BBC PRESS OFFICE INTERVIEW - JULY 2003
“What is the point of being an actor if you don’t take on different roles?”
“It’s been a bit like being on the Generation Game,” jokes Jeremy Sheffield about his time playing a consultant thoracic surgeon in the hit medical drama Holby City. “We get shown some trick and then we have a go – except we’re not actually operating on people because we’d be killing them!” On a more serious note, Jeremy is grateful to have had the opportunity to try something that he might otherwise never have experienced. He exits the show on 12 August with fond memories of an enlightening three years, but with a hunger for new and exciting challenges. As Dr Alex Adams, he has fluttered the hearts of legions of fans and Jeremy shares with his mixed feelings about leaving a job, which has given him enormous scope as an actor.
“I’m not big on security, it dampens me down,” he explains. “It feels like a big leap and I’m nervous about leaving because I don’t know what is going to come next, if anything at all, but if I don’t have the challenge or fear of trying to get another job, my energy levels go down. The risk taking is good for me – it fires me up.”
Jeremy took a six-month break from Holby City last year, during which time he notched up an impressive five other projects including the lead in a two-part period drama, Hearts Of Gold, recently screened on BBC One. He continues: “What is the point of being an actor if you don’t take on different roles? Having a break helped me to come back with more energy and enthusiasm than if I’d worked straight through.”
But he is quick to point out that Holby’s Alex Adams has been a great character to play.” You can’t work solidly for three years – six days a week – without learning an awful lot and it was a great gift to be in that role with the prominence he had in the show and the great storylines he was given.” But naturally, given that Adams has been through so much, Jeremy feels it is time for a change.
Jeremy cites George Irving as the most inspirational person he has worked with on the show. “He was extraordinary. He spent the whole time creating a marvelous character who is a mile away from George as a person. His demeanor, his attitude and his dedication to his work, no matter what was going on around him, was inspiring.” He continues:” Hugh Quarshie and Art Malik are two more skilled actors who are amazing to be around. Subliminally, it just rubs off on you and that has been a great joy.” He also includes working with guest artists as one of the highlights of his time on Holby. “On a long-running show, there are times when you can become a bit blasé and then you have guests who come in and breathe new life and energy. Recently, Mark Bazeley, who played my brother, was great. He forced me, as a regular, to go a little further and that is always exciting.”
Jeremy remembers his first ever read through,“ Which are always scary”. He refers to “the girls” – Angela Griffin, Lisa Faulkner and Nicola Stephenson – as being “such wonderful big characters who were very flirtatious and very funny. They were all curious to see who would be replacing Michael French so as I walked into the room, I could just feel everybody’s heads turning and weighing me up.” It turns out the casting was spot on.
Alex Adams’s departure story line has been building up since May. The surgeon, having been diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s, undergoes deep brain stimulation and, whilst this surgery cures his tremor on one side, almost immediately afterwards (as happened in real life to actor Michael J Fox after his thalamotomy operation), the tremor reappears on the other side. Jeremy found portraying this troubled character, in the depths of despair, a challenge. Statistics show that 120,000 people in the UK alone have Parkinson’s and 10,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year. Of those diagnosed, one in 20 people are under the age of 40.
He asserts:” I was concerned that there would be people watching who have this disease in a very real way. I didn’t want it to look comical or demonstrated. When the audience first saw the tremor, I had people coming up to me and asking,’ What is that? A brain tumor? MS?’ I have faith that our audience is intelligent and that as they were already asking those questions, we didn’t need to ram it down their throats. I didn’t want to shake my hand constantly for fear it might look like a cliché or a pastiche. Alex Adams is an intelligent, successful, confident individual who is given a frightening diagnosis and he can’t handle it. He is in complete denial and contemplates ending his life. But he is encouraged to pull himself together by good friends Dianne and Jess and, whilst his days as a heart surgeon are over, he accepts that he still has a life to live and he optimistically embarks upon a future in research.” Ironically, Jeremy, who spent seven years as a professional dancer with the Royal Ballet, was prompted to abandon his dance career following an injury but, fortunately, it was a timely accident. He was, he says, reaching a point when he wanted to move on anyway. “It was a blessing in disguise for me at the time. Some would argue that there was something psychological about it which allowed me to make a decision that I wouldn’t have made otherwise.”
But he can relate to Adams’s plight, having known dancers who, at the height of their career, have been forced by physical injury to change their lives against their will.
“Not only is it what you love and what you want to do, but it is also about your identity.” Adams is a case in point:” He has had certain love interests and emotional attachments to people which ultimately damaged him and made him focus wholeheartedly on his work. You take that away from him and it is a huge part of his character and personality, which is being ripped away. He’s no longer the person he thought he was.”
The future is far from bleak for the dashing Jeremy, who has landed a movie part in Something Borrowed, a romantic comedy starring Jack Davenport, Tom Conti, Debra Messing and Sarah Parish, which has just started filming in London. Hollywood beckons for this heartthrob and one would hope that he will benefit from his insight into the intricacies of disseminated intravascular coagulation, having left many a female viewer with abnormally high blood pressure!