In the Killing Field
An original series about a death angel, ironically to premiere on the Lifetime channel, treats viewers to a drama to die for.
Mary Kills People…and her partner Des Bennett, played by Richard Short, helps.
Veteran stage and screen actor Richard Short is soon to be seen in Lifetime’s upcoming original series Mary Kills People, premiering this April. He portrays the complex Des Bennett, a surgeon assisting those who choose to die, opposite fellow surgeon Mary Harris (Caroline Dhavernas).
Des, a former plastic surgeon, lost his license to practice and has partnered with medical school friend Mary, an overworked single mom, in a mercy mission to assist those who are terminally ill and ready to die. Because this practice is prohibited in most of the US, they are constantly under suspicion and must obtain illegal drugs to complete their task.
“The title grabs people immediately because assisted suicide is a political hot potato in America,” says the British-born actor. “Hopefully we’ll illustrate why some people want this way out. I’m happy to be an advocate of freedom of choice,” he says of his character and himself.
“The producers wanted an HBO/independent film kind of feel. They didn’t want it to be a chirpy network version of a heavy subject,” Short says. While the subject is serious, he emphasizes that, like all TV, it’s designed to entertain. Viewers can expect a fast-paced combination of drama, action and intrigue tangled into an addictive set of plot twists.
“It’s very watchable,” Short says. Director Holly Dale “is great at keeping the viewers’ attention. It’s got artistic style, it’s searingly honest and I am very proud of our work. It gets very real.”
There’s only one problem with their mercy mission: they must work under the radar and around the law to do it, facing complications along the way. A drug dealer to supply the lethal cocktail is a necessary evil in the picture, played with the perfect edge of eccentricity and darkness by Greg Bryk as Grady.
Despite the odds, “What keeps them going is compassion. They’re doing this from the right place,” insists Short. Still, “money is exchanged, it’s a side business and that’s a legal gray area.”
There are no black and white hats in the show, as the lines of right and wrong are constantly blurred. “Des is flawed, so is Mary, so is everyone in the show really,” says Short. “But so is everyone I know in real life. Des is an extremely loving and loyal friend. I agree with his choices and what he’s doing,” Short says of his character.
“The cast in general is one of the show’s strengths,” says Short. “Caroline is funny, smart, brilliant, gorgeous. She’s got it. And her talent has made everything easier. A scene only works if you completely trust the other person. Fortunately for me, I’m passing the ball back and forth to her.”
“Some of the guest stars that come in and ask to die are just remarkable. And they just crushed it,” he continued.
Short did a lot of research on terminally ill people, read their stories and got to know where they were coming from in their life and death decisions. As the drug element is also part of the show’s fabric, he also visited rehabilitation facilities to meet addicts struggling through recovery.
“I was very honest [when visiting]. I didn’t want to be the interloper, but they invited me in,” he says. There, he heard stories that were heartbreaking. “Addicts struggle every single day. It’s exhausting. You sit in a room and hear someone speaking about addiction and it hits your heart,” he said.
Short is pleased not only with the show’s content, but with the collaborative nature of the team. “Director Holly Dale and the writers let us in. There are a good number of ad libs in there and we’ve made suggestions. They’re very open to that,” he said.
While the right-to-die topic is the centerpiece of the plot, the series is important in that “it’s a completely female-run show,” says Short. “The executive producers are women (Tassie Cameron), Lifetime TV executives are women, the director, most of the writing team and the lead role: all women. I grew up in a houseful of women and it’s about time they got to this place. And they have to be smart because they hired me,” he quips.
“Honestly, of all the things I’ve been a part of, a lot of shows and movies, this is as strong as anything I’ve done. I’ll know I’ve really made it when I can be happy with each and every thing that I put out there, when it’s something of high quality every time. Mary Kills People is a kickoff to that,” Short says.
Short’s career has encompassed every medium from TV, film and stage work and genres from horror to drama. Recent work includes 2017’s Time After Time and Training Day television series. Additionally, he has completed production on the horror feature film The Dare and the indie film Crazy Famous.
In 2016, Short co-starred in HBO’s Vinyl opposite Olivia Wilde. In 2015, he co-starred in Agent Carter, where he played Marvel’s first ever gay comic book character, Pinky Pinkerton. Short’s diverse range of television credits include appearances in American Horror Story, Blue Bloods, White Collar, Fringe, Bored to Death, Vera and Covert Affair.
Short made his stage debut in a UK production of Grease, after which he admitted he was worried about finding more work. “When the show closed, I walked up to the chief electrician and asked if I could help with the load-out. I’m not a technical guy, but I have arms and legs. I bowed and took a curtain call and a few minutes later I had all black clothes on, working through the night so I still had a job.”
A prolific writer, Short has published articles, a World Cup book and a travel writing book. He’s interviewed soccer stars for various publications. He has written two screenplays, one an adaptation of an old story, one original.
“I write for my own amusement sometimes, but not always. I enjoy words,” he says, adding that writing gives one more control over their story than acting. He says he’ll really know he’s made it when I’m deep in the Amazonian rainforest and a pygmy from a heretofore unseen tribe points at me and says “It’s that guy from Sunderland!’"
Mary Kills People premieres on Lifetime April 23 at 10/9C.