decision, where maybe now that we're in the final season, you could've come back as a live character in the present day?
Edwards: No, I didn't. I really was just thankful for the experience and the years. Before ER, I never thought I'd be able to do a series for eight years.
TVGuide.com: Would you ever return to series television?
Edwards: You know, not right away; it's a tremendous amount of work. I have yet to meet a person who says they wish they spent less time with their kids when they were younger. I'm really lucky that I have that opportunity. So it's going to be a few more years before my kids are really, really sick of me and want me gone.
TVGuide.com: Do you ever see a show on TV and think, "Man, I'd love to be on that"?
Anthony Edwards: Yeah. I'd love to do 30 Rock or, you know, even Mad Men. There are all kinds of good, classy things to do that may come up, if they're so inspired.
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