Dominic Burgess chatted about his role as ‘Jerry Summers’ on Peacock’s new crime- drama miniseries Dr. Death, as well as his wider career to date.
Originally from Stoke-On-Trent, England, Dominic has appeared in several successful UK and US television series including Doctor Who, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Flash, Modern Family, Agents of SHIELD and The Good Place.
Read on below for Dominic’s full interview with Courageous Nerd, where he discusses his upcoming main role as ‘Jerry’ on the new Peacock crime drama, Dr. Death.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity. To hear the full conversation, see the YouTube audio version linked below.
Welcome, Dominic and thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
DB: Thank you so much for having me.
Although you have worked extensively in the US, you are originally from England. When you committed to pursuing an acting career, was getting to the other side of the ‘pond’ always a goal?
DB: It was, yeah. I’m from Stoke-On-Trent, a small blue-collar city. There’s a couple of theatres there… I was raised on Star Trek, X-Files, Buffy and Twin Peaks – all that American programming. Then, I went to drama school in England and pretty much as soon as I graduated back in 2004 – I started looking into the Visa process and came across to visit Los Angeles a couple of times. I jumped into some classes, just to see if it was the right fit. I moved here in November 2007 and this is it. This is me now.
Although we’re both biased, England has produced some of the world’s finest and most successful actors. Were there any in particular who inspired you?
DB: I’m always inspired by character actors. Alfred Molina has always been a big inspiration for me, Brendan Gleeson, Ian McKellen, Ann Dowd. I love character actors and I’m a character actor. They’re the kind of careers that make my heart flutter. The performances that really transform vocally and physically. That’s what gets me excited about acting and watching other actors.
You have appeared in a variety of different projects – from comedy, science-fiction and now crime drama with Dr. Death. To what extent do people recognise you from your past work?
DB: It varies. And it’s so funny you say that, because you almost said it verbatim. There is a documentary that was made a few years ago now called The Guy Who Was In That Thing. It’s a group of middle-aged actors and that’s where I’m at in my career. I’m jumping from show to show, transcending genre and tone, switching from comedy to drama. I do get a lot of people that will see me in the street. I can see in their eyes that they know me from somewhere or someone will assume that they’ve met me already. It’s kind of funny, kind of nice.
Sometimes you see their eyes light up and they’ll register and be like “Oh my God! You’re Psycho Pete!” It’s nice when people recognise you for the work that you do in a horrible, narcissistic way. It’s lovely and people are always so kind.
Dr. Death began streaming on Peacock on July 15. What can you tell us about Dr. Death and your character Jerry?
DB: Dr. Death is based on a podcast about a real-life spinal surgeon, Christopher Duntsch. During the course of his career, I think 38-39 surgeries; he injured, maimed and permanently damaged 33 patients. Some of them died. Jerry was Christopher Duntsch’s best friend, his right-hand man. They went to college together, played football together. Jerry was helping him set up his business. He would run the business side of things, drive Christopher Duntsch to appointments and around town. He set up his clinic with him. Ultimately, Jerry went under Christopher Duntsch’s knife and let him perform surgery. Not once, but twice.
He ended up quadriplegic… it’s a real, true story. It’s devastating, the damage that this doctor did to so many people. It’s something much more serious than I have maybe done before. Again, it’s an exciting challenge as an actor to step into that world.
In your opinion, what makes Jerry stand out when compared to other characters you have played?
DB: I think with Jerry… a lot of the other shows that I’ve worked on might be 1 episode or 6 episodes. With Jerry, we’re following him in the story from the 1990s until 2017. We’re following him when he’s in his early 20s – loud, boisterous, he’s dealing and active. He’s upbeat and happy to follow his entire journey to where he ultimately ends up physically and emotionally. [Jerry] in the courtroom in 2017 is a radically… it’s a big emotional journey. It’s just a treat as an actor to be able to dig into that, explore that. Everything about it, he’s a completely different person from the beginning of the show to the end of the show. That’s a joy as an actor to explore and watch.
Some of your Dr. Death co-stars include Joshua Jackson, Christian Slater, Alec Baldwin and AnnaSophia Robb. Are you able to find a relatability with such well-established names early on, or are you likely to feel intimidated?
DB: I never actually got the chance to work with Christian or Alec, because the way it was structured is that it sort of runs in parallel timelines. We follow Christopher Duntsch and Jerry from 1990 up until 2017. Alec and Christian are sort of the very contemporary storyline, trying to bring him down in the courtroom. I would have loved to have met Christian and asked about his Star Trek VI experience. Yes, working closely with Joshua [Jackson] and AnnaSophia Robb, Grace Gummer. They’re all so wonderful, warm and open; as much as they could be filming in COVID, when you have a mask or a face shield.
Everyone was so good, so talented, came to the set so prepared and laser-focused in their characters, inside and out. When people come prepared like that, you get to play and explore on set. Really dig in deep into the work, which is a real treat.
There will be 8 episodes in this season of Dr. Death. Could you discuss some of the advantages/disadvantages of having a small episode order compared to the more standard 22-24 episodes?
DB: You know, there’s a lot of limited series now. I’m coming at it from multiple points of view, with an actor brain and a writer brain. In the writing of it, when something is a limited series… say for example, It’s A Sin, I May Destroy You or Mare of Easttown, you really get a chance to get laser-focused on the story. So, there’s not a lot of filler, you’re getting all the information you need succinctly. You’re in, you’re out. Filming-wise, we filmed for 5-6 months in New York over the winter. Then, that’s it. You move onto another project. Or, if it’s a series that has 8-10 episodes, as an actor, you’re free to go and explore other opportunities.
If you’re doing something like Grey’s Anatomy or This Is Us where it is those 22, 24, 26 episode seasons, that’s usually taking up 9-10 months of the year. It’s wonderful as an actor in terms of job security, “I’ve got a job for a whole year! Then, I have 3 months off and working again for nine months.” The other benefit of doing those long shows is that they’re ensemble shows. You will usually get a showcase episode for your character and that’s nice too.
I think there are pros and cons to both. If you do a limited series, I know for myself because I jump a lot from project to project… as Dr. Death was nearing its end, you go into sort of survival mode, “What’s next? I’ve got to find another job!” If you’re doing a 22-24 episode season, by the end of 9 months, I think people are exhausted and ready for a 3-month break. I think it’s apple and oranges, but I like both.
In your opinion, what do you think people should be more aware of when starting an acting career?
DB: If you want to pursue acting, oh my gosh, pursue acting. It’s my favorite thing in the entire world. Just knowing that it’s hard and there’s a lot of rejection, a lot of no’s. There’s a lot of heartbreak but if it’s creatively fulfilling, then do it. I think it was heading this way anyway and COVID expedited it… with the rise of self-tapes and Zoom auditioning, it’s less important to be based in London, New York or Los Angeles. Now, if you’re able to travel, you can be based in Cardiff, put yourself on tape and go to film a job in London, Manchester or Stoke. England is such a small place compared to America.
I have a lot of friends who moved out of town during COVID. They moved back to Nebraska or Texas and put themselves on tape. Knock on wood, I just worked on a job in Puerto Rico and the guest cast from there… I was from Los Angeles. someone else was from New York, someone else was from Florida, someone from Austin. We all went and did this job and everyone put themselves on tape. I think that’s a wonderful thing, acting has opened up globally rather than just in major markets.
Professionally or personally, what do you hope to accomplish with the rest of 2021?
DB: Oh, boy. I mean, knock on wood, 2021 has been really wonderful to me thus far. It’s terrible saying that, knowing there’s COVID and a lot of people in situations far worse than I am. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on [Dr. Death] in New York, travel to Puerto Rico and doing my first animated voice-over. Working on my first video game. There’s been a lot of firsts this year, for me.
It’s really exciting, I’ve been acting now for 16 years and to do my first animated voice-over is a real treat and superb. To go to Puerto Rico, work on a motion capture video game… all this exciting stuff. I just hope there are a lot more firsts down the line as things progress. We take it as it comes, that’s what you do as an actor. Who knows what’s around the corner? That’s what’s thrilling about it too.
Thanks again for taking the time, Dominic. Take care and stay safe!
DB: Thank you so much, Conor, this was delightful. Thank you for taking the time.