<EM>Over There</EM> Over There

It doesn't get much more ripped from the headlines than this: FX's groundbreaking new drama series, Over There (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET), follows the men and women of an Army unit serving in the current Iraq war, as well as the loved ones they left back home. Lording over the group of new recruits is battle-hardened vet Chris "Sgt. Scream" Silas, played by Erik Palladino. If you remember the actor from his run as ER's Maluchi, a smart-mouthed hothead who said the things we only wish we could say to Kerry Weaver, you can appreciate that he, despite the role ahead of him, actually has already fought his toughest battle.

"[Maluchi] was a very difficult character for me to do each week," he tells TVGuide.com. "Everything that everyone ever said about him was true. Every week I got the script and was like, 'Wow, there really is nothing redeemable about this guy.' Every week I had to go out there and be the a----- of the show."

As entertaining as Maluchi (at times) was, "On some levels [playing him] hurt my career for a little while," Palladino admits. "Especially in as impressionable a town as Hollywood. Pre-ER, I could go in and read for any type of character. After, it was like, 'Oh, he can't play a nice guy, or a character who is heroic or redeemable. He's only good at playing the cocky a-------.' Studio heads and network people kind of pigeonholed me"

Palladino was not about to be so easily dismissed. "It was very frustrating for me for the first year or so after I left ER. But then about a year ago, things started to change for me. People were starting to forget [Maluchi]."

That personal victory, coupled with the dominantly rave reviews that Over There has been getting, has Palladino "pretty, pretty excited" about heading into battle as Scream. "When I first read the script, I saw that it was exceptionally written and knew that it wasn't really about the politics of the situation. It's about the squad and what they are going through on a daily basis," he says. "It's an insight into the world that we don’t get just from watching the news and reading the paper."

As Palladino makes new friends in the Army while researching his role — "From talking to them, sergeants are filled with an overwhelming, overwhelming sense of responsibility to keep these men and women out of harm's way," he has learned — he is getting a feel for how Over There might play over there.

"For the most part, the soldiers themselves seem to be responding incredibly well to the show," he reports. "They're glad that someone is telling their story. The news does what it can do, but it's not quite the same as spending an hour inside this world - unless you're watching a documentary, which most people don't do. This is an opportunity to show the heroism of these men and women, the incredible stress they face each day, and how, for the most part, they are handling it with as much dignity as they can."