BWW Interviews: Kelly Reilly Talks Responsibility of BLACK BOX, Working with Hero Vanessa Redgrave
In the ABC drama BLACK BOX, Kelly Reilly plays Dr. Catherine Black, a world famous neurologist at the top of her game. Catherine has an insight into her patients that no one else has, allowing her to communicate with them on a different level. However, she has a secret that is becoming more and more difficult to control, she's bi-polar. Though she knows she needs her medication, without it, she feels empowered and unstoppable.
Recently, Kelly, who has appeared in films like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, SHERLOCK HOLMES, FLIGHT, and HEAVEN IS REAL, spoke to BroadwayWorld about the challenges of playing such a complex character, and working alongside her hero, Vanessa Redgrave. With her soft-spoken British accent, it was clear that Kelly is very passionate about the story her show is telling.
BLACK BOX returns to ABC tonight in its new time on Thursdays at 8:00pm ET.
Mental illness is an often ignored issue in America, but BLACK BOX attempts to approach it from a very honest, nuanced place. How does the show as a whole, or you as an actress, feel about the responsibility of shining a light on the topic on such a major platform each week?
It's an absolutely huge responsibility. I knew when I was taking this on that I was stepping into deep water, but in a way, it took me over. I'm just an actor, right, don't get me wrong, but there is a responsibility when you are talking about something so sensitive and so complex and so uniquely different to everybody's who had this illness.
You want to toe the line where you are exposing something honestly, without condoning it, or saying, "This is wonderful," "This is awful." You don't want to judge it, you just want to tell the story, and that was the line I took.
If I'm honest, and I'm truthful, and I have integrity, and I am mustering up as much love and passion for this character as possible, that's my job. I'm not doing a documentary on what it is to be bi-polar, I'm playing a woman who, at this moment where we meet her in this first season, has a very unhealthy relationship with her disease. She's not just bi-polar, which is the most treatable form of mental illness, she's addicted to it, to the mania.
I think it is very interesting that you mention that the show isn't a documentary, but it is a form of entertainment, because one of the things that we are used to seeing in medical dramas is the blood and the guts and the tangible symptoms that lead to the great diagnose the doctor makes at the end. But one of the things that is interesting about BLACK BOX is that since you deal almost exclusively with mental illness, you use some really brilliant music and cinematography that theatrically communicate the effects of the illness. Can you talk about the crafting of those scenes and how those play into the mindset of, not only your character, but her patients as well?
Yea, the visual side of the show and the creative side of how we deal with some of these patients and some of these treatments are so creative, they really are. This is neurology, as I've learned from the neurologists I've worked with and speak to, these are the intrepid explorers of the medical profession. They're constantly curious and seeking. There is so much unknown, it's not like a heart surgeon where you know it's a pump; you know how to fix it. It's either working or it's not.
These are people who already have a curious mind, so there I think it lends itself to idiosyncrasies and interesting characters and problem solving. How do you help somebody live with something? How do you diagnose something? So, I think the colorful side of it, and the theatrical side of it, like you said, lends itself to the mind. It is sort of this wonderful place of the unknown and there's so much we could do with it, so many places we could go with it. I think we just wanted the mind and the brain to be the leading role.
You mentioned having to approach the character and illness as truthfully as possible, and obviously the show doesn't have a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" set up, but in a way, you do play two very different characters. How do you approach each one, and the transition and swing between the two sides of Catherine?
I think Catherine has split herself in two, I don't think one side accepts the other too well, and she holds extreme judgment over one side of herself that she doesn't have for any of her patients (giggles). Therefore, that tells you a lot about her, irregardless of her bi-polar.
You know, if we took out her bi-polar, she would still be somebody who would be a challenge, you know what I mean? She would still be a risk-taker, I think she would still be somebody who may not be satisfied with a normal life, and she carries her demons.