This Is Going To Hurt: Ben Whishaw plays a doctor in TV adaptation of Adam Kay's 'love letter to the NHS'
- Credit: Sister/Anika Molnar
He's played Q in the Bond blockbusters and voiced Paddington in the heartwarming family movies.
Actor Ben Whishaw has also bagged Emmy, BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Norman Scott in mini-series A Very English Scandal.
Now the former Samuel Whitbread, Clifton, student is donning a set of scrubs and heading straight on to the set of a hectic labour ward as part of new BBC medical comedy drama This Is Going To Hurt.
The seven-part series starts on BBC One on Tuesday, February 8 at 9pm, with the one-time Bancroft Players youth theatre performer taking the leading role in the television adaptation of Adam Kay’s multi-million selling memoir.
“Who would play you in a story of your life?” is a go-to dinner party conundrum.
For most, the chances of that scenario playing out in the real world are slim to none.
For doctor-turned-comedy writer Adam Kay, it’s a question that required an immediate and absolute answer: Ben Whishaw.
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However, Whishaw’s medical expertise, unlike writer Kay’s, is somewhat limited.
That needn’t matter though, for what the actor lacks in prenatal knowledge, he more than makes up for in delivery – of lines and fictional babies.
This Is Going To Hurt is the darkly comedic on-screen world of Adam Kay in his chaotic job in an obs and gynae ward back in 2006.
“I must be the only person in the country who hadn’t heard of it before I got sent it,” announces Whishaw, 41, describing his lack of prior knowledge as “a bit embarrassing”.
After making up for lost time with the source material, Whishaw recounts the experience of researching the world of obstetrics and gynaecology.
Aided by three on-set medical advisors, a “few afternoons” of hands-on training prepped the cast for filming courtesy of Covid-induced lockdown measures.
“We’ve learned how to do Caesareans,” announces the actor. “I had no idea that it was as basic a process as it is.
"You literally take a scalpel and slice through the flesh, then you literally put your hands in and pull the muscles apart, and then you shove your fist in and grab the baby. Things like that are extraordinary.”
Dubbed a “love letter to the NHS” by creator Kay and star Whishaw, the series was born out of Kay’s diary entries, scrawled between sleepless nights and endless overtime during his stint as a junior doctor.
Of Adam Kay, Whishaw says: "I find the way he writes himself extremely interesting because it’s so naked, in a sense.
"He doesn’t really try to make himself look better than he is. In fact, he seems to go to pains to really show all his flaws and failings and so on."
Noting a direct adaptation of his diaries would have turned the series into what Kay describes as a “one-man sketch show”, the former doctor, 41, says the TV adaptation opted for a different route, expanding the world contained in the pages of his memoir.
Reassuring fans of the book that “the greatest hits are all here” – whether in the form of anecdotal monologues to camera or played-out scenes – Whishaw explains that the series and memoir “go hand in hand”.
“A lot of the humour that’s in the show is just drawn directly from real-life stuff that happened to Adam.
"And to a degree, a lot of the jokes are Adam’s way of coping, I suppose, with the pressures of being a doctor,” adds Whishaw, who performed at Hitchin’s Queen Mother Theatre in his youth.
"My character Adam Kay is a junior doctor when we meet him, trying to keep afloat in a system that is unrelenting.
"He’s someone who’s really trying to do good but also deal with his own flaws, foibles, shortcomings and failings, which is really interesting because I think when you go into a hospital or when you are dealing with a doctor, you think they are superhuman in some way, and I love that this character is all too human really."
With directing duties shared between Lucy Forbes and BAFTA-nominated Tom Kingsley, the series stars newcomer Ambika Mod as Shruti, a young junior doctor yet to be tainted by the stresses of hospital life.
Joined by Alex Jennings as Adam’s domineering boss Mr Lockhart, and Dame Harriet Walter as Veronique, Adam’s mother, This Is Going To Hurt has attracted a who’s who of acting talent.
Like countless people up and down the country, Whishaw says the notion of stepping into a hospital fills him with “dread”.
Despite this, it was a routine the actor quickly became accustomed to – albeit swapping a working hospital for the ultra-realistic confines of a purpose-built set.
Immersing himself in a world laden with prosthetics capable of inducing a “very visceral reaction”, the star recounts a number of particularly memorable scenes now permanently ingrained in his brain.
“Some of the funniest ones have been, in the gynaecology ward, having to remove various items from various orifices. They’ve been very funny and memorable.
"There was also a scene that I particularly love when a woman wants to eat her own placenta because she’s read that it’s a good thing for her and the baby, and, well, it gets messy.”
And while Whishaw says he hopes viewers find themselves thoroughly entertained by the series, he’s quick to highlight the show’s “really serious agenda – politically and socially”.
Reflecting on how the timing of the project couldn’t be more apt, he adds: “We’ve all been more aware than normal, probably, of just how much we owe to the people who work for the NHS. The extraordinary work they do and what they sacrifice to do it.
“I think we’re all still reeling from the last couple of years. But certainly, I feel like in making the show, there’s a real sense of purpose amongst the cast and crew and everyone.
"This feels like something important to do, in a sense.”
Series director Lucy Forbes feels Whishaw has done "the most amazing job" in the role of Adam.
"Ben Whishaw is one of the most talented actors I've ever worked with. He's an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and empathic performer, and balanced the comedy and drama so masterfully.
"He made what was ultimately on paper, a very complicated, sometimes hateful character, one that you could empathise with, and that’s no mean feat.
"He makes you feel for him despite himself. Ben has made it all look easy – and it's not easy.
"But he's done the most amazing, amazing job and I feel incredibly privileged to work have worked with him."
Likewise, series creator Kay was delighted to have Ben Whishaw play him in the rollercoaster diary of a doctor’s life.
The writer said: "To have the finest actor of his generation playing me? In a career-defining performance? Yeah, it’s OK, I guess."