Joshua Jackson got 'a little crash course in spinal surgery' to play a murderous real-life surgeon in 'Dr. Death,' a must-watch for true-crime fans
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Joshua Jackson's preparation for " Dr. Death" included shadowing actual surgeons.
- The terrifying new drama, based on the podcast of the same name, premiered Thursday on
- Starring Jackson as murderous surgeon Christopher Duntsch, it's a must-watch for
"Dr. Death," a riveting new true-crime series, features a scarily good Joshua Jackson as a murderous real-life surgeon - and he's a long way from the "Dawson's Creek" role that made him famous.
Speaking to Insider ahead of the show's premiere, Jackson, who plays the deranged Dr. Christopher Duntsch, revealed that part of his preparation for his unnervingly authentic portrayal involved shadowing real (but not murderous) surgeons. He even observed several of them performing surgery.
"I got a little crash course in spinal surgery," he told Insider.
But according to Jackson, the most difficult part of filming the surgery scenes wasn't the blood or guts - it was having to pretend like he didn't know the outcome.
"In each one of those surgeries, Duntsch thinks that he's just about to do the thing that's going to save the day," Jackson explained. "And obviously he does not, but you cannot jump to the end as the actor... You have to let that unfold in front of you."
The new Peacock series is based on the hit podcast of the same name
Showrunner Patrick Macmanus told Insider that he'd listened to a few episodes of the "Dr. Death" podcast before he began developing the show and quickly zeroed in on the characters.
"There was one way of telling this story, which was that it was a medical thriller and you're on the edge of your seat every step of the way," he added. "And there's another, which is what we were leaning into, which is that it's a character study."
Macmanus said that Duntsch is an "extraordinarily complex" character, and that he wasn't "just a psychopath."
Much like the podcast, the new show takes an unflinching look at the effects Duntsch's disastrous surgeries had on his community, including the 33 victims he maimed or killed while operating. And similar to the podcast, the story's narrative arc is driven by the efforts of two of Duntsch's fellow doctors - surgeons Robert Henderson and Randall Kirby - to stop him from claiming more victims.
'Dr. Death' features a star-studded cast alongside Jackson
Like Jackson, Slater also shadowed a few surgeons to prepare for his role, even going so far as to make plans to spend a weekend with the real-life Kirby (though the actor's trip was ultimately canceled because of the pandemic).
The "Heathers" star had nothing but praise for Jackson's award-worthy performance as Duntsch.
"I really feel very grateful that he ended up playing the character," Slater told Insider. "I'm only in one scene with him in the operating theater. And he really brought some phenomenal inept skill to those scenes."
"I would definitely not want him to perform any emergency medical treatment on me," he joked.
'Dr. Death' is a must-watch for fans of the true crime genre
While the gory surgery scenes are certainly stomach-churning for viewers, Jackson said that the most terrifying part of the story to him was the fact that Duntsch was allowed to operate for so long.
"The system is built to support and applaud a man like Christopher Duntsch," Jackson explained. "And when he is as spectacularly off as this man was, the system doesn't really have a set of balances to take care of him."
He added, "And that's terrifying."
Indeed, the most terrifying part of "Dr. Death" isn't the egomaniacal doctor at the center of the story. Rather, the show posits, the system that allowed Duntsch to slip through the cracks and harm so many people is the true evil at play.
It's a bold claim to make, but one that the show does its best to prove.
"Dr. Death" doesn't ultimately present a conclusion about why the real-life Duntsch, who's currently serving life in prison after being convicted of intentionally maiming an elderly patient, did what he did. Leaving open-ended whether Duntch's crimes were due to ineptitude or homicidal tendencies was a purposeful choice on the showrunner's part.
"We will never answer why he did what he did," Macmanus said. "There is no way of answering that question. What we will do is explore all the possibilities."
All eight episodes of "Dr. Death" are now streaming on Peacock.
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