A whole new world. For decades, Joshua Jackson has landed starring roles in both TV and film, but nothing quite like his latest. In Peacock’s Dr. Death, Jackson, 43, plays Dr. Christopher Duntsch, the infamous psychotic neurosurgeon who was responsible for injuring and killing multiple patients.
“The first hardest part was just to recognize that he’s human. Like I think everybody else, my initial reaction was to just stand in judgment of him and the outcomes — the evil and the pain that he caused to so many people,” the Fringe alum, 41, told Us Weekly exclusively while promoting the series. “If he was just a psychopath, everything would be so simple. … But it’s actually much more complicated to admit that he was a human — a deeply, fundamentally flawed human being and then get into the place of, like, so if he’s a person with feelings and desires and motivations and all the things that go into making us people, how does he see himself?”
Jackson added that once he stopped judging Duntsch, he was able to try to “walk in his shoes,” something that was an ongoing challenge over the course of shooting the eight episodes.
The series, based on the 2018 Wondery podcast about the doctors and the attorney who took down Duntsch, originally starred Jamie Dornan as the lead. However, when the project was pushed back due to the coronavirus, the 39-year-old star had to drop out and Jackson stepped in — timing that made the project “cosmically the right job” for him.
“In some roles like this one, timing is everything,” the Dawson’s Creek alum said. “It was only because of the pandemic that the job became available and became available for me. And also, frankly, if it had been six months earlier, I wouldn’t have taken the job because [my wife] Jodie [Smith-Turner] was still pregnant and I really wanted to, obviously, be there for all of that. It came at exactly the moment where it worked for them, where it worked for me and where I felt like I had the emotional bandwidth to take something like this on. It was more than even I anticipated it to be, but it was obvious for me from the very beginning that this was going to be quite a heavy lift.”
During filming, the When They See Us star felt he did a good job leaving the heavy subject matter at work at the end of each day when he left the set. However, he realized after wrapping that that wasn’t actually the case.
“My life is very warm and supportive,” he told Us, noting that he got to go home to “this beautiful wife and this beautiful baby” at the end of the day, but he wasn’t always in the best headspace. “It wasn’t until we finished it and I put the whole thing down that I realized how heavy it actually had been over the course of the time. I was deluding myself about how capable I was to sort of leave it at the office. It’s incredibly dark. The material is dark. The man is dark and you’re causing pain to human beings. Like, you’re actually physically damaging other human bodies. So to try to inhabit this man that just has no empathy at all, it’s uncomfortable.”
The Little Fires Everywhere alum added, “You as a human being, you want to have compassion and this man has none. It wasn’t really until we got to the end of it that I realized just how much that was weighing on me as a person.”
All episodes of Dr. Death debut on Peacock Thursday, July 15.