Becoming a great doctor is not easy, but for ER's Neela Rasgotra, does it have to be this tough? Not only has she loved and lost... and loved and lost again... but she's now been trampled at an antiwar rally! Parminder Nagra, who portrays the soulful surgical resident, couldn't be more delighted at the perils that befall her character — this sort of thing is an actor's dream. TVGuide.com spoke with her and got the scoop on the NBC series' 14th season (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET)..
TVGuide.com: Let's talk about the new season.
Parminder Nagra: We left Neela pretty much in a state of great danger. The last scene we saw was of her being trampled by a group of antiwar activists. She ends up in the hospital with her life in quite a bit of peril, and you see all of Neela's friends gathering around trying to save her and trying to make it all right. As though things could get any worse, what with Ray [Shane West] losing his legs. It just goes from worse to worse to worse, but the writers have promised me this year that Neela's going to have a bit more fun.
TVGuide.com: I was wondering if she'd ever catch a break!
Nagra: Right! I was actually at a dinner party and somebody said they wanted to start a petition for Neela because they felt like she'd had such a rough year last year. So yeah, there's some more fun stuff coming up. I have a new intern who will be shadowing me and I think there was talk also of a cousin turning up for me this year who gives me the runaround.
TVGuide.com: How long is Neela going to be incapacitated?
Nagra: They fix me and then I recuperate for a couple of episodes and then I go back out on the floor again. You know the beauty of television is that you can always fast-forward a few weeks and then suddenly you're well!
TVGuide.com: Was it hard to play a helpless patient lying on a gurney?
Nagra: It's tough lying there. You have chest pieces laid over you, which adds this kind of weight that can get quite uncomfortable. It was a real experience. I have to say I was pretty glad to get off that gurney by the end of the week. I was quite sick of it.
TVGuide.com: With Ray's shocking accident and the loss of his legs, is this the end for Neela and Ray?
Nagra: I don't know where they're going with it. The writers at the moment are leaving it fairly open. I think they're going to wait and see what happens. Obviously, somewhere along the line it has to get addressed.
TVGuide.com: There's been this simmering passion between them for years. Were you frustrated that they haven't gotten together?
Nagra: It was actually quite nice to play that kind of push-pull. When she was with Gallant [Sharif Atkins], there was that feeling of being guilty — living with another man yet being married to somebody else and then having to deal with being conflicted [over that situation]. If she'd gone with Ray just like that and suddenly realized within a couple of months that he was the love of her life, I don't think that anyone would have believed it or bought into it. But it's a shocker, finally, that when they kind of just about stated what they feel for each other, something bad happens.
TVGuide.com: How was it playing that scene when Neela first sees Ray after the accident?
Nagra: I have to say that during rehearsals, [even though] psychologically I knew it wasn't real, I still felt really upset. It was really quite something. It was one of those scenes they took their time with — not in the usual ER style where you're rushing around. They really gave the time to both of us, and that felt really good.
TVGuide.com: Your character has had quite a journey as well, from uncertain med student to confident doctor, and now you're on the other end playing a patient. What was your favorite stage to play?
Nagra: There's an episode called "The Student." It was a huge transition for Neela where she was going from being an intern, not even a surgeon yet, into a full-fledged resident in her first year. She goes through this tough day in the ER and really grows into herself. That was a huge moment to play. She realized what made her tick and what upset her. I loved that episode. Sometimes you see it in the credits. I literally collapse crying in the drug lockup after Gallant takes the fall for something that really was her fault and she's trying her damnedest to correct everything. It's the first [time we see that] the genius Neela has a flaw — she has a kink in her armor — and she has to get back up again. That's what I've enjoyed playing. Every time she gets hit with something, it's like, "How does she deal with it?" That's been a lot of fun to play.
TVGuide.com: She is a very strong character, but at the same time she's always vulnerable.
Nagra: Yeah, even the moments when she struggles, she always finds her way through it and just as you think she's coming back on top, something else happens. She's certainly a resilient character. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: We have a new chief in Stanley Tucci. What other changes will we see this season?
Nagra: They're not telling me as much as they used to! Stanley's coming on for a few episodes. I think Noah [Wyle] may be coming back for a few as well. At the moment that's all I know, apart from the intern that's joining me. Right now we have a cast of six, which is quite scary — when I joined the show there were 13 regular cast members. I think the writers feel really good about it, though, because now they can actually concentrate on a small number of people.
TVGuide.com: And what about Goran Visnjic?
Nagra: He'll be coming in and out as well in the course of the year. Actually, he was just here now for the read-through — it was lovely to see him.
TVGuide.com: Is your new intern going to be your new love interest?
Nagra: No. I think when you see it, you'll see why! It's all a part of the quest for Neela to have fun this year. Now they've actually got me ice-hockey training as well, so you're definitely going to have to watch because I don't even know what they're going to do!
TVGuide.com: Have you ever been on skates before?
Nagra: Once when I was 14. So it's going to be very interesting. But as I said, it's fun! [Laughs]. They keep flinging things at me that I kind of go, "Why is Neela doing that?" and then I kind of embrace it because why wouldn't Neela be doing that? People have hidden talents and hidden things that nobody knows about.
TVGuide.com: I hear you got a doctorate from the University of Leicester this summer?
Nagra: I did get a doctorate from my hometown university, so I am officially a doctor. That was a huge moment. [It was] quite emotional, I have to say, because it was something that I really thought was out of my reach — that I'd never do it now that I'd gone so far into acting. So to get it this way was amazing.
TVGuide.com: We got to know you with Bend It Like Beckham, and then you moved to L.A. and now David Beckham has moved to L.A. Is there some cosmic connection between the two of you? Will we see him in a cameo on the show?
Nagra: [Laughs] Oh god, who knows! They had Serena Williams on a few years ago, so I wouldn't be surprised if they did ask David.
Watch Neela save lives in these ER clips from our Online Video Guide.
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