Real-life ‘Dr. Death’ was driven by delusions and narcissism, according to Joshua Jackson.

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The true story of imprisoned neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, which was initially told in the Dr. Death podcast, will be broadcast as a Peacock TV series on Thursday. According to Jackson, who plays Duntsch, the doctor’s soothing bedside manner persuaded his victims to undergo operations that left them permanently damaged.

“I think Duntsch is very much a narcissist,” Jackson told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. “He is playing the character of the good doctor, and the good doctor has good bedside manner.”

The series, which is based on true events, begins in 2012, when Dallas Medical Center spinal surgeon Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) conducts a corrective operation on one of Duntsch’s previous patients. Duntsch had worked as a spinal surgeon at Baylor Plano in Dallas since 2010.

Patients leaving Duntsch’s operating room would be permanently wounded or disabled. Randall Kirby (Christian Slater), a vascular surgeon at Baylor Plano, joined forces with Henderson to bring malpractice allegations against Duntsch.

“[Kirby’s] opinion is that this guy never should have operated on anything other than mice,” said Slater, who spoke with Kirby. “For him to have come into the operating theater was a horrible mistake.”

Assistant District Attorney Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb) takes on the case in Episode 4 of the series. Robb said she spoke with the real Shughart prior to filming and learned she maintained a cordial demeanor while prosecuting her cases.

“My favorite thing she told me was, ‘I can still be nice to you and put you in jail for life,'” Robb said. “The kindness that she leads with and the sort of empathy are not what you’d expect from a prosecutor.”

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Another whistleblower was Josh Baker (Hubert Point-Du Jour), an operating room nurse who witnessed Duntsch’s surgeries. Point-Du Jour said he did not get to speak to the real Baker, but believes Kirby and Henderson gave Baker the confidence to come forward.

“He’s sort of passing the baton on to people in a more powerful position, who can have a greater effect on stopping Dr. Duntsch finally,” Point-Du Jour said.

Duntsch is serving life in prison for aggravated assault on a total of 32 patients. Duntsch was not available to Jackson, but Jackson said he would not be interested in meeting Duntsch anyway.

“He’s delusional, and his delusion is pretty clear,” Jackson said. “I’m not sure that I would have found truth by having access to a liar.”

Instead, Jackson relied on the Wonderly podcast, Dr. Death, on which the TV series is based. Series creator Patrick McManus provided Jackson with additional research material.

“There is no simple why for this guy,” Jackson said. “It took nature and nurture and interaction with systems and some fluke happenstance.”

The series also portrays Duntsch’s addictions to drugs like cocaine and LSD. Jackson said he agreed those were contributing factors to Duntsch’s negligence, but he did not lay the blame solely on substance abuse.

“I don’t want to give Duntsch that out,” Jackson said. “It supported him in living inside of his narcissistic fantasy, but I don’t think that cocaine is the thing that was wrong with Christopher Duntsch.”

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In subsequent episodes, Robb said, she studies the cases in question to develop an understanding of her dialogue in the courtroom scenes. Robb said she prepared for scenes similar to the way Shughart prepared for a trial.

“Knowing what I was saying and understanding the biology of all of the cases was important to helping me memorize,” Robb said. “I basically just did what you would do in a normal case to understand what I was saying.”

The Dr. Death cast members all said they hoped the show makes viewers aware of potentially deadly flaws in the healthcare system. Slater said the series will show how Duntsch manipulated protections his hospitals provided him to continue operating until Kirby and Henderson stepped in.

“We put doctors on such a high pedestal,” Slater said. “They’re fallible and they make mistakes. They’re not gods, so you have to do your research.”


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