James Nesbitt has told of his “fascination” at being allowed to scrub up and watch brain surgery in preparation for his latest role.
And the Coleraine actor, who stars in the new ITV medical drama Monroe, said witnessing a neuro-surgeon remove an “angry, horrible, grey-black tumour” brought home to him the |fragility of life.
In his latest role Nesbitt plays Monroe, a flawed but brilliant brain surgeon with a God complex.
He treats the hospital as his home, which has a detrimental effect on his relationship with wife Anna, played by Northern Irish actress Susan Lynch.
To prepare for the role Nesbitt scrubbed up and spent many hours in theatre at Leeds General Infirmary observing four brain operations.
He said: “I’ve seen how neuro-surgeons drill through the skull, pull back the skin on the head and make an incision into the brain.
“I’ve seen the brain, which is an amazing organ, pulsing away. I’ve seen the revelation of an angry, horrible, grey-black tumour, which has then been removed.
“I’ve seen how difficult this |job is and the decisions that have to be made very quickly when faced with an emergency,” |he said.
“It’s incredible to know that the brain can survive some of the procedures that surgeons perform.”
Nesbitt admitted he was nervous in theatre but said he had found the experience useful.
“At times there’s banter in theatre during surgery, but you always know when the team are dealing with something serious, or when they are just about to get to the heart of the tumour, as the atmosphere changes very quickly,” he said.
“Thankfully, I’m not squeamish, but I was incredibly nervous and very fascinated.”
He added: “What you come away thinking is just how fragile everything is and how fleeting life can be. It’s magnificent that neuro-surgeons can extend people’s lives by years.”
He also revealed that working on the drama was the “hardest but best 12 weeks” of his acting career.
“It’s taught me that you can be the most technical, brilliantly gifted academic person in the world, which is really important, but courage and knowing how far to go with a patient is equally as important,” he said.
“It’s about understanding that what you are holding in your hands, literally at times, is the part of the body that contains our unique humanity. It’s about sensitivity and having a relationship with the patient.
“As well as having a connection, you have to be able to operate, close them up and move on to the next patient.”
Monroe co-stars Sarah Parish, Susan Lynch and Tom Riley and goes out March 10 on ITV at 9pm.
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