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Photo Courtesy of AMC Networks

Acting Up: Ben Whishaw

The Snapshot:

Ben Whishaw plays a junior doctor dealing with 97-hour work weeks and the pitfalls of modern medicine in the darkly funny AMC+ series, This Is Going to Hurt.

(The limited series premiered on June 2nd on AMC+ and Sundance Now.)


The Performance:

If you thought the American health care system was a mess, wait ‘til you watch This Is Going to Hurt. In a parable perhaps for how for-profit medicine works these days, the incredibly revealing and well-acted new series from Adam Kay is the most intensely uncomfortable peek behind the blood-stained curtain of a hospital/British gynecology and obstetrics ward that I can remember.

Especially for one man – Adam Kay (Whishaw). Based on Kay’s hilariously insightful bestselling novel of the same name covering his days as a doctor, This Is Going to Hurt chronicles the good, the bad and awfully bloody life of an OBGYN “junior enough to suffer the crippling hours, but senior enough to face a constant barrage of terrifying responsibilities.”

If it wasn’t enough that Kay’s a closeted gay man who has so little time off, he often passes out in his car, Adam regularly sees a deluge of high-stakes patients who challenge his medical degree in ways no book could ever prepare him for. From the shockingly high number of people who trap things in their orifices (from clean urine for drug tests to engagement rings meant for popping certain questions), there’s a steady flow of split-second decisions that have profound impacts on the lives of his patients – not to mention himself, as he’s often haunted by the work.

I read This Is Going to Hurt before watching the series and what Whishaw does in the role superseded my hopes/dreams for what the live-action version of this book could be. Whishaw’s ability to portray Kay’s whip-smart sarcasm and chronic crankiness serve Kay’s words well while lending a snapshot into the psyche of doctor with strong survival instincts in the face of perpetual adversity. But Adam has a heart too, and when it comes out, Whishaw rises to the occasion with a vulnerability to balance the thickened skin, hardened by Kay’s days in the ward.

One of those situations revolves around a premature child that Adam delivers at 25 weeks after a bad judgment call leads to him to mistakingly send home a pregnant mother complaining of seemingly harmless things such as “itchy teeth” and swollen taste buds. The scenes of Adam in the infant ICU talking the “preemie” through his intubated life are as gutwrenching to watch as they are revealing about the decisions that doctors face on a regular basis. Not always right.

That’s where this series is a huge add to the pop-culture landscape: as a real-life version of ER and Grey’s Anatomy without all that soapy lovey-dovey stuff. Kay’s experience, seen through Whishaw, seems frighteningly authentic in its pull-back-the-curtain nature. If you have the stomach for it, get prepared for one of the better series you probably didn’t even know existed.


The Career:

Ben Whishaw is one of those British actors you’ve probably seen in way more stuff than you realize.

To some, he’s simply the actor who does great work wherever he goes, playing memorable roles in the FX’s dark comedy series Fargo (2020) and the film, Mary Poppins Returns (2018). Or even the guy who played the classic character Q in the last three Bond films: Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015) and No Time to Die (2021), spearheading R&D for the British Secret Service.

To others, Whishaw might just be the voice from films like Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017), the latter being a film that Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal geek out on big time in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022). Interestingly, the same could be said about Whishaw who is one of the more massively talented Brits working today – with an Emmy to prove it for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for A Very English Scandal (2018). In that excellent series, he expertly plays the gay ex-lover to British Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) who may or may not be someone Thorpe wants to murder.

Flashing back, the 41-year-old Whishaw began his career starring on the stage in youth theatre in the early 2000s in shows such as Hamlet, for which he landed an Olivier Award nomination. He eventually landed the part of Keith Richards in the film Stoned (2005) – and years later, won one of the roles he’s best known for in the British drama series, The Hour (2011-2012). Also worth noting: Whishaw went on to win not one, but three BAFTA nominations for London Spy (2015), amongst other standout performances during his journey as an actor, mostly across the pond.

As a private person not unlike his character in This Is Going to Hurt, Whishaw reportedly came out in 2014 in a tense experience, saying it’s “a phrase I’m not entirely comfortable with.” It’s a scenario he’s played out a couple of times now on screen, including in the film Lilting (2014).

In his next film, Whishaw will star in Sarah Polley’s Women Talking (2022) alongside Jessie Buckley and Rooney Mara about a group of women in a religious colony who “struggle to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men.”

There’s a good-to-excellent chance Whishaw will be superb in it.

We’ll see.

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.