ER (recap show: Thursday, 8 pm/ET; two-hour series finale: 9 pm/ET, NBC) has weathered 15 years on the air by maintaining a strong ensemble through several cast changes. One consistency in the roster is Abraham Benrubi (also formerly of Men in Trees), who plays Jerry Markovic, the smirky front-desk clerk. Jerry has been around for all 15 seasons, give or take a season or four. Benrubi tells TVGuide.com what it was like acting opposite nearly everyone in the cast, whether he thinks Jerry is gay, and what happens to Jerry after NBC closes the doors on County General.
TVGuide.com: Did they give you any backstory on Jerry going in?
Benrubi: In the first scene in the pilot, he's dealing with a drunken Dr. Ross. Jerry has a sardonic wit about him, so that certainly informed the character throughout its life. But there was no specific backstory.
TVGuide.com: Literally, Jerry works the desk. But what's his role figuratively among the ER ensemble?
Benrubi: Jerry was there as a transitional linchpin, if you will. You could go from a deep trauma to a big surgery to the next trauma coming in. You could move from a medical to a personal story. Jerry was also there to provide levity and humor. You could go from the dying child to the wrestler butting his head through the door.
TVGuide.com: Did you ever wish Jerry was more than just comic relief?
Benrubi: When there were bigger pieces written for Jerry, I was always really happy with it, no matter how weird and wacky it was. I got to do some really crazy stuff: I did Shakespeare, I chased a mouse, I had to trap a kangaroo. I was actually glad I didn't have to utter any medical jargon, for one, and nothing too terribly serious. Even when Jerry got shot, there was still some humor to it.
TVGuide.com: Do you have any favorite episodes or moments from the series?
Benrubi: The one that I still get the most feedback about is the one where Dr. Greene saved the baby, but the mother died. [Editor's note: We like that one too!]
TVGuide.com: Why did you leave ER the first time? [Benrubi was gone from the show for three seasons and again for one season while he worked on Men in Trees.]
Benrubi: I was working really heavily, and it was just getting to be too much. I needed a break. I didn't intend for it to be such a long break. I had to pretty much go back with my tail between my legs, but it worked out. They were kind enough to bring me back.
TVGuide.com: Did they ever explain why Jerry left?
Benrubi: The only explanation I remember is when Jerry came back the first time, Dr. Lewis said, "I thought you quit?" And Jerry said, "I did... until the NASDAQ tanked." And then when Men in Trees was over, they had Jerry coming back in the last season begging for his job back. That was art imitating life.
TVGuide.com: Well, it seems to have worked out. How many other actors have that kind of track record?
Benrubi: They've definitely been good to me, and there have been other characters that have disappeared without a trace.
TVGuide.com: Yeah, what ever happened to that Mariska Hargitay?
Benrubi: I heard she got another show. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Was there any particular character or actor with which you had great chemistry?
Benrubi: The great thing about Jerry was that he interacted with almost everybody. Of course, Laura Innes as Dr. Weaver was always Jerry's great nemesis. Paul McCrane as Dr. Romano was absolutely one of my favorite people on the show. I wish someone would edit together some of the long speeches he had because he literally had three pages of lines with nobody interrupting, and I always found that to be truly impressive. Noah Wyle, it has been really great to have him back. I had fun both in and out of character with Clooney.
TVGuide.com: I've heard he's great to work with.
Benrubi: He's just really generous and charming. It'll be interesting to see as he just gets bigger and bigger if anyone will ever say anything negative about him, because I honestly don't think it's ever going to happen.
TVGuide.com: Tell me about working with Angela Bassett.
Benrubi: She's cool, a very interesting lady. She has a very interesting process, where after we've blocked out the scene, she'll go back and retrace everyone's steps and say everyone's lines. It's really an impressive feat of memory and concentration.
TVGuide.com: When Jerry got shot, what was it like being a patient? Was it boring, fun, silly?
Benrubi: It was all of the above. There were some miserable aspects. It's cold and sticky and your back is sore. But it was cool to see it from that perspective, and be trapped on the table. I wore a giant fake chest with hair on the nipples. It was really something.
TVGuide.com: Did you ever think that Jerry was going to die then?
Benrubi: I did think he was going to die because it was all around the time of Men in Trees. I think they were waiting to see. Fortunately, they [didn't kill me].
TVGuide.com: Is Jerry gay? He appears to come on to Dr. Carter in a recent episode.
Benrubi: I think that's an interesting question. There was definitely some mushroom juice involved in that episode. But I think the idea was like, if someone drank this, whoever they saw next they would fall in love with.
TVGuide.com: Like a love potion?
Benrubi: Yeah, exactly. But I don't think Jerry's gay. There have been a few references to Jerry having girlfriends, but it's always like, my girlfriend from summer camp.
TVGuide.com: What do you think of all the alums coming back this season?
Benrubi: I think they were really smart about bringing Anthony Edwards back. My favorite part is that Dr. Ross and Carol Hathaway never realized that the liver was going to Dr. Carter.
TVGuide.com: So how does Jerry go out?
Benrubi: He goes out the way he came in: with a sardonic comment.
TVGuide.com: Tell me about the fall pilot you're working on.
Benrubi: It's called Happy Town. It's a Twin Peaks-esque murder-in-a-small-town story. I play the guy who owns the pizza shop in this town full of eccentric characters. They have their first murder in seven years, and all kinds of spooky wackiness ensues.
TVGuide.com: What's Jerry's epilogue? What happens after the show ends?
Benrubi: Without giving too much away, I think Jerry continues to keep things in order, makes sure the ship runs smoothly... and hopefully gets a raise.
TVGuide.com: And a spin-off!
Benrubi: [Laughs] That wouldn't be a very interesting spin-off.
Catch up with full episodes of ER in our Online Video Guide