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Ben Whishaw on 'This Is Going To Hurt' — 'It's a love letter to the NHS'

Ben Whishaw as Adam Kay in This Is Going To Hurt, standing in front of a blue hospital curtain wearing blue surgical scrubs and pulling on a pair of rubber surgical gloves
Ben Whishaw as Adam Kay in 'This Is Going To Hurt'. (Image credit: BBC1)

Ben Whishaw is on the frontline of the NHS in the new comedy-drama This Is Going To Hurt

Based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by comedian and former doctor Adam Kay, the seven-part series follows junior doctor Adam, played by Ben, who works on a busy obstetrics and gynaecology ward in an under-resourced NHS hospital and spends his days getting covered in other people's bodily fluids while trying to impress consultant Mr Lockhart (Alex Jennings) and mentor trainee Shruti (Ambika Mod).

Here Ben reveals why the series is a timely reminder of the pressures that NHS staff face on a daily basis... 

Ben Whishaw on his first impressions of 'This Is Going To Hurt'

"I got sent the script for the first episode, and I was incredibly struck by the authenticity of it — which, of course, is very much the point because it's based on real experience. And then we met, Adam [Kay] and I, and I remember him saying that he wanted it to be a love letter to the NHS, and I thought, 'that sounds like a good thing for us to do!'"

There are a lot of surgical scenes in the show. How did you prepare for those?

"Ambika and I had some lessons, using prosthetic body parts. That was quite helpful. At one point, we were going to go to a hospital and maybe observe some people, but that was impossible when it came down to it, because we were in the middle of a lockdown, but I think we had a few afternoons with three brilliant doctors who advised us throughout the whole shoot. I seem to remember Ambika was a lot better than me at most of the things!" 

Shruti (Ambika Mod) sits cross-legged on a row of four armless chairs in a hospital corridor, wearing her blue hospital scrubs and with a pile of medical textbooks next to her

Shruti (Ambika Mod) is learning the ways of the ward from Adam. (Image credit: BBC)

We see a lot of different sides to Adam in the show — what was that like to portray?

"I think something that's interesting is how how he changes. He's different with different people — he sucks up to Mr Lockhart, or in fact anybody who's senior to him, and he can be so mean to anyone who he thinks is inferior to him. But hopefully you'll see that it's coming from a need in him, an insecurity. One of the things I remember Lucy [Forbes, the director] and I talked about a lot was how so many of these people are longing for recognition that is not given. You deliver the baby, you hand it to the mother, and then you're gone, out of the picture, barely even looked at sometimes. I was incredibly struck by how difficult that must be."

Has making this series changed the way you view the NHS?

"Yes — I think it's so easy to forget that the people who are going to treat you, and save your life, are human too, and fallible. Somehow when you're vulnerable and you're in hospital, you think the doctors are godlike or something — it sounds such an obvious thing to say, but I think it has just reminded me of the vulnerability and fallibility of the humans doing these extraordinarily difficult jobs."

Adam (Ben Whishaw) stands outside the entrance of the hospital wearing his civilian clothes of a grey sweater over a blue shirt. He is in the middle of a call on his mobile phone and looks slightly irritated - out of focus, in the background, people are walking into and out of the hospital

Adam (Ben Whishaw) attempts to maintain a life outside of work, without much success. (Image credit: BBC)

Are you squeamish at all in real life?

"I'm not great with blood — and I'm really bad with needles! Having the vaccine, I couldn't look at the needle going in, and I definitely can't look at blood being taken out of me. It's very embarrassing, but that's the truth!" 

  • This Is Going To Hurt begins on Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 9pm on BBC1. The full series will be available on BBC iPlayer after the first episode airs. 
Steven Perkins
Steven Perkins

Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and whattowatch.com (opens in new tab), who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.