Adam Arkin has done his share of comedy and drama since making making his feature film debut in the 1971 comedy "Made for Each Other" at the ripe old age of 14.
Though until now he was most familiar to TV audiences for his delightful portrayal of the feral gourmet chef Adam on CBS' "Northern Exposure," he's exercised his dramatic chops this season as the restrained and methodical Dr. Aaron Shutt on CBS' "Chicago Hope."
The son of award-winning actor Alan Arkin doesn't live by the old adage that it's harder to do comedy than drama.
"I think good work is hard to do--period," Arkin, 38, explains. "If you are trying to learn and trying to grow, you have got to work hard. You can't settle for a bag of tricks. It is hard to do honest work, especially under the circumstances (of this show). We are coming to the end of nine months and even on an ensemble show, which this for the most part is an amazing amount of work."
It's past 5 p.m. and Arkin's just arrived at his trailer nestled next to the "Chicago Hope" sound stage on the 20th Century-Fox lot. Though he's not set to report to work for another two hours, Arkin has good-naturedly come in early to talk about "Chicago Hope."
Fear, he quips, has kept his adrenalin going through the filming of 22 emotionally charged episodes of creator-producer David Kelley's offbeat medical series.
"Fear of things not being good," he explains. "I joke about it, but to some extent you really don't want to stink up the joint. (Fear) keeps you trying to be good. You know that if you have an off day, it is going to be committed to celluloid and you'll have to look at it the rest of your life. I think that's an incentive."
Good material also helps considerably. "If you are doing stuff you don't believe in, it really makes it that much harder to get the energy to try to serve it," Arkin explains. "But when you are inspired by the material, which inevitably I think we are on this show, it sparks something and makes you not want to drop the ball."
Like Kelley's "Picket Fences," this series has not shied away from putting the spotlight on controversial topics, especially the March 20 episode in which Dr. Shutt performed an experimental operation involving a wife who got pregnant so her fetus' brain cells could be "harvested" to treat her husband's Parkinson's disease.
Arkin welcomes such controversy. "It's always great to be dealing with issues," he says. "It forces you to examine, perhaps in a deeper way, some of how you feel about those moral issues personally. There are a lot of gray areas."
The fetal-tissue episode, which was written by Kelley, handled a complicated issue in a "wonderfully" responsible way, Arkin says. "It did not try to present it as an answer that was easy one way or another. It did not take a stand on what it thought was right."
All in all, Arkin says, "Chicago Hope" hasn't received a "huge amount" of feedback from doctors. "We will hear quite often from the technical advisers we have on the show," Arkin says. "We get to hear a lot of really supporting things from those people."
As well as from his mother, a nurse who operates a family clinic in San Luis Obispo. "I get to hear a lot about what the staff up there thinks about the show," Arkin says, smiling. "They are into it."
A lot more people are into "Chicago Hope" since January, when CBS moved the series to Mondays at 10 p.m. in "Northern Exposure's" time slot. "Chicago Hope" found itself needing resuscitation when it initially aired Thursdays at 10 p.m. opposite NBC's red-hot medical series, "ER." The new day and time was just the shot in the arm "Chicago Hope" needed--it's now a Top 20 hit.
Needless to say, Arkin's thrilled. "I don't think (the two shows) could be more different and be about the same subject matter," Arkin says, adding that he felt pitting the series against each other was a mistake. "We could have easily won the battle and I still would have felt, 'Why do this?' There's enough competition without making wars where none exist to begin with. It really had a feeling of a battle of egos that ironically didn't involve any of the people doing the shows. I am really happy it came to an end."
The actor has had very few discussions about the development of his character with Kelley. "I don't think I am necessarily typical of everybody on the show," Arkin acknowledges. "I feel in my case it has been appreciated."
But that may change in the future. "On the hiatus, it might be fruitful to sit down and talk about where Shutt's going, what we do not know about him yet."
Arkin's had to resist the temptation to do a few acting projects that would have tied up his break in filming. "I have kind of vowed to spend some serious time with my daughter (Molly)," says Arkin, who lives in Seattle.
"I have to get some rest," Arkin adds. "It has been an amazing year moving from New York, establishing a household here, establishing a household in Seattle, going back and forth between households and doing a show. I am tired."
\o7 "Chicago Hope" airs Monday\f7 s\o7 at 10 p.m. on CBS.\f7