The new season of Designated Survivor isn’t just airing on a new medium. It’s also getting a new look.
ABC canceled the drama last year after two seasons, and Netflix scooped it up, as it has with other axed programs such as Lucifer. The latest season drops today on the stream service.
Neal Baer (ER, Law & Order) took over as showrunner for Designated Survivor season three, and you can see his fingerprints all over the new-look program. The drama focuses on Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), an idealistic Independent who becomes president after a catastrophic event kills most of the country’s politicians.
In season three, Kirkman is up for reelection, and he has a new chief of staff, first-year cast member Anthony Edwards, who worked with Baer on ER. Lauren Holly (Picket Fences, NCIS) joins the drama as Edwards’ wife, who is dealing with a very timely problem—an opioid addiction.
The storyline is just one example of current events Baer plans to work into this season. Holly spoke about her new role on the show, how she researched it, and how she hopes depicting the opioid crisis on screen could make an impact.
What attracted you about this storyline on Designated Survivor?
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Lauren Holly: Neal likes to deal with relevant social issues, and this provides him with a wonderful platform. One of the things he wanted to touch on was opioid addiction.
What is your character’s backstory?
Holly: I play a woman named Lynn Harper, who is married to a new character, the chief of staff, Anthony Edwards. My story is that I’m from a wealthy political family in Virginia, and I was hurt in a horse riding accident and began taking the drugs. It’s wreaking havoc on my marriage, and it’s hard for my husband with his job in the White House as well.
How did you research your role?
Holly: When Neal first talked to me about the role, he recommended reading Dopesick. I went home and started reading it, and I was overwhelmed. I thought I knew something about addiction, but I didn’t realize the calamity it’s caused in our world or how many people it’s affected.
Opioids are so available to people. I could not stop reading about the issue, and then it was everywhere I looked—on 60 Minutes, on PSAs. It’s just an overwhelming problem.
How do you portray addiction on screen?
Holly: It’s hard as an actor. Opioid addiction doesn’t have a lot of telltale signs, especially at the beginning. It’s different than other drug addictions. You can continue to work and maintain things until you require more and more, and then it really becomes unbearable, you can’t get enough.
Portraying it is a little difficult because it’s more about what’s going on inside you, your organs needed it. You’re not able to focus on anything except the drug.
What can we learn from your character?
Holly: I love that Neal made my character an addict who is also someone who’s privileged. She had access to great healthcare and all those things, and she fell down the tunnel. It doesn’t discriminate across social classes.
I learned that 25 percent of the population is more likely to be addicted from the first pills. I have three teen boys, and two of them had to have knee surgery—not anything major. I was very proud of them because I’ve been talking about this issue the past few months, and the doctor was saying about giving them painkillers after surgery. They were like, “We don’t need prescriptions—Advil will be fine.”
Why is this an important topic to explore through television?
Holly: I think it’s incredibly wonderful and brave to bring it to the small screen. That’s really where people’s eyes are. Anything we can do to educate people is helpful. I actually saw an interesting interview with Neal once, he did a study when he was working on ER to find out how people learned about what they watched on television.
I forget the subject matter, I believe it was about HPV. They had a focus group with a large number of people, they gave them the questionnaire, and they didn’t know much about it. This was before the vaccine was available. ER had an episode, it wasn’t drilling people about HPV but they did have a whole plot about it, and after they screened the show, they redid the questionnaire. They had a jump up in knowledge of the dangers of HPV.
Designated Survivor provides a great platform to see how policies are made. It’s a great way to bring to light various issues facing our society and educate people about them.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.