There’s a new addition to the ED tonight on Chicago Med when Dr. Ethan Choi (Brian Tee) hires an old Navy colleague to join him at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center’s Emergency Department, and Steven Weber joins the cast in the recurring role of Dr. Dean Archer, a wry, blunt, talented physician.
“It’s not easy being a veteran,” Weber tells Monsters & Critics in this exclusive interview about his character. “There are challenges that are both external and internal. And so, he’s trying to live his life and trying to do what he does best, which is help heal people. In this particular case, he’s working for the very person who used to work for him. And that’s a bit of a shift, especially for a guy of his age.”
It is also a little bit hard on Archer’s ego, having to work under the man he used to boss around, but Sharon Goodwin (S. Epatha Merkerson) had encouraged Ethan to find someone to be his second in command in the ED because he was having trouble delegating. And Ethan thought of Dr. Archer, who was working at a rural hospital.
“Archer was used to a structured environment, and instead of codes and rules, he’s had to make certain adjustments that he takes to heart,” Weber continues. “It’s not easy to just adjust, even though that’s his job. The changes cut deep for this particular character.”
Read on for more of the conversation with Weber, who also talks about his previous incarnations as a doctor on Chasing Life and Falling Skies, playing the bad guy on NCIS: New Orleans, working under COVID-19 protocols, and his almost 40-year-career.
Monsters & Critics: You’ve played doctors before on Chasing Life and Falling Skies. How does Dean Archer differ from those doctors?
Steven Weber: First of all, he’s a very realistically written character. The character has elements with which I have a bit of familiarity, which is namely I’m starting to learn that he has some PTSD along with the person who he’s working with now, Dr. Ethan Troy. And like I say, it’s a very interestingly written character. The other doctors that you spoke of in Falling Skies, which is aliens, and Chasing Life, where I was an oncologist, those were very interesting and wonderful to play. This is a little darker, a little more complicated in a way. So, it’s very attractive for an actor to play a character like that.
M&C: Do you need to have more skills this time because we actually see you in the ED, whereas on Chasing Life and Falling Skies, we didn’t really see you practice medicine to the same degree.
Steven Weber: Yeah. We actually shot a sequence where I had to perform some surgery, and luckily enough, we have good technical advisors on set who can tell me the right way to hold a scalpel and the right technique to use when slitting somebody open. I have to be more tactile.
I have episodes coming up where that’s the case, and that’s part of the draw of Chicago Med. Audiences are now really acclimated to seeing some fairly gory operations. So, I’ve got to really be literally hands-on and, and know what I’m doing.
M&C: I had a conversation with Brian Tee when they did the Chicago One press day, and to quote him, he said, “There is going to be a huge conflict and messes Archer will make that Ethan has to fix.” So, what can you tell me about that?
Steven Weber: Well, I can tell you that I’m very mad with Brian and I’m going to let him have it when I see him next week. He’s full of crap. I really can’t speak to that. Look, Chicago Med is not a lighthearted, lilting comedy. It is an intense story based on actual events that are happening as we speak. These are frontline workers. These are people who are working to help others in distress and they suffered themselves. That’s really all I can say to that.
M&C: You mentioned that Archer is learning he has PTSD, so I was curious if that affects what goes on in the ED.
Steven Weber: Again, I’m not giving away anything because nothing’s really been set in stone about that. There were early episodes where Ethan’s character has PTSD and he has to undergo treatment for it, as well. It’s a whole mindset and lifestyle that is developed when a person sees action, which they had. It doesn’t leave them. The great thing about the writing of this show is that these characters – all of them — carry their pasts with them. They’re not stereotypes and they’re not two dimensional. There are always things about their past, which linger and which come out sometimes in tough moments. I think this character is no exception.
M&C: What has it been like for you personally working under COVID-19 protocols? I’m sure you had to fly to Chicago and then there was a quarantine period and all that. Do you just stay there then?
Steven Weber: Well, no. Generally, one does stay in that one location, but I had almost a month off between my last episode and an upcoming one, so I chose to come to sunny California where I live, but I love Chicago. Unfortunately, due to COVID, there’s not a lot of activities. I can’t go club-hopping or go anywhere to listen to music, and it’s cold and snowy again, which is cool. But the schedule that I was on didn’t permit me to really let loose, so I came home.
But the COVID protocols that are in place are incredibly effective. We are tested all the time, everybody on the cast and crew. Everybody’s incredibly respectful of these protocols, which are doing what they’re meant to do, and because people are observing all the rules, the show is able to be produced and us to work.
It’s a necessary intrusion, and I think everybody’s very happy to do it. You keep your masks on until you have to start the scene start that you’re shooting. You just do it. Here’s the thing, we adapt when there are challenging times and that’s what we’re doing.
M&C: I noticed from watching the show, it looks a little different because there aren’t as many people on the set at the same time and things like that.
Steven Weber: And yet, in the scenes that I was shooting, it’s a busy hospital. And so, we have background talent all over the place and they’re incredible. Like the main cast and crew, they have to observe all the protocols. Everybody’s in it together. [joking] There’s little to no more random tongue kissing on the set, or sneezing at people. That’s all done and that’s sad. Not really.
There’s all these rules that are being followed and there’s some things that have actually been improvements, especially the way food is distributed on the set and crafts service. It’s actually better in a way. Everybody’s doing what they need to do. And NBC has been great at realizing that people need and want to work and the way to do it is to follow the protocols.
M&C: Our readers are big fans of the NCIS franchise. You played Douglas Hamilton, who we all loved to hate it. Archer may have his problems, but I’m thinking that he’s still basically a good guy, whereas Hamilton on NCIS: New Orleans was a bad guy. Do you enjoy playing the different roles?
Steven Weber: Absolutely. I’ve always wanted to be as versatile a performer as possible, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to play a variety of roles. For a while, I was playing a lot of darker, awful men. Douglas Hamilton arguably was pretty bad, although he was a product of his environment, too. Growing up in New Orleans in privilege and in the complex web of politics, he is what he is.
Similarly, Dean Archer is a guy who isn’t corrupted and has a different moral compass than the character on NCIS, but it is fun, obviously, to play these people. I did have an opportunity briefly to play Fran Drescher’s husband on a show that was given too short shrift, called Indebted. That was last year. And that was an entirely delightfully different character for me. The character was light and loving and funny and liked his edibles. It was really a relief to play a guy like that, who didn’t have a lot of baggage. It’s interesting to try to inhabit as much as one can of these well-written characters.
Chicago Med airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on NBC.