Catherine Russell joins HOLBY CITY from this week as fearless surgeon Serena Campbell, who is set to run Holby with an iron fist. holby.tv talk to her about her upcoming role…
What can you tell us about your character particularly in the first episode?
She’s been brought in by Hannsen to make the figures work, speed everything up and make everything run more efficiently. In this particular episode specifically to get Malick out of a scrape because the wife of a patient wants to sue him for misconduct and it looks like it will go ahead – which will be a disaster for Malick so Serena rather swoops in! Nobody has been told that she is coming in and quite why Hanssen hasn’t told anyone, I’m not sure. Classic Hanssen I guess.
So their feathers are already ruffled, simply because a new GS Consultant has come in, that they don’t think they need. Certainly Ric doesn’t feel that he needs somebody else of the same level as him however she does do the business. She is disarmingly charming and manipulative but in any way that you wouldn’t realise it was happening. But that is Serena through and through – she is the queen of manipulation. She could charm the ducks from the pond but might eat them for dinner! Her bedside manner is supreme and her people skills are wonderful. She’s not two-faced but she’s one of those people that doesn’t care about what anybody thinks of her which makes her quite a dangerous person to deal with because she’s not in the least bit frightened of confrontation.
How does Ric feels about her?
Ric feels competition there but then there will be a bit of ‘do they get together?’, ‘do they love each other or do they hate each other?’. Ric is single now and Serena is divorced and that is there, very underlying but never implicit.
But Serena is the most appalling flirt – she flirts with everybody and she uses it in her job as a weapon. If she thought it would help, then she would use it and that’s why she’s so disarming.
Ric is very pro-NHS, where does Serena stand on this?
They clash massively. She has very much come from a Capitalist view. If Ric is a surgeon who leads from his heart, Serena is a surgeon who leads from her head and figures. She’s there to make the place run more efficiently. If that means somebody has to be on a trolley in a corridor for an hour then so be it. She’s very practical.
Holby City is renowned for being topical…
All the politics yes. I mean that is a strong storyline between Serena and Ric. How she rushes through electives, getting things done as fast as possible which he thinks demeans patient care and that people are being pushed through too quickly whereas her view is that they are fine. I think I’ve got a line coming up where I say to Malick ‘What about this chap’’ and he replies ‘Oh well Ric thought he was a bit sore so we could leave him in a for a bit’ and she says ‘Well that’s what painkillers are for!’
For her it’s get them in, get them out! So that conflict is definitely there between them but then there genuinely is also mutual admiration for the fact they are both damn good surgeons.
What I hope you will see, is that they can have all this angst and strife and disagree with eachother but if an emergency happens they will silently and very quickly work extremely hard together because they are both professional and good at what they do.
What about how she is with Malick?
With Malick, she blows sunshine up his bottom a bit! Because he has always been under the wing of Ric, I think Serena sees that partnership and wants to get in the middle of that. Malick doesn’t quite know how to take her. He can’t figure out whether she’s the enemy or the good guy but she is impressive. She’s an extremely good surgeon and a very good manager. She’s got a BA from Harvard, so she’s a high achieving lady. She’s the sort of person where you’d really want to be on her team because if you were on side, she’d go a very long way for you but she’d terrify the life out of me even though she is perfectly pleasant!
How did the role come about for you?
I’d never done a serial drama before, a sort of never-ending one like this! I’ve done things like The Cazalets and Chandler and Co which you film for about six months and then it’s finished. But it was in the same way as they usually come about; your agent rings you up, you are unemployed, they say ‘would you like to audition for Holby City?’ and you say ‘Yes OK!’
The different thing about this was the method of auditioning in so much as your second audition is more akin to a movie screen test as you’d get made up, put in costume and you have to learn two or three scenes and then you go down to one of the wards to do a screen test which is absolutely terrifying because you’re there with producers, casting directors, cameraman, make up, costume, sounds, director and you!
This show really does pride itself on being a lovely place to work, everyone is incredibly welcoming and nice I also think they are sort of testing for that as well! You wouldn’t want to rock what is a well oiled and balanced machine. All the guest artists that come in genuinely have a really nice time because it is such a pleasant place to work.
Did it feel daunting signing up for a job as a permenant cast member?
Yes because I don’t normally do jobs for this length of time. Before this I think the longest was doing Mamma Mia, which I did a year of. It’s a long time to say yes to but better than saying yes to a year of theatre because everyday is different. We are lucky in this because we get to work with different cast. We get lots of fabulous guest artists in so you are constantly being challenged. I didn’t know I was going to enjoy it as much as I do. It’s got a reputation as being a really friendly show for a good reason.
The only downside I guess is the hours. Setting the alarm for 5.15am in the morning is not the best but you’re being paid to be someone else, there are worse jobs to get up for.
What were your first scenes to film?
My first scenes were with Malick. I think we bump into eachother and he walks ahead of me and my very first line was ‘Ooh nice man bag!’
How are you dealing with the prosthetics in surgery?
They’re fantastic. The prosthetics team are all absolutely gorgeous girls which surprised me because if someone would have asked me what a prosthetics team looked like I would’ve imagined slightly dorky men really! But they are amazing – what you see, we see. So all that blood, gore is there, the heart really does pump eventhough it is fake ofcourse. Doesn’t bother me in the least I have to say. Whenever an operation comes up on the script, I go on youtube straight away and look at the real deal which is useful to do so I know what’s expected.
Do you speak to any medical advisors for research?
Absolutely. I’ve been speaking a lot to a female Neuro Surgeon who has been invaluable. Only 8% of surgeons are women which is extraordinary, most of who go on to Paediatrics. And I think that is why you sort of look at these women and how they cope in this male dominated workplace; Jac copes by being bullishly strong and Serena copes by being charming and flirtatious.
The medical advisors are very specific. If we have a theatre scene we have a surgeon and a scrub nurse there. If I’m doing a stitch, I need to know how to handle it, how to come through a door. For example in one scene Serena is angry and my advisor said well I’ve been known to kick the door because you can’t use your hands so there’s wonderful little character details like that. On the ward we have nurses, doctors and porters. That level of detail is really the BBC at its best.
Does Serena have children?
She has one teenager daughter who infact comes into the hospital in one of the early episodes. She has been partying rather too hard and it’s rather embarrassing for Serena!
What do you think could be the chinks in her armour?
Well to me her daughter is probably her main chink and the only person’s opinion that she really does care about. Anything that would go wrong with her, that’s her Achille’s heel. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve yet to see anything that would rattle her. You’d have to go a really long way.
I think making mistakes would really crucify her but I think that’s probably true of most surgeons as from ones I’ve spoken too, they tend to be perfectionist people. High achievers in all areas of their life.
How prepared are you for the fame that comes from working on a weekly medical drama?
From talking to the other actors, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I think what it will mean is a few more people wanting an autograph and maybe some people looking at you funny because they can’t quite place where they know you from! The embarrassing thing about that is when they think they know you and you’re trying to think when is the best point, without it sounding pretty hideous, to say that you’re an actor!
How are you with all the medical jargon?
It’s hard. Hard for it to make it sound like it trips of the tongue and that’s not the point of the scene. So I say it thousands and thousands of times, I sometimes get funny looks on the train!
Any family or friends who work in medicine?
I have a neighbour who is a GP, she has been fantastically helpful in how to pronounce words and things. But besides that no, so I have trust in our advisors to push me in the right direction!