Just three episodes into NBC’s New Amsterdam, and it’s fairly clear already that the series is a huge hit! It already has a full-season order, its reception has been fantastic, and it has the potential to be the next great hospital drama. Its story, (inspired by the real-life work of Dr. Eric Manheimer at Bellevue in New York City) is a big component in that; another one comes via the characters and the performances. This is where Jocko Sims comes in.
On the series, the Last Ship and Masters of Sex alum is playing Dr. Floyd Reynolds, the one doctor in the cardiac surgical department who ended up keeping his job after Dr. Max Goodwin (based on Manheimer) came in and fired everyone else. Now, Floyd is in charge of leading it, building the staff, and helping to make it famous all over the world for its work. He’s exceptional at his job, but is still figuring out his life away from work based on what we’ve seen so far.
Shortly after the news of the full-season pickup came through, CarterMatt spoke with Sims about playing Floyd, the path that brought him here, and also what he’s going to be exploring coming up. At the end of this interview is also a small tease for what’s left on The Last Ship, for everyone who is enjoying the final season on TNT. (Season 5 filmed last year, hence why Jocko has the rare pleasure of having two shows on the air at the same time.)
CarterMatt – I have to imagine that this is a big week for you: New Amsterdam was just picked up for a full season!
Jocko Sims – Yeah, we got the back nine order. To be honest, the network has been supporting us for a while, right out the gate. It was the first pilot to be picked up on all networks this past March, and we’re the first show to get the back nine order. They’re really confident in it.
Is the idea of the back nine something that you really spent a lot of time thinking about, or do you just let the network make whatever decision they’re going to make?
I’ve always been a live-in-the-moment type of guy. I try not to get ahead of myself with some of these things. You kind of expect the worst being an actor and being told no more than yes for your whole career. I’ve done very well in handling disappointment. I don’t really look too far ahead, but this is the first time ever that I’ve been a part of something where nobody had a doubt. Case in point — once I got the job I got rid of my apartment in LA and moved to New York. That’s a move on faith, but based on the things I was hearing through the back channels. It seemed like the network was really behind it.
The audience is loving the show. We had a big premiere and we’ve had a good audience the past couple of episodes. This past one was enough to give us the back order.
Let’s go back in the time machine a little bit. Back when you were finishing The Last Ship, was a show like this on your radar or something you really were looking to do?
Cosmically, the strange thing is that when I was in high school, I had made the decision that I wanted to be a doctor and I believed in that so much. I was a straight-A student, top of my class, and was in the National Honor Society. I had all of the credentials, and I even had a medical symbol put on my high school ring that was customizable. That’s what I wanted to do. When I got to college though, I realized that I didn’t really want to be in school for the next twelve years; I wanted to start my life.
I’ve always been very creative, so I took a theater course, fell in love with it, moved to Los Angeles, and finished school. I did five years of theater and I got a B.A. in theater at UCLA. My first audition came along and I booked the first audition I went out on. That was an indication that I was doing the right thing.
I’ve been working professionally for sixteen years, and since that time I had wanted to play a doctor for obvious reasons. I never got that chance until I booked a role on The Resident for two episodes. They called me for a third episode, but it was in the middle of pilot season. We decided to pass on that because I didn’t want to miss any opportunities. I think my audition came [for New Amsterdam] the week I was supposed to be in Atlanta, playing a doctor in a guest-star role. This is a role of a lifetime and I get to live out my dream two-fold (laughs).
When you went from the role on The Resident [in Ben Wilmot] over to playing Floyd Reynolds here, was there a challenge at all in trying to separate the two characters?
Not at all. It started with the writing, and it wasn’t until I saw the pilot for New Amsterdam that I saw that this was something quite different. I felt like I wasn’t watching myself which is extremely rare. The only other time I’ve felt like that was during my stint on Masters of Sex. I remember telling my mother ‘I saw the pilot and it’s different. My role is special.’ This was just different from Dr. Ben Wilmot.
There are a couple of things I find really interesting about Floyd, with the first being that he is this guy who’s been put in this position where he has to rebuild this entire department. As we’re moving through the season, do you think that there is nervousness or excitement coming from that?
The way that they’ve been writing it and I’ve been playing it is that he seems up for the challenge. I think Floyd, and a lot of the other characters, have in some ways become victim of the system. I wouldn’t say they got complacent, but I would say that they probably thought that there wasn’t much they could change about the medical industry and what is happening at that hospital, which hypothetically would be Bellevue here in New York.
I think what works well for Floyd is that he needed somebody to come in and shake things up and be a guide. It’s not like he’s been cast by Max Goodwin with this burden of trying to rebuild it; it’s a task that he takes head-on.
This brings me to the other thing I appreciate, and that is seeing him take on topical issues and even bring forward statistics that I was not even aware of, like the lack of female and minority representation among doctors at many hospital staffs. It’s an opportunity to tackle subjects that most hospital shows really don’t.
Everything really began with Dr. Eric Manheimer at Bellevue and the book [Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital: Twelve Patients]. The reality is that the system is broken. He literally did fire entire departments to try and change things. If you’re going to base the series on reality, you have no choice but to be truthful. This is what it was like.
My character is not based on anyone in particular, but I did get to meet with the head of the cardiac surgical department at Bellevue in Dr. Norma Keller. It was interesting talking with her — I didn’t want to spend too much time with her because she might be busy doing other important things like saving lives (laughs). The thing that struck me the most was when I asked her ‘what is the hardest thing for you?’ and she said ‘the staff. Being short-staffed.’ In their hospital today they’re dealing with not having a sufficient staff. With me being an African-American character and with the writers being able to bring in those statistics, it was a way for us to touch on the issue of the staff.
I don’t know where these guys came from, including David Schulmer, the creator of the show, but they have really done something special and struck a chord with audience. It’s good to do something that is based in reality and you can also educate people. I’m learning quite a bit myself. I’m learning about the health-care system. I didn’t know that you can negotiate your medical bill at hospitals. That blew my mind!
Over these next few episodes, is there anything that you’re especially excited for people to see from you?
Floyd and Dr. Bloom will start to find their way, whichever way that may be. I’m very blessed to be prevalent throughout the entire series, but I think around episode 11 we’re going to see a storyline with Floyd where you get to know him a little bit better. I gotta say also with episode 8, you’re going to see a different side of Floyd. He’s a guy who is serious about his work and takes pride in his work. He’s a no-nonsense guy; you saw that in episode 2 when the Haitian family wanted to perform the ritual. In episode 8, I’ll even venture to say that you’ll see a fun side of Floyd and I’m really excited about that.
There’s a few more episodes to air of The Last Ship, but what did you take away from that experience as an actor?
Originally, I went on to do five episodes and it went on for five seasons, so I always keep an open mind about where something can go or how long a character can be around. I have definitely seen the value of having great friends in the people you work with, and just trying to take those moments in and enjoy them. As much as it was five seasons and a total of four years, it felt like it went by faster than high school (laughs). It’s just a blur. You have to take the scenic route; take time to smell the flowers and see where you’re at.
Oftentimes actors tend to complain a lot. There’s a thing in Hollywood — ‘if you want to make an actor unhappy, give him a job’ (laughs). I’ve had a couple of buddies on the show complaining about this or that. With me being midway a veteran on the show, you’ve got the older [guys] like Eric [Dane] and Adam Baldwin and then some of the younger guys and I fall somewhere in the middle, I would tell some of the younger guys ‘hey, you got to enjoy the ride. Enjoy the blessing of being on TV every week for the summer, or in this case the fall.’ I’m definitely going to take my own advice moving forward in every job that I have.
Also, here’s one last tease from Jocko about the remaining The Last Ship episodes: “It’s like Game of Thrones . No one is safe.”
Thanks to Jocko Sims so much for his time, and be sure to share your thoughts on this interview below! (Photo: NBC.)