After her long-standing career as Anita Van Buren on one of television’s most popular legal drama television series, Law and Order, S. Epatha Merkerson has traded in her lieutenant’s badge for hospital garb in her role on NBC’s Chicago Med.
In 2015, after working extensively with executive producer Dick Wolf, the mastermind behind Law and Order and now the Chicago franchises (Med, Fire, P.D.), Merkerson landed the role of character Sharon Goodwin, the Chief of Medical Services on Med and quickly took to the role.
“My manager was talking to Peter Jankowski, one of our executive producers and I said, ‘hey, tell Peter that I’m ready to work,’ Merkerson said. “Peter called back and said, ‘Is she’s serious, because there might be something for her in Chicago.’ Literally, that’s how it happened and I know it’s because of my long history with Wolf Entertainment, that [the role] happened so easily.”
After a five-year hiatus between the conclusion of Law and Order and season one of Chicago Med, Merkerson was thrilled to be working with Wolf on a television series yet again.
“One of the things that attracts me to [the roles] that Dick Wolf [produces] is that the shows are always entertaining,” Merkerson said. “When you sit down, you sit down to be entertained. But when you stand up and the show is over, you’ve learned something. I always feel that’s the best of television. Television should not only entertain, but educate and all of Dick’s shows do that. I know the scripts are going to be compelling and interesting, the actors are going to be good. It’s really a no-brainer for me working with Dick—he’s a good guy.”
Wolf often bases the story lines for each episode in the series as accounts of true events. Although the show is fictional, taking on the role of a chief of medical services has given Merkerson a taste of the real-life complexities of the medical field, as well as the compassion those who choose the medical profession must elicit.
“Since our scripts are usually taken from true stories, what I see is the difficulties that health professionals go through just to care for people and our healthcare system—what shambles it’s in,” Merkerson said. “Those are the things that are disheartening to learn. In our hospital, Gaffney Hospital, I think what Goodwin tries to do is find that fine line between taking care of the patients, but also making sure that the doctors are protected and that they’re doing the best that they can do. With the professionals that I’ve spoken to, that is pretty much the same thing that they do. Number one is patient care.”
Since season one, Merkerson’s character has often shown a compassionate, yet sympathetic side to the many crazy scenarios, which take place at Gaffney Hospital. Despite pressure from those above her, Goodwin’s goal is to always advocate for the doctors to provide the best possible care to those visiting the hospital.
“I think that Goodwin is a pretty steady [character],” Merkerson said. “What changes her are the specific things that happen within each episode. I think you see someone who’s always working to do the right thing. Every episode lends itself to an issue that she has to deal with for the safety of the patient, and for the smooth running of the hospital. She has to look out for the doctors, nurses and all of the people that fill up the emergency department. Those are the times when you see [the most] growth in her.”
Upcoming episodes in season five of Chicago Med will feature surprising twists within the character plots, including continued conflicts with Gwen Garrett (Heather Headley), the chief operating officer of Gaffney Medical Center, as well as the return of Goodwin’s ex-husband, Bert (Greg Alan Williams).
“What I like about how they’re writing Goodwin, is they always put her up against situations where she has to make a legal or moral decision and sometimes her heart comes into play,” Merkerson said. “She may do things for the people that work for her that is not quite on the up-and-up, but it always gives good results. You have to trust the people that work for you. I think we’ll see more of that battle between doing what’s right and doing what’s morally right.”
Watch Chicago Med on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.