James Nesbitt: ‘I could be a brain surgeon’

James Nesbitt stars as a cocky brain surgeon in ITV1’s swish new medical drama Monroe. Here he talks about cutting into brains and why he already wants to do another series…

You play maverick neuro-surgeon Monroe, what is his character like?

“He’s incredibly arrogant, infuriating and flawed. He also has an extraordinary sensitivity about what the brain is – Monroe describes it as this mysterious, complex, multi-faceted organ that contains our unique humanity, whereas the heart at the end of the day is just a pump.”

What kind of research did you do for the role?

“I watched four brain operations, and it’s the most incredible process. Right from the first incision, peeling back the skin, coming in with the drill and bits of skull dust going everywhere, the smell of burning, then cutting through to reveal this incredible organ.”

Did you meet any experts in the field?

“At one point Henry March, who is the pre-eminent neurosurgeon in the world, said to me, ‘You see that there?’ and pointed to one part of the brain. ‘That’s thought!’ It’s really impressive, you know? I was right there beside him.”

Your character Monroe thinks there are four things you should have to be a good brain surgeon, what are they?

“He says you need manual dexterity, good hands, people skills and most of all the courage to come in day in and day out. Because they can, as they say, ‘wreck’ patients. The problem is, when you are cutting into the brain, it’s hard to know where to stop and how much to remove. Sometimes the tiniest slip can mean someone loses their speech, so they are very brave people.”

What were you like when it came to shooting the brain surgery scenes?

“I used a diothermia which is this little electrode that burns bits of a tumour away and my hands were surprisingly steady, which was very good. Everyone was impressed.”

Did you think you were a natural?

“My wife thought it was ridiculous, every time I would phone her up to say ‘I’m in theatre all day tomorrow.’ She would say, ‘Listen, you are not an actual brain surgeon!’ But I did get to the point where I’m almost certain I could do this now!”

You’re about to move to New Zealand for your next role in the Hollywood blockbuster, The Hobbit, is that right?

“We’re actually doing two films in the year, and I’ll be going back in 2012 to do a bit more. It’s a big old commitment.”

Are you ready for the challenge?

“It’s a big move, but very exciting – and I think it’ll be great for the kids. I have got to read the book now. If I ever read it when I was younger, I’ve forgotten. I’ve never done a huge movie like this before. You forget that it’s a huge global thing, there’s interest everywhere. But it’ll be a real laugh.”

Does this mean you won’t be taking on any more TV roles in the future?

“Doing The Hobbit might open my career up to new audiences, but I always come back to TV, because that is where most of the good writing is in this country. I really want to do another series of Monroe. You could have offered me any film role in the world and I would still have wanted to do Monroe. It really is that good.”

Monroe starts on Thursday March 10 at 9pm on ITV1

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