'Body of Proof': Dana Delany plays a doctor now, but her heart will always be with nurses

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Dana Delany has left the world of "Desperate Housewives" to strike out as the lead in her own series, "Body of Proof," premiering Tuesday (March 29) on ABC. 

The series follows the messed-up life of Delany's character, the socially awkward neurologist Megan Hunt -- a workaholic, who has lost her husband and daughter to her career. Then, she loses her career after a car accident impaired her ability to operate. When we meet her, she's a medical examiner who works with the police to solve mysterious deaths.

Though she may have accepted the role under dubious circumstances, Delany has come to appreciate its complexity.

"I think by taking on this job as a medical examiner," Delany tells Zap2it of her character. "She's really helping these souls cross over to the other side. And I think she sees that as her own redemption as a human being."

We spoke to the Emmy-winner about the new character, how it compares to her character on "China Beach," and what it takes to play a convincing neurosurgeon.

In recent interviews you've emphasized your character will be more vulnerable as the season progresses. Why do you feel it's important to get that out there?
Well, I think in the pilot, we were going for a sort of sassy, snarky thing and I felt the show was deeper than that. I enjoy the humor, I think it's great, and I enjoy the side aspects of that, but I feel like there's a bigger picture here where this character really suffered a loss in her life and is in major transition and needs to redeem herself.

You've said this character feels closer to your "China Beach" days. Can you explain how?
Colleen McMurphy was also a complicated character like Megan Hunt. She had a lot of demons, didn't get along with her mother. I think there's a deep streak of sadness in her and alcohol problems. I think she was a champion of underdogs, the same thing that Megan is of these people, she's their champion and fighting for the person who can't stand up for themselves - literally, they're dead [laughs].

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Did you find a difference between playing a nurse and a doctor?
Yes. I did a little nod to nurses in one episode, because neurosurgeons are classically arrogant. They have to be, because they're basically playing God, you know. Every day in an operating room, it's a life and death situation. So, there's a reason why they're arrogant. They need that self-confidence. You know, classically, doctors treat nurses really badly. So, there's a moment in one episode where I go to a hospital to interview some witnesses and I'm very short with a nurse. [Laughs] And I did that on purpose.

Whenever we speak to actors who play nurses, they tend to be very empathetic to them.
My heart will always be with the nurses first. I think that is the hardest job in the world. 

We've read you've witnessed autopsies in preparation for the role. What other kind of special research have you done?
I read a few books, but I have to say witnessing the autopsies and by the end they actually let me participate -- that was the best thing you can do. It's right there and there's a system to the autopsy, which I find fascinating. It's almost like a pilot with a check list that you have to do before you take off. And there's something very systematic about it that I find satisfying. And once you've held a brain in your hand, it's pretty amazing... I've only seen four autopsies that were all men, so now I'd like to see a female body, because I want to see what I look like inside.

"Body of Proof" premieres Tuesday (March 29) at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
Photo/Video credit: ABC