Mamie Gummer Checks Her Family History For “Emily Owens, MD”

Meryl Streep's daughter comes into her own as a rising TV star

The diagnosis on “Emily Owens, M.D.” star Mamie Gummer: acting talent may be genetic.

If her aquiline profile and ease with scenes both dramatic and comedic remind one of a certain Oscar-winning screen icon, there’s a reason: Gummer is the 29-year-old daughter of actress Meryl Streep and sculptor Don Gummer, and during the dues-paying portion of her career she’s racked up enough critical acclaim to suggest that she shares a professional aptitude with the maternal side of the family.

Now Gummer’s headlining her own series on The CW, a medical dramedy that casts her as the titular first-year intern who’s horrified to discover that her new hospital also employs her teenage nemesis and her med-school dream guy, reducing her first foray into the professional world into an awkward replay of high school dynamics. Gummer reveals how her own coming-of-age is transpiring.

Does the premise of the show hit close to home at all?

It's funny – I'm getting a lot of questions about ‘What was high school like for you?" I've kind of blocked it out, but I have a good friend who affectionately reminded me that I was, yes, a dork. I was not a cool kid in high school, so it's endearing. [Emily's] a human being. She kind of trips and falls down, but she gets back up and you want the best for her…It's a lot of fun to have license to slip up, and it's funny, too, because she is so together in some areas of her life. She's really good at her job, and that's really clear. It's just all the other stuff she falters a little bit.  

Was it the humor in this that attracted you?

It really was. I really love it. I feel like the core demographic that The CW attracts, it's young women and girls. Not exclusively, but high school kids, and in thinking back I think I watched Nickelodeon and TGIF and those kinds of programming. Then I went straight into 'Sex and the City.' There was no in between, and I wanted a show like that, a real-life thing and not a glammy, glittering, like, 'God, please just make me a Barbie doll’ show, but like a real girl who's going through things.

Who were some of your TV role models – the women who inspired you?

I love Edie Falco in everything that she does and everything that she is. I think Claire Danes, obviously, is a wonderful and such an open actress. There are so many strong female roles now for women on television. It's awesome.

Why do you think or feel that women are really being more recognized as strong on television now?

I wish I could say. I'm thrilled. I think obviously the fact that women are now outnumbering men in colleges, like two to three, women are getting educated and rising up in the social ladder and professional ladder. That's obviously being reflected in our culture.

Do you think that men might not be as powerful in these roles and can't carry a show the way a woman can?

I don't know. There are great actors out there, as well. I just think that the playing field is leveled a bit more, that woman at home at night won't just sit down on the couch with their husbands and just watch football because that's what their husbands want to watch. They have more of a stake and more of a say, and maybe they're going to say, 'No. I want to watch "Emily Owens, M.D." Deal with it.'

This show won't work unless people really react to your character. We have to cheer for you. How do you approach that?

Kind of like I approach it in my life. I think that it's just how it embraces what you have. I think it's also a little bit like Bridget Jones, that kind of a character. I think that people love to see someone not get it right all the time. I think it's a relief. What Lena Dunham is doing in 'Girls' is phenomenal. I think that everyone is appreciating that: that you don't have to look perfect in five-inch Louboutins to be a woman on television.

Do you wrestle with the inevitable discussion of your family and wanting to be your own person?

It's gotten a lot easier and people have been really respectful. I completely understand, especially when I first started working that that's what everyone wanted to talk about. That's fine – I just wish that it was kind of a more interesting subject, that I had a better answer. I don't. She's just my mom and she's wonderful, and both my parents are super-supportive. If I have a job and I have health insurance, they're thrilled. So that's where I'm at.

Do you get career advice from your mother?

No. She just gave me whatever good sense that I have, period. I asked her to read the script and she liked it. Everyone kind of got onboard with it because it's a big decision, potentially relocating from the east coast up to Vancouver. It was a big decision.

How did watching the life of an actor growing up prepare you for this life?

It did just that. I've seen all facets of this profession, and I'm not so naïve to be so enthralled by the glamor and by the spotlight and the fame. It's not really that interesting to me, but I also saw the life of a person who really loves and cares deeply for what she does and for her craft. So, that provided a great model.

Was there a backup career you had in mind?

Not yet, no. I think about it, though, on rainy days.

"Emily Owens, M.D." debuts Tuesday Oct. 16 on The CW at 9 p.m. ET.

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