Dr. Oren Gottfried is a neurosurgeon and television medical advisor as well as an actor and writer. Gottfried has used his medical knowledge to secure positions writing for, appearing in, and serving as a medical consultant on shows including The Good Doctor and Chicago Med. He recently received his first writing credit for The Good Doctor, titled “Waiting.”
ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Oren Gottfried about the different aspects of his career.
Jeff Ames: What led you to become a writer, actor, and medical consultant, and advisor in addition to being a doctor?
Dr. Oren Gottfried: In 2010, I received a cold call from a TV writer asking for help on a pilot. I had just started working as an academic neurosurgeon at Duke University and was very open to new opportunities. I had never thought about working in TV, but I realized that combining my knowledge of medicine and science with my interest in storytelling was a great fit. I helped on this pilot and was asked to help on other shows and projects. One show led to another, and I established my role as a medical consultant.
Soon I realized I could do more than just fact checking and bringing the writers’ stories into a realistic realm — I could craft and pitch original stories as well. I did not just write about interesting diagnoses, presentations, and treatments, but developed full-fledged stories around characters with compelling challenges and ethical and medical dilemmas. Writers valued my pitches and my stories began to find a place on many shows. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to get the “story by” for an entire episode.
Most of my work pitching stories, developing stories with writers, and giving notes on outlines and scripts is done outside of the writers’ room — by Zoom, phone, and email. Occasionally I go onset and help with the production, where I try to really engage with the whole process from writing to the shoot. As I became more comfortable assisting on set, I realized it would be very natural to act like a doctor and appear on air. I started in the background of an OR scene in an important episode and gradually worked up to getting lines and playing slightly bigger roles in very dramatic scenes. Over eleven years, I went from Dr. Gottfried, a neurosurgeon, to also being Dr. Gottfried, a TV neurosurgeon.
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What was it about Chicago Med that made you want to take on an acting role in the series?
I had the good fortune to assist the full-time, on-set Chicago Med clinician consultants on several episodes that included big neurosurgery scenes. I had worked closely with the episode writers, and they asked for me to come full circle and ensure that the scene visually was as authentic as the story. I enjoyed being on set and working with the actors and full production team. I saw an opportunity to take my knowledge of neurosurgery on air.
In one episode, I assisted the TV neurosurgeon and psychiatrist with a complex, awake craniotomy on an anxious patient. I had a ton of screen time, but no lines. Later, I helped with the crafting of another neurosurgery scene on the writer’s end, appeared on air, was granted a character name (Dr. Gottfried), and delivered a line in an important scene with six of the show’s stars.
I feel lucky that there will be more appearances, and I look forward to continuing to help writers and appearing on air. It’s exciting that the lines I say and the scenes I appear in reflect what I have actually said and lived in my real life as a neurosurgeon. The emotions I draw upon to act I have experienced in real life with similar situations.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing for The Good Doctor and how did you overcome that?
It was a unique experience to transition from lead medical consultant who was giving notes to writers, to a crafter who was getting notes on my own story. When it comes to TV medicine, I have a fairly natural grasp of what a story needs and how to make the medical aspects enhance the story instead of detracting from it. However, I do not have as much experience being the primary on my own story. I obviously needed assistance in this new role.
The executive producers who gave me this great opportunity were the writers for the teleplay for this episode, #415. In general, I love being in the writers room and, in this case, Zooming with writers and working through all the levels of the story, from pitch to outline and beyond. Taking on this new role made me very understanding of the process of writing and added to my ability to be a very mindful medical consultant. I am in awe of what full-time writers are able to do on an everyday basis, and this role gave me a greater appreciation and insight into their world. Now, I am much more receptive, aware, and in tune with the beat-to-beat emotional experience of the viewer and the elements of growth of each character because of the situations in the episode. Further, I see things on a more microscopic level and am aware of very tiny nuances.
Do you have any fun, behind-the-scenes stories about acting in Chicago Med?
Even the smallest things were absolutely amazing. It was so fun and educational to go to the set each morning and spend 1:1 time with some of the regular actors. They would ask me how to appear more like a true surgeon in this particular scene, and I would ask them about acting, TV, and their career trajectories. It is fascinating to see the final stories I pitched or helped craft not only on TV, but live on set as well. As an example, a small idea I randomly had at 2:00 a.m. one day on call in the hospital became a major part of the story, and these great actors are performing it. To see it live and in person with all the bright lights is just so cool and still a bit surreal, even though I have been in TV for over a decade.
What were some of the things you learned from consulting on The Good Doctor that you’re excited to apply to future endeavors?
On this show as the lead medical consultant, I work every day with the writers on every episode. I go through the process from story idea to final teleplay, giving medical direction. The process is very extensive and there is a lot of back and forth. The writers have been incredibly patient with me and with the work of getting the medical part accurate.
I have learned to be very flexible with adapting the medical facts to the stories. My medical suggestion or notes one day may not be applicable in the next draft of the script. I am always ready with backup stories or scenarios to adjust to the writer’s needs. I have become very sensitive to reading script or story details and observing closely what the writer wants from their story. I have to really have my senses dialed up to keep the medicine fitting the story but not altering it. I have to always keep the characters consistent and growing from the experiences with the medicine as well.
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I feel with this particular show I have engaged closely with the complete writing experience; thus, I have become a better medical consultant. I feel these skills will continue to help me with future projects. I regularly do voluntary work with HHS (Hollywood, Health and Society), and new writers I work with tell me they can see that I am not just dialed into making the medicine accurate, but to enhancing their overall story with the medical recommendations. My answers are not just telling them about good medicine, but what will be very visually and dramatically impactful for their characters and their audience. With very little prompting or explanation from the writers, I try to explain the story they are trying to tell medically and make unique suggestions for their project. I like quickly adapting to new projects and new writers to assist their shows. I strive to advance from just a technical expert or fact checker to more of a creative contributor.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
I continue to help with numerous pilots with great writers and producers who have previous projects I greatly admire. I have helped with several movies in various stages of development. I will return on air as Dr. Gottfried on Chicago Med in the near future. I am working on several other projects that may lead to on air work as well. Also, I advised on an upcoming episode of a popular CBS drama.
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