Interview with Melanie Chandra

Melanie plays Dr Malaya Pineda, a second-year resident. As she did her internship at Angels Memorial after medical school, she is very familiar with the ER there.

Melanie Chandra

Malaya had a really tough time last series didn't she?

I said to Michael, can't she just be happy?! Yes, she definitely went through an emotional rollercoaster. She started out as a victim and now this season she's surviving, trying to maintain her strength.

Do we know her main storylines in the early part of the series?

There's an on-going storyline with Dr. Guthrie. I notice his hand starts shaking in episode 3 or 4 and it's a bit of a concern for me. It's challenging because he's my mentor and one of my role models, and it just breaks my heart to see that. We haven't got to the stage yet where it's resolved, but in each episode it builds and builds, he's denying it and I'm denying it too, because I don't want to see this happening to him. But we have a nice relationship that evolves throughout the season.

Are there any more repercussions on Malaya from the attack in the first season?

Yes. There's a situation in episode 2 where I'm not able to do a medical procedure on a patient, I think because for me it's difficult, he's a large man and I just can't do it. Leanne comes to me and says I understand how this is all affecting you but don't let it affect your work. And I'm defiant, because in my head I'm the best doctor and it's not affecting me. But it is, as I think it would for most people.

But it really hits home when a young rape victim comes in. I am her doctor, and I have to find the courage to be strong for her but it just reminds me so much of what happened to me last season. It's a very tough episode to film.

Incorporating post trauma?

Yes. Malaya's dealing with that in every episode, with all her friendships she's still trying to be strong for everyone else, but she's still very tender and precious inside.

These must be tough scenes for you to film as a person. Does it affect you or do you leave it all behind when you leave set?

I am lucky that I have a very loving husband. It's very emotionally draining when you film those days because you're investing so much thought and emotional preparation during take after take after take, and sometimes at the end of the day there's just nothing left and you need to have someone to tell you I love you ... and here, have some chocolate! It's tough. I want to say it gets easier the more you do these scenes, but honestly as these scripts come in they still hit you. You're not immune to it. It was hard to read and hard to voice those words on paper.

You have to deal with a lot of technical, medical things but also play an emotional scene. How do you keep these two things separate, is that a conflict or does it meld into one?

With enough practice they come together. In every episode Malaya is intubating, having to try and find an airway, I can do it with my eyes closed. I could probably do it on a real person! I've done it more often than anyone would do in their first year of residency: fact! I know exactly what I'm doing and I'm very curious, but with practice you get that down because ultimately it's to do with how you are relating to the other character. In the first season we were totally lost in the medicine. Then one of the directors said it's not about the medicine, it's how you are reacting emotionally to the patient. So we have to think mentally about these beats before we start to shoot, and whereabouts we need to hit these beats. Where is it not about the medicine, where is the camera not going to pan at this point. I have friends in Grey's Anatomy who said we could be making a sandwich down here, they know the camera's not going to catch them!

Has the show taught you anything in terms of skills? If you saw a medical emergency going on would you be able to help?

Did you know, with compression you have to push so hard that you break their ribs? It's exhausting. Yes, I know the first things you need to check and all the procedures I can do on a dummy.

What do your medical mates thing of your performance?

Yes. Doctors like the show. That's the biggest compliment.

Does the set feel very different this season with new cast members?

Yes. It's a big ensemble now so there's a lot more to play with. We were so tightly knit last year so it's hard. We called ourselves a family and spent time together off set. We were all each other's friends or mentors in some way so it was difficult to see that broken up a little bit.

But the new people are great and now part of our family, so it's different in a good way.

What's Rob like?

He gives so much energy, I don't understand it! He brings a great positive energy to set. He's like we all were first season. It's nice to see that fresh energy. I followed his career and never thought I would get to work with him.

Is there any romance for Malaya in season 2?

Not that I know of. I just want Malaya to be happy.

You're a black belt in karate. Do we get to see that?

You should pitch that. I would love that! I'd love to see Malaya break someone's nose in ER! I don't get so much time to do karate now. I live in New York so if I have a free moment I'm going to a yoga class down the block. We live in Soho. We got married and then the show got picked up.

Did you give up a business career to concentrate on acting? Was that a difficult decision?

The biggest decision of my life. I got an engineering degree, got a great job, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. When I was younger I always wanted to act and in New York you're surrounded by the arts, theatre. So I told myself I had to try, I just liked it so much I had to do it.

Would you stay in this show for however many seasons it runs for?

Sure, if the show's good. I love these people. It's rare to find project material and cast members that you adore. So you've got to embrace that.