Tom Ellis Tom Ellis

A skilled physician tired of the hospital system goes out on his own as a concierge doctor-for-hire in an affluent locale. Sound familiar? While the protagonist of USA's new medical drama series Rush bears a striking resemblance to Dr. Hank from the network's long-running hit Royal Pains, a closer examination reveals the two couldn't be more different. 

"This guy likes to live vicariously through himself. He enjoys the taking of the drugs, he enjoys the multiple women, he enjoys the finer things in life," Rush star Tom Ellis tells of his character. "At the heart of it all, this is a guy who has made decisions to be the person he is and live the life that he has, but he's still a good guy. He's just made some, or continues to make, bad choices."

Premiering Thursday at 9/8c, Rush is USA's latest attempt to venture away from its blue-sky, PG past and into darker, edgier fare. However, Dr. William Rush's drug use and many sexual conquests are just a fraction of his issues. "He's a flawed character, but not because he takes drugs. He's flawed and he takes drugs," Ellis says.

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Rush also avoids hospitals at all costs, just like he avoids making any emotional connections whatsoever with his patients — which makes his career choice all the more perplexing. "He's trying to eradicate his moral responsibility as a doctor, so he'll go and fix people, but then that's it. It's a very mercurial attitude toward it and on the surface, I think he believes that that can work," Ellis says. "He is someone who does have a heart and does have a soul, but he's created this kind of numbness around it."

Although USA has tried to raise the stakes in recent years with shows like the gritty Graceland and Satisfaction, the sexy new drama following Rush, executive producer Jonathan Levine admits that he had his doubts. "When they were interested in it, I think we were really surprised and I think we were all a little worried because sometimes you can find yourself in a situation where people are saying they want to do something and when push comes to shove, they don't want to do it," he says. "[They] have never told us to dial anything back. In fact, I think that they want us to push the envelope."

And it's not just USA. Although a relative fresh face to American audiences, Welsh native Ellis is a household name across the pond for his role as the "wholesome" and handsome chef Gary Preston on the wildly popular sitcom Miranda. "The beauty of coming to somewhere like the States is that I walk into the room and it's a blank canvas. There are no expectations of what they're about to see. They don't think, 'Oh, you're that guy from that show,' or whatever," he says. "If Rush was a show in the U.K., I don't think that they would think of me to play that part."

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Ellis decided to venture outside his acting comfort zone, and outside his native country, after Miranda wrapped its third season in early 2013 when he found his "acting mojo again" playing against type in a London play. "I think people just see me as this nice boy, so the opportunity to play a f---ed-up man was something that, as an actor, you relish," he says. "I, in my head, had drawn up a wish list of things I'd like to explore or have the opportunity to do and it was just incredible timing and meeting of different worlds that the script for Rush came in. It's almost as if everything I'd wished for was in this character."

The feeling was mutual, as producers struggled to find their leading man. "After having seen so many people, none of whom were quite right, you start to wonder: Is it the writing?' You're like, 'When are we going to find this guy?'" Levine recalls of the search. "It's difficult enough to fake being one of the smartest people in the world and to do that while having that little glimmer of wanting to be a better person flickering behind your eyes, that's a very, very rare quality and he had all of that."

So will Rush actually be able to become a better man and quit his bad habits? "The difficult thing of Rush is that he does some pretty despicable things," Ellis says. "There's a lot of moral ambiguity about the stuff that he does yet he's the lead of the show and you have to kind of root him, you have to kind of love him."

Levine is slightly more optimistic about Rush's possible growth. "This is a guy who's seeking to lead a better life. As much as he wants to avoid feeling other people's pain, as much as he wants to avoid feeling his own pains, there's something deep inside of him that nags at him," he says. "But it's incremental change because I also have a lot of fun watching this guy have sex, do cocaine, and make bad decisions. To me, I'm totally happy to watch that for a while, as long as I know deep down inside, he's a good guy. I think this guy is going to make some good decisions, he's definitely going to make a lot of bad decisions, but we're always going to be rooting for him to evolve."

Rush premieres Thursday at 9/8c on USA.

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