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Benjamin Hollingsworth opens up about playing the 'stray' Dr Mario in Code Black and what to expect in this final season

Dr. Mario Savetti tells us how he sees his character develop this season on Code Black. He talks about feeling much like a 'stray' trying to fit into a tight-knit family
UPDATED FEB 21, 2020
Benjamin Hollingsworth (Getty Images)
Benjamin Hollingsworth (Getty Images)

Benjamin Hollingsworth will soon be taking over the big screen. Having landed the role of Dexter, a personal bodyguard-cum-confidant, the actor has come aboard the Liam Neeson-starring action thriller "Hard Powder" and it's just a matter of time before he joins the ranks of Hollywood A-listers such as Laura Dern, and Emmy Rossum.  

While the Brockville, Ontario-born actor is no stranger to the movie biz, his legions of fans, though, are more familiar with his small screen portrayal as the gritty, young, rebellious Dr. Mario Savetti on the CBS medical drama Code Black. On a day to day basis, in fact, Hollingsworth's character minus a cape or any superpower is responsible for saving the lives of those who arrive in critical condition to the understaffed ER of the fictional Angels Memorial Hospital. Just like the fellow residents at the emergency room working under the close observation of "daddy" (Marcia Gay Harden's Dr. Leanne Rorish) and "momma" (Luis Guzmán-played by Jesse Salander).  

With its typical portrayal of an ER, crisis brewing every second, and hitting the "Code Black" almost perpetually, the CBS show basically thrives on tension, which is only heightened by its eccentric mix of characters and their interactions, both on and off work. 

In fact, Hollingsworth has no qualms about calling his character a "stray", who is still struggling to find a place in the tight-knit pack. What sparks his troubles? Will his character finally find a resolution in the third season? Thankfully for fans, we got Hollingsworth talking, and if his words are any indication, there's more to Mario than his apparent hardened self. Interestingly, part of what makes him relatable as well.

Benjamin Hollingsworth. Getty Images

As one of the residents in the ER, Mario gives off this vibe that he is continuously being judged. What causes it?

His upbringing is very different than the other doctors on the show. He comes from a disjointed family, semi-abusive dad, with very little role models, very few people to look up to. So he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a part of a team, a pack or a family. So I have always related him to a bit of a stray dog, he is wandering the streets, not really knowing his place and now the stray dog is welcome into a home and so there is this adjusting period. I think Mario since the first season through the third season is trying to figure out what it is like to be a part of a family.

There has been a transformation, though. As the season progresses we see a different side to Mario, why is that?

Part of what makes Mario relatable is that he is learning lessons; he is maturing with those lessons. He has definitely transformed into a more well-rounded doctor, someone who has table manners, someone who has been able to be a team player, he has kind of found his place in the family.

How much of this has been influenced by his relationship with his father?

I think a lot of it stems from his relationship with his father (played by Eric Roberts). Once his dad passed, there was a bit of closure on that side to his life, the side where he was constantly judged, the side where he was being put down by his father and the emotional abuse that he stuck up with came to an end as he came to terms with that.

You even saw him come to terms with all these in his relationship with Angus Leighton (Harry Ford). He was able to understand that not everyone acts this way and that it’s okay to make mistakes, and he is okay just being who he is. He is not a failure and he doesn’t need to prove himself to anyone. Self-acceptance came with the death of his father!

What about Mario’s friendship with Angus, how has that changed?

It’s always changing. They are best frenemies, they are always challenging one another, making fun and even loving one another. In fact, it is one of the most complex relationships, I think, that is on television right now, which is really fun because you see this very macho, alpha male character and one who lacks a bit of self-confidence but has a heart of gold – and these two kind of complement each other in a great way.

Their banter also keeps the plot moving…

A big part of the show is about our dynamics. The dynamics between what our characters are getting into, and how we deal with each patient’s case. Our different viewpoints always seem to be at odds but each time we help each other get to the right diagnosis.  

Your character also has a history with drugs - an aspect significantly touched upon in this season. How did you manage it?

This is something that from the very first episode, when we first shot the pilot, Michael Seitzman (the showrunner) and I have talked about. If you remember the first episode, there is a little flash where Mario is dealing with someone who is a drug addict and Christa kind of confronts him but he says ‘but I am clean now, it’s not a big deal, I can handle it’, and we don’t really touch on this again for quite some time.  Maybe a couple of seasons later we get back to this.

For me, personally, I have always kept it in mind when preparing for each episode that he has this history of drug abuse, and that he has come out of it, and how that forms his character – utmost respect for anyone who has that strength. Overcoming addiction is as hard as it is, but also to be surrounded by narcotics on a day to day basis and stay clean is really interesting and important.

How does he use this realization to connect with his patients?

The thing with addiction is when it’s someone else they are criminal but when it’s you, it’s a disease. It truly is a disease, which needs proper treatment usually through hospitals and furthermore through a support group, friends and family, and going to narcotics anonymous. So Mario definitely relates to an extent and has this moment of not just wanting to do what is right for the patient at the moment but also wanting to offer him a connection beyond that, a friendship even.

Code Black cast (Getty Images)

Some episodes tend to get intense and extremely emotional, as an actor how does it affect you?

A lot of time, because the show is so serious and has heavy emotional content as actors we try to keep things fairly light in between takes. After we have had a heavy day, everyone has been there all day for 12-13 hours, usually, we kind of debrief a little bit, share a drink. Most importantly, we have families outside the show as well; we have connections and deep friendships that go over and beyond what you see on the show. As a cast, we are very tight and supportive of one another.

There's a bunch of 1st-year residents this season, do you all get along?

It’s always interesting when we get new characters and actors on the show because they are joining a very tight-knit family but we are all very welcoming to them behind-the-scenes. And on-screen, this season, you will see some tension. The kid with the camera and Mario, not surprisingly, don’t get along very well and it’s going to be very interesting to see how that develops.

Where is Mario and Dr. Noa's relationship headed this season?

It’s a tricky relationship because it involves a power dynamic, something that’s not common in most relationships. It’s not that [I am] Dr. Kean’s direct boss, I am more of her senior, which makes it even more tricky because it’s more of a blurred-line relationship. I think you will see them struggle with how to have a normal relationship within the confines of a not-so-normal work environment.

They will be overcoming a bunch of challenges, sometimes successfully and sometimes with a degree of failure.

Apart from Code Black, what other projects do you have in the pipeline?

I just finished shooting a movie with Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, and Emmy Rossum, called "Hard Powder" and its produced by Michael Shamberg [who has also produced] "Erin Brockovich", "Pulp Fiction" and "Django Unchained". [Hard Powder] has the feels of like Pulp Fiction-meets-Fargo and it takes place up in the snowy mountains [Neeson plays a snowplow driver].

It's a quirky kind of comedy with a bit of a suspense thriller.