Mario Perez/ ABC
Hottie Zach Gilford segues from playing good guy Matt Saracen on "Friday Night Lights" to the less stellar, but more interesting, Tommy Fuller on ABC's new doctors-in-the-jungle series "Off the Map." Now, ET talks to Zach about hanging up his cleats and putting on a stethoscope.
ETonline: So you went from playing a football hero to not-such-a-good-guy doctor. Tell me about your character.
Zach Gilford: I think he is a good guy. I think he is just a little immature. He is this cocky, goofy frat boy in a way. The first couple of episodes, he doesn't come across so great. The first one he was just there to have fun. Tonight is a storyline that I like about this local medicine man and Tommy is not very respectful of that. He thinks they are all crazy and he can just give this person medicine and fix it and the voodoo stuff is ridiculous. But each episode, he starts realizing the bigger picture. Just because he knows medicine doesn't mean it is the best way to heal someone. Cultural differences, especially down where they are, play a huge role.
At first, he is also girl crazy and jumping around, going "this is great." He finally starts to develop a relationship where it is not based on the physical. It is a local girl who doesn't even speak English and he doesn't speak Spanish. It opens his eyes to what a relationship can be. Initially, he comes across as a jerk. I think it is the part he has learned to play his whole life. In his circle of friends, it is cool to drink beer and be chauvinistic, but I don't think it is who he really is.
ETonline: He has to be a smart guy to have gotten into medical school.
Zach Gilford: I always thought of him as a guy who is super smart and skated through it. It wasn't hard work. He reads something once or sits in a lecture and it is in his brain forever. That is why he was able to have a good time and get through really easy. Then he was, "I will just go and work in the strip-mall place and do boob jobs for whoever will pay me, whether they need them or not."
ETonline: Do you have any experience with this kind of thing?
Zach Gilford: The closest experience I have of people like this is my sister and several friends who did the Peace Corps. They are not working in a hospital, but they were trying to help in these lower-developed regions. It is cool the way these relationships start working because you have seven or eight doctors as main characters. I establish a relationship with the kid Charlie (Jonathan Castellanos) and we get closer and closer as it moves on, but the people who are from where you are from, you are going to rely on more and socialize with more.
ETonline: Will you pick up Spanish as the story goes along?
Zach Gilford: That definitely happens. Charlie and I forge this pact that I am going to teach him English and he is going to teach me Spanish. I will be honest. There are some people who cannot learn languages. It is funny -- not that I am great -- but I spent a summer in Costa Rica. I was in these small villages doing community service and they didn't speak any English and I didn't speak any Spanish when I started. By the end, I could get my point across and kind of understand, but it was extremely remedial and a lot of charades involved. That was like, "Dig a hole here, or put a two-by-four here," not about medicine. I don't think any language would get picked up that quickly in terms of medicine. Let's just pretend that Tommy is one of those guys who have a hard time with language.
ETonline: Surprisingly, you and Mamie Gummer, who plays Mina, went to Northwestern together.
Zach Gilford: We did. We had the same acting teacher and we were in a play together and we were in the same circle of friends. When I got the part, she was already involved in it, so I was really excited to know that she would be there. I have seen a couple of her plays on Broadway. I think she is a phenomenal actress. It was exciting to know that I was going to get to work with her professionally.
ETonline: Why should people watch?
Zach Gilford: I think it is unique. People keep comparing it to "Grey's [Anatomy]," but it is the same as "Grey's" as it is to "ER" -- it is based on doctors. It is a group of people in a totally different setting. The tone is different. It is a fun, action/adventure medical show. It is escapism. You see these crazy situations where medicine is improvised. It is like watching "MacGyver" out in the jungle. We have to improvise and use our Swiss Army Knife at times to cut someone open and fix a busted organ.
"Off the Map" airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on ABC.