Bringing a character back from the dead is something commonly done on serial dramas like "Desperate Housewives" or even "Grey's Anatomy" but when Dr. Mark Greene died of brain cancer six years ago on NBC's "ER", Anthony Edwards thought he would never enter the hospital doors again. He was wrong. Viewers can see the resurrection of the beloved character on tonight's episode, "Heal Thyself," which was written and directed by Executive Producer David Zabel.
Receiving an email from ER creator John Wells, Edwards told our Jim Halterman that Wells wrote, "We've come up with a way of getting Greene back and we'd love to bring everybody back into the show for the audience's sake." Edwards admitted his surprise at the concept but said, "it makes such perfect sense how they do it but I certainly could not have pictured it before."
In tonight's storyline, Dr. Cate Banfield (new cast member Angela Bassett) reflects back on a personal experience when her young son was brought into County General Hospital and was taken care of by the then-alive Mark Greene (Edwards). During the flashbacks, former regular characters Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), Jerry (Abraham Benrubi) and another deceased character, Dr. Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) make appearances, satisfying the producers quest to have as many past characters return before the final episode of "ER" is set to air this May. As for the scenes between Bassett and Edwards, the intensity of the storyline is successful primarily because of the great chemistry the two acclaimed actors shared despite having never worked together before. Asked how they rehearsed, Edwards revealed, "I wish I could say we went off and worked at a camp... [but] we didn't. She's obviously... you know, she's Angela Bassett."
Edwards, a Golden Globe winner and multiple Emmy nominee, had one condition for Wells upon his return and it involved his charity, Shoe 4 Africa (http://www.shoe4africa.org/), which takes used running shoes to Africa and utilizes them in running events with women and children as well as providing AIDS and health education. "In lieu of payment [the show] gave the hospital $125,000 which Steven Spielberg found out about and he matched. And John Wells kicked in $50,000." Marrying his past with his present philanthropic work was very rewarding to Edwards, who shared, "For me it was really great because these are two things that are really dear to me which is the experience I had for eight years which certainly changed my life being on the show and then this whole new part of my life which has to do with running and it has to do with children's health, and it has to do with Africa. So, it was really a win/win for me all the way."
Returning to the ER set after six years felt like another institution that most people have attended in their lives. "It was really like going back to high school," Edwards said, "and in the best way. It was like going back to your favorite class, having your favorite teacher and there was no test that day." He also mentioned that the adjustment period back on his old stomping grounds wasn't too long. "After about a half an hour it really felt like I'd never left. The same conversations were happening that were happening six years ago, the same dynamics between the crew members, the same jokes... they had gone to great effort to make [the set] look like it did. When I look at the show now I see how different the ER looks than when I was on it."
After over 180 episodes as Green, Edwards said the ease of returning was helped by the fact that the character and Anthony Edwards himself were not that different from one another. "When you do a series and you do television like that for so many years, so much of the character is similar to yourself. Writers pick up on things that you do that they add to the character. So, you know, I'll never be as smart as Dr. Greene but there's a lot of familiarity in who he is."
Asked why he thinks the character of Mark Greene may have died onscreen six years ago but has never truly been forgotten, Edwards offered a theory with a laugh. "People would watch Greene and think you know what? My life will never be that bad! [Greene] always had problems whether it was with dating or women or the relationship with his daughter or work or bosses... he really just had so many kinds of struggles that I think people all related to in a way. And I think people liked him that way."
Edwards also said he has no regrets about not only taking a break from television but also from the West Coast when he left the show. "There was an actual choice to kind of leave Los Angeles and move to New York and raise the kids here and not pursue work really and take the time to be with the kids [so] I haven't felt the frustration of, you know, my god I can do more than Dr. Greene. There have been five or six other little movies since and some bigger movies since I left. It's just when you're not in that factory that's on every week it seems to the audience and to people as if you've quit... but it's certainly given more gifts than it has been a problem."
Edwards also spoke fondly about what he learned from his tenure on the NBC drama. "It kind of reaffirmed everything that I'd been taught when I was studying acting as a young actor which was that kind of the being prepared and knowing your words ultimately serves you."
While there's still no definite word as to whether former "ER" co-star George Clooney will make an appearance on the series that helped him launch his successful film career, Edwards didn't pass any judgment on anyone else's decision to return or not. "I can understand people's hesitancy of wanting to come back because, you know, when you're a part of something you feel like you did so well. You kind of also don't want to screw it up... I think there's a natural respect for this show that you want to be respectful of."
His "ER" return is more than likely not the last we'll see of him on television, though his interests seem to be more about producing and directing rather than acting. "I have a new deal with CBS, a first look development deal with them and I have a new partner. So I'm actually meeting a lot of writers and developing. We have a script with Jack Burditt who writes for '30 Rock.' And so there's the world of producing and developing and directing that's opening up that is always fun to do."
Returning to the topic of the Shoe 4 Africa charity, Edwards talked about the joy he's felt in helping change the lives of so many people in Africa. "When we went around the world two years ago, we were in Africa at a Shoe 4 Africa event where... 2000 women were running together, [women] who had never been given that opportunity before because it's... not a matriarchal society there right now." He also talked about future plans with the organization to continue spreading the goodwill. "After the violence last year in Kenya, we collected 10,000 shoes at the New York City Marathon last year and in March we're going to be giving them away in Kibera, which is the largest slum in Africa and it's in Nairobi. It's 1.2 million people living in the space the size of Central Park with no running water."
Edwards landmark return to "ER" airs tonight on NBC at 10:00/9:00c and those interested in knowing more about his charity can go to www.shoe4africa.org.