Dec 27 2009 Steve Hendry, Sunday Mail
WHEN Michelle Ryan became the Bionic Woman, America rolled out the red carpet.
When she came to Scotland to film new BBC drama One Night In Emergency, she got to visit a hospital morgue.
It was a change in circumstance she laughed about with her co-star, Kevin McKidd. Having starred in Journeyman and now Grey's Anatomy, he knew exactly where she was coming from.
Michelle said: "It's funny but I met Kevin when we were both in America. I was doing Bionic Woman and he was doing Journeyman.
"We're in the US, playing leading characters in big productions. We're in huge trailers and it's always really sunny.
"Next minute, we're in Glasgow, he's driving me to rehearsals and it's pouring with rain. We're filming in a deserted hospital in the middle of the night and I'm on my way to visit a morgue.
"It's different, to say the least.
"Everything is just bigger in America, it's as simple as that.
"There is an element of razzle dazzle to it all, I guess, but the sheer scale of it is incredible.
"But it's so nice to have someone like Kevin who has been through the American experience, someone you can talk to about it and go, 'Wow - that was crazy'."
The former EastEnders actress said: "It's a bit strange standing there thinking, 'I don't know if I should take this stuff because I don't need it'. But everyone is saying, 'Take it, take it'.
"I settled on a pair of Ray-Bans and felt that was enough."
There were no such perks to the role in One Night In Emergency.
Michelle plays Penny, who is desperately trying to get in touch with her husband Peter (McKidd) when he is admitted to hospital.
He is lost in the sprawling wards and corridors of the institution and drawn into a parallel world full of strange characters.
Written by Gregory Burke, who had a stage hit with Black Watch, it's a surreal tale based on Homer's The Odyssey.
Filmed in Glasgow's Royal Infirmary and Western General hospitals, it couldn't be any further from the glamour of Hollywood.
Michelle admitted: "Hospitals give me the heebie-jeebies. The smell of them. We actually filmed in a morgue and I went down, out of curiosity, to see what it was like.
"You have the fridges and a little card with somebody's name on it. It's just so final.
"But it makes you think. If you don't enjoy your time with all the small stuff, then what's it all about?"
Acting since she was 10, Michelle has an impressive body of work behind her at just 25.
Her five years as Zoe Slater made her a soap star, she had a crack at Hollywood as the modern-day Jaime Sommers and impressed with show-stopping guest turns in Doctor Who and Merlin.
Michelle is used to playing women who can look after themselves - something she is more than capable of doing herself.
She learned Krav Maga, a self-defence, hand-to-hand combat system, for Bionic Woman.
But playing Penny in One Night In Emergency gave her a chance to show a more vulnerable side.
She said: "It's a really intriguing script and quite dark - so much so, I asked at one point in the read through if there was any light at the end of the tunnel.
"This character is not afraid to be vulnerable and to face the fact there isn't always a happy result."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Michelle decided to tackle a different kind of character.
After all, this is a girl who is used to taking risks, including shutting the door on EastEnders.
She dismisses any talk of a return to the soap, although she remains grateful to the show she left four years ago.
She explained: "I always saw EastEnders as an apprenticeship. I always wanted to go on and do different things.
"I have some really good friends from that show but the door is closed.
"I've always taken chances. I think that's how you progress - by stepping out and doing different things.
"I really do like my freedom and jumping from job to job.
"I just want to work with people I admire and respect, wherever that be - big budget, low budget, leading role, supporting role."
One Night In Emergency is on BBC1 on Monday, January 4, at 9pm.
HOSPITAL DRAMA'S WARD OF WARNING
One Night In Emergency marks Scots playwright Gregory Burke's TV writing debut.
Burke, 41, said: "I wanted to create something mythical and One Night In Emergency is a modern interpretation of Homer's The Odyssey set within a hospital environment with surreal twists and turns.
"It's about yearning for your loved ones, wanting to return home and how, in times of crisis, being with the people you love most becomes paramount.
"The story was based on a real experience I had with my partner, when she had to go into hospital for a lumbar puncture. I felt helpless and dislocated when I had to leave her and frustrated at not being able to influence events.
"Most of us go through life immune to the problems of the world, so when we're exposed to peril, it's a real shock.
"I wanted to reflect this in the drama using a normal middle-class couple who are put into an unexpected and perilous situation."
He added: "Michelle and Kevin were great to work with. They are partners in the drama and the relationship worked well because they kind of knew each other, having met previously in LA and New York.
"Glasgow Royal Infirmary was the obvious film location.
"It's such an iconic building, almost like a gothic castle, although it looks quite threatening.
"We filmed using the innards of the building - the morgue and old underground tunnels.
"Even though we filmed in summer, it was cold and damp and very spooky down there."