It's late January on the Warner Bros. studio lot in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, and Jeremy Northam is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
He's close to wrapping filming for the first season of his first American TV series, the CBS drama "Miami Medical," premiering Friday. Like his character, trauma surgeon Dr. Matthew Proctor, he is a transplanted Brit coping with a high-pressure job in a palm-tree-lined corner of the United States.
Although he's wearing scrubs and sitting on a gurney in what looks to be a high-tech hospital, Northam doesn't have to save any lives, but that doesn't mean he isn't feeling the stress.
"It's very frightening," he says, "coming into something like this. I've never done anything like this. If it's in at the deep end, it feels like a very slow dive into it."
Northam still keeps his home base in the U.K., but Proctor has made a commitment to his new job heading up the Alpha Team at one of the premier dedicated Level I trauma facilities in the world (based on the real-life Ryder Trauma Center in Miami).
Proctor spent some time working in a military medical unit during the Gulf War, and now he is returning to the front lines of trauma after several years in a lucrative private practice.
His arrival derails the plans of Dr. Eva Zambrano (Lana Parrilla), who had expectations of being promoted to Proctor's job. Also adjusting to the new boss are cocky surgeon Dr. Chris "C" Deleo (Mike Vogel) and recent med-school graduate Dr. Serena Warren (Elisabeth Harnois).
Unfazed by it all is head nurse Tuck Brody (Omar Gooding), who manages to keep the team running smoothly.
"Miami Medical" is the creation of Jeffrey Lieber, who was inspired by an experience his wife had before he met her, a sudden medical crisis in which her life hung in the balance.
He became intrigued with the idea of the "golden hour," the brief window of opportunity to save a patient, provided that patient can get to the right kind of help in time.
According to Lieber, Ryder Medical came about because drug-fueled violence in the 1980s was overwhelming Miami emergency rooms and operating theaters.
Founded in 1992, Ryder reports on its Web site that about 30 percent of its patients (who are treated regardless of their ability to pay) are injured by gunshot wounds, stabbings and falls, and another 70 percent from blunt trauma, vehicular accidents and other causes. It treats both adults and children.
Parrilla got a firsthand look when she visited the hospital.
Taking a break to talk before suiting up for work, she says the visit was "traumatic. Very. I did three shifts, two on my first trip and one on my second trip. Mind-blowing experience. I was afraid to get behind a wheel after that, and everybody has to wear seat belts.
"This show, we deal with a lot of automobile accidents, but what I saw there was a lot of drug-related crimes, a lot of knives and guns, and people getting hit by cars.
"I feel like I saw more than I needed to see, but it was very good for my research in playing this part."
The show isn't all blood and guts (despite the fact that, as Parrilla talks, Northam, as Proctor, is operating on somebody across the set, and it isn't going well).
Perched on a gurney outside of earshot of the filming, Lieber says, "I was really interested in, 'What's it like, when all your decisions are life-and-death decisions? How do you just go out and live your life then?'
"You see car accident [victims] all day; how do you go get in your car?"
"One of the things we're trying to explore here," Northam says, "is the juxtaposition of the pressure and professionalism at work, and how people return to a sort of normality out of this life."
Northam also emphasizes he's not playing a superman.
"I'm not interested particularly," he says, "in playing a character in this situation who always has all the answers, although he is very skilled, very good at what he does."
Of course, the inside of a hospital in Miami looks pretty much like the inside of a hospital anywhere, except possibly with more victims in flip-flops and fewer in parkas (like in the chilly Chicago of NBC's "ER").
Lieber hopes to find ways to incorporate local color (like beach shots in the opening credits), but he doesn't plan to follow the lead of CBS' "CSI: Miami," which has its fair share of dead girls wearing bikinis and other skimpy attire.
9 p.m. Friday