NBC's new drama Do No Harm, which premieres Thursday at 10/9c, about a surgeon with a split personality, may appear to be just another Jekyll and Hyde story at first glance. That's not the case, however, according to Steven Pasquale, who stars as both protagonist Dr. Jason Cole and his dark-side antagonist, Ian Price.
"We're not doing the classic Jekyll and Hyde where one personality is all good and the other is all evil," Pasquale tells TVGuide.com. "We wanted to explore a very large gray area where behavior in the physical life is not that much different between the two of them. ... The audience is one step ahead of us. They always know whether it's Jason or Ian, but our supporting characters don't. ... When they come in contact with Jason-slash-Ian, that's where all the conflict happens."
Though the condition Jason suffers from was dreamed up specifically for the series, it's rooted in reality. In preparing for the role, Pasquale — a veteran stage actor whose previous television work includes playing Sean Garrity on Rescue Me — researched dissociative identity disorder, an actual condition on which Jason's plight is based.
"It's very much a real thing," Pasquale says of the affliction. "People with multiple personalities are really hard-wired differently. Sometimes one personality is left-handed, the other is right-handed. Sometimes an alternate has better vision or less good vision than the other. It's really unexplainable science, and it's really fascinating."
But in Jason's case, it's not just handedness or vision that separates him from his alter ego. After five years of dormancy, Ian has inexplicably returned with a vengeance. Despite Jason's best efforts (medication, isolating himself in a hotel room), the violent, vindictive Ian returns at the same time every night to take over his personality. Ian takes a perverse delight in messing up everything in Jason's life, whether it's a patient operation or his flirtation with one of his co-workers, Dr. Lena Solis (Alana De La Garza). (For the record, Pasquale promises that viewers will know all the details about Jason's condition, including where Ian came from, why he's returned, and why he shows up at the same time every day, by the end of the first season.)
After doing Rescue Me, Pasquale, a veteran stage actor, was eager to land a more serious role.
"I had never played comedy before Rescue Me, so that was an enormously rewarding thing, to feel like, 'Oh, I kind of have a knack for this comedy thing,'" Pasquale says. "And I had a blast doing it. But all along, I've always felt like drama was where I feel the most fulfilled, so I was definitely going to look for a drama after Rescue Me was over."
But while Pasquale welcomes the opportunity to play both a medical drama-esque doctor and an evil, action-oriented villain, he says it's sometimes a challenge to transition between the two.
"God, I wish," the actor responds when asked if he shoots all of Ian's scenes in one day, and all of Jason's in another. "Most every day [I'm] sort of splitting time as Jason and Ian. ... So, that's great, other than it's giving me a split personality in real life!"
Between the two, however, Pasquale vastly prefers playing the hard-partying, womanizing Ian. "He leaves a consequence-less existence," Pasquale says. "He doesn't worry about consequences. And Jason has a good and pure heart and that's all he worries about, is the consequence of his actions. So although Jason is, in life, who you would strive to be, if you're getting to pretend to be somebody else, it's a lot more fun to be Ian."
Another reason he's partial to Ian? "He doesn't have to say all of the difficult medical stuff," Pasquale quips. "But he does a lot of action sequences and fights and high level of intensity things. So, I think they're both kind of challenging in their own way."
Still, it was the idea of pulling double duty that drew Pasquale to the role. "The challenge of playing two diametrically opposed people was the thing that I thought was really a scary proposition, but ultimately made me want to do [Do No Harm] in the first place," Pasquale says. "Season 1 is all about, 'Can Jason rid the world of Ian, and can Ian rid the world of Jason? Who's going to get the upper hand in that showdown?'"
Do No Harm premieres Thursday at 10/9c on NBC.