'HawthoRNe': Michael Vartan starts new season without ghosts, with asbestos
In the season opener, called "No Excuses," Trinity has closed, and many of the staff have moved over to James River, a rundown hospital in a low-income area of Richmond, Va. It means starting over for Chief Nursing Officer Christina Hawthorne ( Jada Pinkett Smith) -- the capitalized RN in the title stands for Registered Nurse -- who butts heads with the ER's head nurse ( Vanessa Bell Calloway).
Meanwhile, former Chief of Surgery Dr. Tom Wakefield has stepped down from his administrative position and gone back to merely treating patients. So the fun is just starting for Wakefield, but it's already all over for the actor who plays him, former "Alias" star Michael Vartan.
"We just wrapped," says Vartan. "Gosh, it feels like a year ago already. Fingers crossed; we'll see what happens. Now here comes the part we have zero control over."
"HawthoRNe" formerly shot at a closed hospital in Inglewood, Calif., not from from Los Angeles International Airport. But with the change in locale for the show came a change in location for the cast and crew.
"The new one is in North Hollywood-ish," Vartan says. "It's an old medical building. I'm not sure it was ever a full-fledged hospital, but it's definitely a medical facility that we transformed. Our crack set-decorating department did a great deal of making it look real."
The move may have an extra benefit, since there were rumors that the former location was haunted.
"There are all these stories," Vartan says. "In the space of one year, they've become urban legends. None of us in the crew even knows if they're true or not. There are stories that, when the initial locations department got there, there was a body decomposed in the morgue, a skeleton, that they left a body behind somehow. That seems almost impossible, but that's what they said.
"There are stories of a dolly grip walking down one of the hallways and hearing a door shut right next to him, and there was no one there, that kind of stuff. One night, one of our poor electricians got stuck in the elevator overnight, and apparently he heard all sorts of shenanigans going on.
"Let's put it this way -- if you got lost in that hospital late at night, and you're walking around, the hairs on the back of your neck would stand up a little. It was definitely creepy.
"This hospital's not quite as creepy. It's a lot smaller, so the hallways aren't quite as long or as dark. But we're apparently battling a serious asbestos problem, so that's always fun. If you come visit, bring a mask."
Also with the new location comes a new look for "HawthoRNe."
"We have a new director of photography," says Vartan, "so it's a little more documentary style. I wouldn't say it's a different show, because obviously the characters are the same, and it's the same subject matter, but it definitely has a different feel.
"It's a little grittier this year. Somehow it feels like the blood's a little redder, and the cuts are a little deeper. Everything this year has a heightened reality to it. It's hitting the ground running."
Fans can also expect some big drama for Dr. Wakefield.
"Yes, yes," says Vartan. "My character is no longer a Chief of Surgery. He's just a plan old surgeon, which is exactly where he wants to be. He also has a life-altering experience that happens in episode three. Some heavy-duty stuff happens to my character, so that was fun to play."
Asked if Wakefield perhaps loses a limb or goes blind, Vartan says, "Well, I can't tell you, but it's not good, and it does put his career as a surgeon in complete jeopardy."
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Photo credits: TNT