If Charlie Brown had ever grown up and pursued a career in medicine, he might have become George O’Malley, the character who always seems to be having one “good grief” moment after another on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.”
But there isn’t a humiliation or emasculation that will make “Grey’s” actor T.R. Knight tire of being George.
“As long as there continues to be interesting things to play, it doesn’t really matter,” Knight says. “I like that with (series creator Shonda Rhimes) and all the writers, there’s a commitment to making him a very flawed person.”
Not unlike the prematurely bald Charlie Brown, George’s flaws start right up top with his hair, which seems to fight a charming but losing battle with comb or scissors every episode — a hint at how disheveled the character is beneath the surface. George means to be good, but good intentions aren’t always enough.
As a result, sometimes the world brings out a cynical side in George that makes him unpredictable. Knight cherishes those moments.
“Finding the messiness, finding the kind of scary, uncomfortable middle ground, I really like trying to look for that,” Knight says.
“I think everything about George in a way is kind of hard to pull off. It’s not just the larger things that are a challenge. Even the small things are especially challenging, even, say, an arc that doesn’t feature him as prominently.
“You just want to have it all mean something. That’s always a challenge, but a very good challenge,” he says.
Nurtured in the theater, Knight has found the no-rehearsal, script-a-week pace of television to be perhaps his biggest hurdle. Faced with the pleasingly plausible scenario that the second-year hit could have a long series run, Knight betrays the slightest nervousness about how he’ll handle it.
“It’s hard to answer that question without it looking like I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth,” he says. “It’s such a new experience for me. I’ve done year-long runs in a play, but you’re playing the same story, so you’re honing that again and again and again and trying to deepen it. Doing this with 24 new plays or however many it is, it’s a very different process.
“I think the character is definitely interesting, and has so much to learn and there’s so far to go with him that I think he can sustain it.”
If Charlie Brown made it work, Knight and George probably can.
Favorite moment of the past season?
“George gave Dr. Bailey critical moral support when she had to give birth while her husband is being treated for serious injuries. “That’s probably one of my favorite moments on kind of a grander scale. But I have many (favorite) moments that are five seconds long.”
What shows do you watch regularly?
“I really like ‘Prison Break.’ The actors in that are really incredible. I know ‘Six Feet Under’ is off the air, but I just got a couple of the seasons on DVD and I got caught in a ‘Six Feet Under’ vortex.”
Which actor or actress doesn’t get enough credit?
“Laurie Metcalf was just in this new episode … though you can’t say she doesn’t get enough credit, because she works a lot, and Mare Winningham. Those are two people I like to work with and who I’d like to see every single day.”