Marcia Gay Harden isn’t afraid to speak up. The Academy Award-winning actress has a way with words, whether she’s discussing a thoracotomy on the set of her show or chronicling her relationship with her mother and her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. Harden spoke to CBS Local about what we can expect from her character Leanne on the third season of “Code Black” (premiering Apr. 25 at 10/9c on CBS) and her poignant, heartwarming and funny new memoir “The Seasons of My Mother” (coming out May 1 through Simon & Schuster).
What’s new for Leanne this season?
There’s a lot new for a lot of the characters in “Code Black” for season 3. I promise you there’s the familiar high-octane emergency room, I promise you there’s still Rob Lowe’s character Willis going out into the street with first responder medicine. There are still lots of emotional punches. But now there’s an enrichening of the characters and there’s some surprises as well. Leanne is attempting to adopt Ariel. In season 3, she’s juggling two high-octane jobs — on the one hand the ER, on the other hand, a teenage. There’s nothing more high-octane than a teenager, as a mother of two, I can tell you. So that’s what’s happening for her. What’s quite beautiful is that the ER ends up parenting Ariel and being there for her. As it takes a village, it takes an ER. They’re there for her, kind of teaching her life lessons. There’s some beautiful, rich stories with that.
Can you describe Leanne’s relationship with Ariel?
It’s a teenager’s job to disagree with everything an adult says on some level. It’s a rite of passage. I used to tell my own kids, you’re allowed to roll your eyes, because I know you need to, but only a certain number of times a day. Leanne has that teenage angst with Ariel, but it’s compounded because Ariel has a lot of tragedy in her life, as does Leanne. They have that to unite on, but they also have that to overcome. That’s what happens in season 3 — how do these two women come together, and how does Ariel come to understand herself as a capable young woman, capable of things beyond her teenage capacity. She surprises herself and it’s really beautiful. And Leanne has to soften a bit. She has to be more embracing of motherhood and get over — you never get over the death of a child — but she has to move on and embrace the beauties of this new child.
The show has an incredible cast. What’s it like working with everyone?
We are so lucky on “Code Black” to have this amazing cast. In episode 2, you’re given a bit of a surprise. Suddenly you’re taken into the ER and BANG!, there’s a song and dance number that you didn’t expect. In that song and dance number, I got to see and renew my understanding of how incredible everyone is. There’s Luis Guzman, [who plays] Momma, and at some point he’s twerking in the ER. There’s Boris Kodjoe, who’s just eye candy anyway, and he’s the most decent human being, and who knew he was a great singer. There’s William Allen Young, who’s an old-world jazz kind of man, so he’s doing that. There’s Emily Tyra, who knew Emily was a ballet dancer, you get to see her on-point doing an incredible ballet dance. I could go on. The characters are wonderful, but the people themselves, the lives they lead, the people who they are, they’re really decent human beings and a pleasure to show up everyday and work with.
Is it challenging to learn medical lingo for the show?
Are you kidding me? It’s nearly impossible. We have this thing where we do read-throughs, and we do them once every eight days when the new episode comes out. And invariably, there’ll be a couple characters who were given “the mouthful,” is what I say. You were given the mouthful. There’s medicine, and some… thoracic procedure, with a thoracotomy on the side. We challenge ourselves to say it perfectly for the read-through, because if you do, usually you get a little round of whoa‘s in the room, because there’s a lot of people in the room. It’s definitely challenging, but we’ve got real med techs and real doctors on the set to help us make this as cinéma vérité as we can. And that’s really helpful. We do a lot of rehearsals, a lot of fake operations, to sell it to the audience.
Can you tell us about your new memoir, “The Seasons of My Mother”?
I wrote a book called “The Seasons of My Mother.” It’s a memoir that chronicles my mother’s seasons of her life. It takes you on a journey through our beginning, and how she helped me get my start all the way through to the Oscars. It’s pretty funny, Rob Lowe says it’s funny. It’s very heartwarming, and I think there are a lot of moments that kids can relate to with their parents and especially their mothers. It ends with her ongoing struggle with Alzheimer’s, and understanding for me, in writing it, just how lonely Alzheimer’s is. When you think about it, memory is a companion, and it’s a rich companion. When you lose your memory, I cannot imagine how lonely it is. She lives in the moment, that’s what my mother does, she lives in the moment, and she’s an incredibly beautiful, graceful woman in the moment. It was my goal with the book, coming out in time for Mother’s Day, that people could relate to it on that level — mothers/daughters, kids/mothers — but also that people could help make a difference in the battle to eradicate Alzheimer’s.
The third season of “Code Black” premieres Apr. 25 at 10/9c on CBS. Check local listings for more info. “The Seasons of My Mother” will be available in stores on May 1 through Simon & Schuster.