TVO's first commissioned drama series, Hard Rock Medical, provides a fresh and entertaining look at the unique challenges of delivering healthcare in Northern Ontario. Hard Rock Medical follows the lives of eight medical students, their struggles to succeed, and the obstacles they face in adapting to practising rural medicine and living in the North. Patrick McKenna heads a Canadian ensemble cast in this series airing Sundays at 8 p.m., from June 9 to August 25 and at hardrockmedical.com.
The views expressed in TVO's Hard Rock Medical blog series are solely the opinion of the cast and filmmakers.
My Experience as Farida
Upon hearing about the new medical drama that TVO was producing, I was given the opportunity to audition for more than one of the female student roles. I gravitated towards Farida Farhisal because she seemed the most mysterious to me. I was intrigued by what was behind the proverbial veil (or non-proverbial hijab). I knew there had to be something more to this character than book smarts and common sense.
What I discovered while filming the series was not only was I right in my assumption, but that I had more in common with Farida than I had originally thought or wanted to admit. As the students were forced outdoors to do field work and deal with patients hands-on, the actors were in turn thrust into the great Northern outdoors -- trudging through deep bush and going hundreds of feet below ground into a nickel mine.
As breathtaking as the landscape was, I, like Farida, am more of an urbanite, so needless to say, when you see Farida looking uncomfortable and out of place in her hunting gear or schlepping through the forest it didn't take a lot of acting chops to pull off. And we had it easy -- as actors, we got to take refuge in a warm trailer between scenes. The real warriors of the North were the director and the crew, who were out there hour upon hour, day-in day-out; in the rain, wind and snow with temperatures sometimes well below freezing.
As an animal-lover, one of things I saw as a high point in shooting outdoors was the prospect of encountering wildlife, particularly moose, as I had never seen one and was told that such sightings were common occurrence in the North. But alas, I never saw my moose. Though my character is almost "goosed" by a moose in Episode 3, I was disappointed to learn that they couldn't actually use a real moose in the scene. But I did get to pet a goat -- you met him/her in Episode 4. (Not really wildlife, but still...)
In this week's episode airing on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, Farida makes a house call to a patient named Erica, played by Megan Fahlenbock, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It is the first time in the series that we glimpse a crack in Farida's armour. Farida feels comfortable enough to open up to Erica, exposing a softer side of her character, allowing audiences to see her in a new light.
When Farida is taken outside the safety of the examination lab and into the real world she doesn't have all the answers and has to actually engage with patients on a real human level. It's no secret that outside one's comfort zone is often where the magic happens and it's no different for Farida, who struggles with these experiences but ultimately comes out a better person.
The experience of shooting in the Northern outdoors taught me a lot. Nature can protect and provide for us and should be treasured and respected. It can also be relentless. It has its own inner rhythm and doesn't stop for anyone; so when faced with having to work with it, the best thing is to try and synch up to its beat. Oh, and dress really warmly.
It also informed me about the possible situations the students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine -- the school which loosely inspired the series -- might experience and the type of person it takes to become a doctor up North. It's one thing to have patients come to you, but it is another to visit them in their environment. Through Farida's experiences, I learned that you have to be tough, while also remaining open. And if you're lucky, you may even spot a moose.