PASADENA — British actress Kelly Reilly gets to explore the fine line between genius and madness in the new ABC drama "Black Box."
She plays Dr. Catherine Black, a renowned neurologist dealing with her own complicated mental issues. The subject matter of the series — the title is a reference to the hardware on an airplane that stores all data — is so cerebral, Reilly was surprised it was a series for a network and not cable.
It's not a by-the-numbers medical show where the doctor fumbles around until the last 10 minutes and then magically comes up with a solution to the problem. It's a complicated story that goes to dark areas with the patients and the doctor.
"I was drawn to the ugly side of it as well as the beautiful side of it. I have no interest in playing a character who is one thing, as none of us are. And the fact that she is bipolar is just one thing about this character," Reilly says.
"That's not who she is. She's many, many things. How does somebody navigate through their life with this disorder and make the best of it? Her brilliance really was a beautiful thing for me to explore."
The character is so complicated Reilly has found herself becoming addicted to the role. She likes that the show doesn't shy away from topics and situations that many might consider to be uncomfortable to confront. It's through those confrontations Reilly expects to win over the audience.
The role is a complete change from her work in the new feature film "Heaven Is for Real," where she plays the wife of a Nebraska preacher.
Before filming started on "Black Box," Reilly spent two months with neurologists, psychologists and psychiatrists going deep into the bipolar world.
"I feel very protective of making sure that we tell this story truthfully. There's no point in making it if we don't honor it and we don't ignite it with truth and with all aspects of truth," Reilly says.
No one agrees with Reilly more than "Black Box" executive producer Amy Holden Jones. Her father was a doctor who was bipolar.
Jones says the 35 years she saw him living and working with the medical condition was a form of home schooling for doing this series. That personal knowledge — coupled with mounds of research — is why Jones is convinced the series will be different than all of the other medical shows that have come before.
"It's about neurology. It's about the 21st century view of the brain. And this is a particular passion of mine. Any work you do that comes from a deep passion tends to be your best work," Jones says. "I think all of us feel that passion and so does Kelly, just as the passion of the lead character Catherine Black translates into the show itself.
"I wanted so much to get new stories on television through a very new character, and these are stories you haven't seen."
"Black Box": 10 p.m. Thursday, April 24, ABC (KFSN, Channel 30.1)