I recently discovered several interviews I did a number of years ago that, for one reason or another, were never published. Rather than have them continue to gather "dust" in my computer, I thought I would share them with you. In this interview, actor Carlos Gomez talks about playing EMT Raul Melendez on ER.
When a crisis occurs the first people who usually arrive on the scene are highly-trained Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Their job is to assess the situation, stabilize the injured and continue to provide care until they can transport them to a medical facility. The quality of the treatment administered by an EMT can sometimes make the difference between life and death. As EMT Raul Melendez on the popular television medical drama ER, Carlos Gomez was often called upon to care for the sick and injured and rescue those in peril.
“I had worked with ER co-executive producer and director Mimi Leeder on another very popular show called China Beach,” recalls Gomez. “I had actually auditioned for the role of Shep, who is Raul’s partner, but the part ultimately went to Ron Eldard. So, Mimi asked me if I would go in and audition for Raul. She said that they would make him Latin and work the character around me. I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to do it.’
“I think they wanted to bring more of a streetwise feel into ER by using the characters of Shep and Raul,” continues the actor. “In our first episode we had to deal with a gang shooting and were involved in a lot of action beyond the walls of the hospital. In doing this they brought all the energy and grittiness of the Chicago streets right into the emergency room. I think that was the main attraction of the characters. Also, Shep was in a relationship with Nurse Hathaway [Julianna Marguiles], so Raul was like a support system for all three characters - Shep, Hathaway and himself.
“Ron Eldard and I worked very well together. Although our characters came from two totally different backgrounds - I’m Latin, he’s totally Anglo - we had a great relationship. Ron’s character was sort of the gung-ho, go-out-and-get-them type while Raul was the peacemaker who tried to get him to chill out. In one episode there are these kids who are burned and I try to get him to relax and make sense of the whole thing. I was usually the mediator in our relationship. The differences in both the characters made for good chemistry between them.”
Gomez experienced a firsthand account of the day-to-day life of an EMT when he and fellow actor Ron Eldard spent some time with real-life Los Angeles, California paramedics. “We rode around with them for a whole day and tried to get a sense of what they went through out on the streets and how people responded to them,” he says.
“You really get the feeling of being in a real hospital when you’re on the ER set,” adds Gomez. “The art directors and the set designers are very detailed when it comes to using the props and the medical jargon. There’s a real doctor on staff who serves as the show’s technical consultant and is available if anyone has questions about what they’re doing or saying. They also have real nurses who work alongside the cast in the scenes. When we came in with a patient there might have been myself, Ron Eldard and three extras, but among the three extras were two real nurses. So, that helped to give it a real authentic feeling. I think the level of detail that they strive to achieve on the series is one of the keys behind its success.”
Another unique technique used in the filming of the series is the Steadicam, which Gomez describes as being just like another member of the cast. “I remember talking to the Steadicam operator Guy Boyd about how important his camerawork is to the show. He told me that someone once said in an interview that the Steadicam provides viewers with a very female perspective of what is going on, which I found very interesting.
“The Steadicam is like a guest in the hospital and sees things from a voyeuristic point of view as opposed to a straight-on type of camera shot. I think it creates an incredible style for the show. It’s also hard because you have a long shot where there might be twenty or more people saying things. So, if the last person screws up you have to redo the whole scene. It’s a one-shot deal. You can’t cut into it. If you’re blabbering out, ‘BP one-ninety over fifty, three-sixty shallow...,’ and you mess up the line then the Steadicam operator has to set up the shot again. It all looks very easy when it’s on television, but when you’re shooting it’s rather difficult. As an actor it’s a great feeling to work off the Steadicam because it gives you a wonderful sense of choreography.”
In a series that often focuses on illness and death, it is refreshing when the employees of Chicago’s County General Hospital get the chance for an occasional laugh. According to Gomez, the culprit behind many of the comical capers, most of which never make it to the screen, is Doctor Doug Ross, alias George Clooney.
“There was one episode where George Clooney was facing away from the camera, which was zooming in to get a close-up of another actor. My character of Raul had been burnt and there were these pieces of singed hair on my head. George took the hairs and put them in his ears,” laughs Gomez. “When the camera came in for its close-up you could see the hairs sticking out of George’s ears. It was hilarious. Because it’s such a serious show you have to lighten things up on occasion.
“One of my more shocking memories from the show was when we did an episode on-location during one of the hottest days in Chicago. We were working in the emergency room of a real hospital. At one point we had to get out of the way when people who had passed out from the heat began flooding into the hospital for treatment.”
When the EMTs respond to a family trapped inside a burning house, Raul enters the inferno to rescue anyone who might still be trapped inside. His heroic efforts have tragic consequences when he dies in the attempt. For Gomez, it was a noble ending for his character. “I had gotten another show for NBC called The Precinct, which was shot as a pilot,” explains the actor. “So, I had to leave ER in rather a hurry. That’s why they didn’t wean me off or anything.
“They came up to me and said, ‘We have an episode that we think would be great for you.’ John Wells wrote it and Mimi directed it. As soon as I read the story I thought it was amazing. The whole thing was so fast-paced and viewers watched as the relationship between Hathaway, Shep and Raul slowly crumbled away. It was a very, very jarring and well-written episode that brought Raul’s life to an end in a very nice way. They could have said, ‘He died last week,’ ” he laughs, “but they wrote a great episode for me to leave on and I was very flattered about that.”
Gomez began his professional career as a dancer and performed on New York’s Broadway stage in such productions as Evita and Zorba with Anthony Quinn. He eventually tired of dancing and began search for other ways to artistically express himself. In 1988 Gomez began taking acting classes and shortly after that moved out to Los Angeles, California and started looking for work as an actor. What did it feel like when he found out that he was cast in his first professional television role?
“I threw up for three days straight!’ he laughs. “My first job was a pilot called Fair Game, which also starred an actor by the name of Bruce White. I remember driving onto the set and seeing thirteen semi-trucks all parked together and this commotion going on with all these people. The show was just about me and this other guy, but when I saw all this I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe that all of these people are employed for a show that I’m doing.’
“At first it was a little nerve-racking and it took some relaxation techniques and meditation to get into it. The whole thing was a pretty shocking experience. Of course, practice makes the best teacher and in time I slowly got used to the idea of working in front of a camera. One thing led to another and after that I was pretty relaxed. It’s different from theatre because when you’re on stage you have a live audience right there reacting to you. You know immediately what works and what doesn’t. You can do a play for three months, six months, a year, but you can always improve on it, where in television and film you have one shot. If you mess up that’s it. You can’t come back tomorrow and try again.”
Along with various theatrical roles, Gomez has starred in such films as Silhouette, Mambo Kings, Hostile Intentions and Desperado, directed by Robert Rodriguez. “My part in Desperado was particularly challenging for me because the character that I played was a very dark individual and the farthest thing from what I’m really like,” he explains. “In this one scene I’m carrying this dead man and even though it is supposed to be funny there is still a sense of darkness to it. When you do parts like that you really have to look into yourself because it has to be real enough for the audience to believe it.
“A favorite role of mine was the one I did in a two-part episode of the television series New York Undercover. I played a gun dealer who had this seven-year-old daughter. She’s the most important thing in the world to him and he would do anything for her, but on the flip side of things he’d shoot anyone who got in his way. I loved the duality of the role and as an actor I found it very satisfying to play such a character.
“Sometimes in television it’s very hard because you have a set character,” he continues. “You do that character for a number of years and it doesn’t really change that much. In films you get the chance to play a variety of people. I think what’s really important is being able to get to know yourself enough to emotionally blend in with different characters. In this way you get to do and say things that are not necessarily who you are in real life, but which allow you to challenge yourself and move an audience with your talent.”
The actor recently returned from a trip to Yugoslavia where he played the captain of a helicopter command team opposite former ER co-worker George Clooney and Nicole Kidman in the film Peacemaker. He can also be seen in the motion picture Fools Rush In with Matthew Perry, one of the stars of the hit American television comedy series Friends, and Selma Hayek - whom he appeared with in Desperado. Looking back at his role on ER, Gomez is extremely grateful for having been cast on the program.
“Being on ER provided me with a wonderful opportunity,” he adds. “I’m Hispanic and a lot of people within the Hispanic community began to recognize me and sent me letters really supporting the fact that there was another ethnic minority in a top television program. I received a lot of exposure from ER and it opened a lot of doors for me. It was a great experience.”