Chris Vance, Mental
The womenfolk (and some of the men) might find themselves whistling at Prison Break's Whistler when Fox's Mental premieres this Tuesday at 9 pm. Chris Vance, whose Dr. Jack Gallagher bares almost all in one of the very first scenes, gave us a look at the House-like drama and the tightrope it must walk in depicting mental illness. The London-born actor also comes clean on Prison Breaker Wentworth Miller's hygiene habits.
TVGuide.com: Congratulations on being one of the few foreign actors who gets to keep his accent on screen.
Vance: That's true! It was a decision made by the producers of the show when we were doing the audition process. They figured it'd be good for the international side of it; they think [Mental is] going to sell in like 35 countries.
TVGuide.com: But it must drive [Australian costar] Jacqueline McKenzie crazy. She had to drop her accent for The 4400, as well.
Vance: [Laughs] She is kind of jealous. We had a bit of a hoot about that during the series.
TVGuide.com: Is Dr. Gallagher's sometimes irreverent approach based on any sort of real methodology that's used out there?
Vance: It's a mixture. I think Jack questions conventional treatment all the time. If he finds it appropriate, he'll obviously use it. But I think he wants to push the limits and find out what's best for patients on an individual basis. He gets into their mind at first, and once he gets an empathetic understanding of what's going on, he thinks outside the box.
TVGuide.com: Just how naked did you get for your first scene on the show?
Vance: [Laughs] Basically everything except for a flesh-colored codpiece that was surgical-taped to my whatnots.
TVGuide.com: This show has a difficult line to toe in depicting mental illness, because it must never come across as exploiting it for entertainment value.
Vance: Absolutely. One of the difficult things about dealing with the subject matter is that it's often considered taboo, if you like — and I don't really know why. I look at it this way: Would you tell someone with, say, cancer, "Yeah, there's something wrong with you. Just give up"? You wouldn't. You'd get treatment for it, exploring every possibility. It's the same with mental health. While we sort of have to entertain, we were very aware of the issues at hand, and if nothing else we try to give them a platform. That was a decision I made in forming Jack. Alright, we can play up the fun of him being "crazy" himself, but we've got to offset that with a compassionate understanding of who he's treating, why he's treating them and how best to treat them.
TVGuide.com: The issue mainly popped into my mind with the scene where an older patient is lasciviously ogling Jack. It was at first blush amusing, but then I had to remind myself that this woman probably has something very wrong with her.
Vance: It's always going to be a difficult tightrope. We're not making a documentary; we're making a one-hour television drama. But you're absolutely right, and I think we've done a reasonable job. I don't know that we can ever get it 100 percent right, but the whole team is aware of the sensitivity we must show.
TVGuide.com: On the romantic front, will we be playing this lingering thing between you and the hospital administrator played by Annabella Sciorra, or teasing something between you and Jacqueline McKenzie's Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones?
Vance: It kicks off with Annabella, and then it takes some twists and turns. It's quite surprising, actually.
TVGuide.com: I don't know if you appreciated this that much, since you were on different seasons, but this first episode offers a fun little Prison Break "reunion" with you and "Haywire."
Vance: Yeah, Silas Weir Mitchell is a great actor and a good friend of mine. I was delighted he did [the first episode], because it was a real ice-breaker. We were down there within Colombia with a crew we didn't know, and no one knew what to expect, and we had 13 to shoot off the bat. So Silas and I set the tone with that [stripping naked] scene. We just dove straight in and went for it.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of Prison Break, and I ask you to be honest: During all those scenes in the hot, hot "Panama" sun, and with Wentworth Miller's in a long-sleeve shirt the whole time: Did he get kinda ripe?
Vance: Did he get a little ripe?! [Laughs] No. Wentworth's hygiene levels are next to nothing. He is meticulous in looking after himself.
TVGuide.com: I just felt so bad for him being stuck in the long sleeves in that theoretically oppressive "Panamanian" sun....
Vance: Yeah, and there was nothing theoretical about some of that heat. We were in Texas in midsummer filming it, and it got up to 100 [degrees] some days!
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