'The Knick's': Juliet Rylance 'every character has a Jekyll and Hyde'

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the-knick-juliet-rylance-cornelia.jpgSteven Soderbergh's new Cinemax series, "The Knick" comes in swinging straight from the start and boy, is it an exciting ride. Set in downtown New York in 1900, the show centers around the Knickerbocker Hospital and its groundbreaking surgeons, nurses and staff, who push the bounds of medicine in a time of astonishingly high mortality rates and zero antibiotics.

One of the breakout stars of the new series is Juliet Rylance, who plays Cornelia Robertson, a driving force whose passionate social work at "The Knick" will always play second fiddle to her wealthy father's philanthropy, in the eyes of Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen). Zap2it got the scoop straight from the actress herself on working with Clive Owen, Soderbergh and what to expect from the dramatic world of "The Knick."

Zap2it: What initially appealed to you about this project?
Juliet Rylance: I remember reading the script and just being so amazed by how specific it was to the period and how real it felt in terms of the issues that we're still facing today. I though the script was such a thrilling read and plus who can say no to Steven Soderbergh?

What was it like working with Soderbergh?
It was incredible working with him, it sounds cliché, but it's true. He was directing, acting as D.P. (Director of Photography) and editing every day. You really felt that he was helming this incredible story with such precision. Doing that many jobs on the show made everybody at least try to work as hard as he was. We never came close, but it was incredibly inspiring to see him lead in that way.

Steven has incredible trust in everyone he invites to work alongside him and that's an amazing thing. It creates such an incredible atmosphere on set. He's really entrusting each person with the job he's given them and expects them to come and bring their work. It can be very scary at times, because he expects you to turn up, know your lines, and know what you're doing. It's also incredibly liberating to be in that kind of environment.

Did you do anything special to prepare for this role, it being a period piece, medical drama and everything?
I read a lot about New York in that period. I really tried to delve into that world as much as possible. The biggest thing we did in preparation was Clive, Andre and I made these big, white boards, where we would write down every single scene of the whole thing. So at least we had on cards, where our characters had just come from and were going. Because it's lockshot, the whole 10 episodes. So we would come in one morning and be shooting a scene from episode 1 and something from episode 10 and then 7 and 6. So just to have a map of the world and the story was really important.

Steven spoke about shooting in lighting that coincided with the time period. How was it working without the presence of big studio lights?
It was thrilling! It felt like a real environment.I think that helped us all enormously, not having to stop and wait for a big lighting setup. The way that everything was set up, we could just play and Steven would adjust and that was an amazing freedom to have as an actor. It is something that I haven't really experienced in TV and film before. It's amazing to be drawn into the period through seeing it almost as it would have been really.

Tell me about your experience working with Clive Owen? The two of you seemed to have great chemistry on screen.
Thank you so much! It was wonderful! Clive is one of those extraordinary actors that not only manages to helm the show as a leading man in terms of just being utterly professional and on top of everything. He's also so open and playful with everybody he works with. His personality off camera is the same way and that was amazing too. To have someone that is really leading the company and making us all feel like we're safe and we're with him was a real gift on this project. He's just so good!

I loved how progressive Cornelia seemed in this world where it is kind of unprecedented for women to speak their minds. Where do you think this attitude stems from?
She's had this very privileged, wealthy, New York society upbringing, but it's also been very unconventional. I think the dichotomy of those two things, the unconventionality of growing up side by side with a black boy, combined with high society life is very unconventional for that time. I don't think even Cornelia's family are aware of how significant that choice is. I think the dichotomy of this very wealthy, privileged, society girl with quite an unconventional upbringing creates the progressive, idealistic Cornelia that we see in the first episode.

What can you tease about Cornelia's journey in this first season of "The Knick"?
She definitely starts at this point in the story, believing she can make a difference.
That she can conquer in a sense and as the series progresses, I think she becomes more and more aware of how much she's unable to do that within the confines of her family, the hospital, and the male dominated world that she lives in.I think there's a rebellious side to Cornelia that we don't see at the beginning, that not being able to get her way allows to grow. She starts off in a position of power in one sense and then dives deeper into the darker world of the hospital. It gets pretty dark for Cornelia, let's put it that way.

What kind of surprises are in store for the other characters?
It seems like almost all of these characters, perhaps every character, has a duality about them. Thackery has a Jekyll and Hyde aspect to him, but so does everyone else. That's the thing that as the series develops you'll see more and more of the duality of characters treading a very fine line between two different worlds. They are trying to find the balance between two worlds that they can't really control and they're not really sure which one they should be in.

"The Knick" premieres Friday, August 8 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Cinemax.

Photo/Video credit: Cinemax