Oscar winner leads docu-style medical drama playing no-nonsense doctor.

Almost a decade before she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Pollock in 2001, Marcia Gay Harden played the lead in the New Zealand thriller Crush, directed by Alison Maclean.

Now she's starring in the new TV2 medical drama Code Black as Dr Leanne Rorish, a tough, risk-taking emergency room physician at Los Angeles' busiest hospital.

"What I saw was a woman who is fierce," says Harden. "First of all, I think every mother is fierce already. So you just have that going into it, she's fierce; she's a fighter.

And she has had this tragedy which has caused a kind of a bitterness and a closed-offness, and a potential recklessness. But she's really good at what she does, and she saves lives."


Television has no shortage of medical dramas, yet they continue to flourish.

"I can't speak about other hospital dramas. But every country in the world has a hospital. And the stories that go on at these hospitals are the same, whether you're in Mexico, America, you know, France.

Some kid's in a car accident, and you want to save them. So it's life or death. And the anxiety and fear and hope from the parent is exactly the same. And it sounds like this, 'Save my child. Save my child'."

Thanks to real-world inspiration, Code Black has a greater claim to authenticity than most of its kind.

"Why I think it's so cool, is because it's docu-style. It's based on a [2013] documentary called Code Black. And so what I learned is that from the time that ambulance pulls in, until the time you're in that room, it's two minutes of 'Save my child, save my child', and then we've got two minutes to stabilise and get them up to the OR. So that is so exciting. It's like medical Nascar."

The title of the show and the original documentary refers to a situation when there are more emergency patients than resources available to treat them, which speaks to the overwhelmed state the characters constantly find themselves in.

It's a condition Harden experienced first-hand doing research for the series.

"I had to throw out a lot of my initial ideas about the level of people yelling 'stat' at each other," laughs Harden.

"And just of that frenetic energy that seems kind of fake. There's a frenetic energy, no doubt, but it's all very organic, and it's because the hallway is littered with firemen, policemen giving their report about the traffic accident, and over here is a person who came in from the prison, who's handcuffed to their bed, and they're being wheeled off to the prison area where you do operations where they're handcuffed, and over there are parents crying because somebody won't tell them - and that's the frenzy."

It's increasingly common for Oscar winning actors to lead TV shows these days, and Harden came in to lead the cast of Code Black off the back of a well-received guest-starring run in How To Get Away With Murder.

"I feel like the character, Leanne Rorish, is using every bit of me as an actor. I feel so lucky at this point in my life to be playing this character. And I have to learn medical jargon, physically, verbally, and be so committed to it. I just feel like it's saying to me stretch and use every part of yourself. And that is a joy. Because sometimes you do things and you're like, okay, you used my finger, but, hello, I have a hand. You know, you just want to be used."

Harden's last big role before taking on Code Black was as Christian Grey's mother in Fifty Shades of Grey.

What did she make of the insane popularity of that film?

"I think people want to be excited in many, many different ways. I wasn't surprised it was a big hit, because the books were, right? The global frenzy far exceeded what they thought the sales would be, so that was fantastic. And, for me, I'm just waiting for the second one, because that's when Mama Grey gets to do some real, real good stuff. She gets to take the bad woman and slap her upside the head, you know."

Who: Marcia Gay Harden
What: Code Black
When and where: Tonight 8.30pm, TV ONE.