Dana Delany on her polarizing, 'House'-esque character on 'Body of Proof'
Television veteran Dana Delany makes no apologies for her polarizing character on the upcoming ABC drama Body of Proof. In fact, she loves the fact that the “psychically tortured” former neurosurgeon-turned-medical-examiner she plays, Dr. Megan Hunt, is intelligent and flawed. At least, Dr. Hunt’s life certainly is flawed: She gets divorced from her husband, loses her daughter in a custody battle, and gets into a life-altering car accident. It will hopefully make for character-driven TV on a should-have-been “CBS-type” procedural, she says.
In a chat with EW, Delany talks more about her new show’s initial expectations, the undeniable House and Bones similarities, and its eventual evolution into something she hopes will resonate with TV viewers when it premieres March 29 at 10 p.m. on ABC.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So I watched the pilot, and I found Dr. Hunt to be what can only be described as a painfully intelligent person. What did you like about role?
DANA DELANY: Oh, Gosh. I did like that she was smart. I’m sort of laughing inside hearing you say that about “painfully intelligent,” because that’s exactly how I see her. I just got off the phone with a male reporter who found her annoying. [Laughs] And I laughed because I said to him, “You know what, only men say that.” I never once had a female have that reaction to the character, and I find that very interesting because I think it’s gender-oriented. I don’t usually think of things in that way — because I think people are human beings more than they’re men and women — but it’s been an interesting reaction that I’ve gotten. I think that “painfully intelligent” is the right description because I’ve seen it happen. It’s hard when you’re the smartest person in the room. You get impatient with people because you know the answer, and that person in school that was always raising their hand first, they can be annoying! [Laughs] People have compared the character to Dr. House, but I think that her crutch, as it were, is not a cane or drugs. It’s that she’s psychically wounded.
She was raised to be a very successful, intelligent brain surgeon, who, in her family, was rewarded by professional success. So most of her life was spent in her head, literally operating on heads, and to the detriment of losing her husband and her daughter. Then she has the car accident, and she can no longer do what she did well and was successful at. [It] was how she defined herself. I think it’s an interesting crossroads of who is she now. Where does she find meaning in her life? In an odd way, through working on these dead bodies, she’s learning how to feel for the first time.
I’m glad you brought up her family because it’s not common for a female character to be so void of that maternal connection. But on the show, your character is very estranged from her young daughter.
I thought it was great. I relate to that because I was raised by a working mother. My whole family was raised to be workers. I’m a worker — I love to work. It’s what makes me happy. When you’re raised like that, I think you really don’t know how to be a mother. Nobody taught you. You didn’t get a lot of mothering, so you don’t know how to be a mother — I think that she’s not a very good mother, that’s all. And not everybody is. Not every woman is meant to be a mother, and we’re not allowed to admit that, you know? I don’t find myself very maternal, and yet, I’m fiercely protective of people, which is different. So I think that she is learning from her daughter. It’s almost like her daughter is parenting her.
So you think that the fact that she’s not maternal is what’s polarizing about her? It just fascinates me that a male reporter you spoke to said that.
And he’s not the first! It’s been very, very interesting. And women like that she’s sassy, they like that she kind of has an attitude, and I think that it’s an interesting problem for men.
Now, speaking more generally about the show, it’d be easy to say this is procedural, but I found myself more attracted to the character aspect. Which part of it do you like?
I like the character stuff. I like the science because I find it interesting myself. I personally love science, and I love learning about stuff like that. I find that kind of fascinating. But when it came to the script, I understood the character stuff, so they let me have a lot of input on that. I think ABC in the beginning wanted a medical procedural because they didn’t really have that. I mean, they have their medical shows, like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, but they didn’t have a procedural. So they wanted more of a CBS-type show. In the beginning, they were making us end every act with a procedural moment, some kind of clue, and what was nice by the end of the 13 episodes was that they started to trust that you can end it with a character moment, and that that would carry the show through the commercial, and that that would hold your interest. So I feel like by the end of the 13, we really found a nice balance between the mystery and the character.
I’m glad to hear that because everyone knows that pilots really set the tone, but I like that it makes that shift.
Yes, yes. Which is what I love about television, that you keep developing it.
Did you enjoy where it ended up more than there it started?
Yes, I did. I mean, I always like pilots because they’re always very crisp, and you kind of just commit to it and hope for the best. But by the end, I feel that we found different nuances and I think that Megan becomes much more vulnerable. I mean, she really goes places emotionally by the end of 13.
In a weird way, the character really struck me as similar to Temperance Brennan in the early seasons of Bones. Do you watch that?
You know, it’s funny you say that because I actually optioned those books years ago, the Kathy Reichs books. I had dinner with Kathy in North Carolina, God, 11 years ago [and talked with her] about doing them as a series of TV movies — like doing a three in a row kind of thing. We never got a script that we liked, and the option ran out. Then somebody else got the rights and kind of refigured it. You know, I was thinking more closely to the books, which are much darker, and [the character] was an ex-alcoholic and older than Emily Deschanel. So it’s smart what they did. They made it more right for a series. I think it’s interesting what they did to the books and lightened it a little bit, made it its own for the series. But I definitely love that character. That is a great character.
You can see so much of her in this character — what you’re bringing to it.
It’s a classic, you know. It’s become, I’d say, in the last 20 years, classic. Kay Scarpetta and Temperance — those are more modern female characters, I’d say.
How would you say this character evolves in the first 13 episodes, and what are we going to see as her goals this season?
To become more human. I think she’s letting these dead people teach her how to live. I think that’s the biggest thing in terms of character, that she’s learning to be vulnerable and admit that she might know everything in terms of her work, but that she doesn’t know anything about the human heart. You can’t really learn that, you just have to experience it. You can’t study that.
(Stephan Lee contributed to this report.)