Samuel Johnson takes a dive ‘in the deep end’ and heads back to hospital

'The Hospital: In the Deep End' trailer

Source: SBS

When beloved Australian actor Samuel Johnson is handed scrubs for new series, The Hospital: In the Deep End, he’s told he’s off to a drug and alcohol unit to work a few shifts.

“Well, that’s appropriate … I’ve got a colourful background so that figured … and I believe with my experience I can provide some value in there if only because of what I’ve been through,” he tells the St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney staffer on duty.

Johnson is joined by former MasterChef judge Melissa Leong, who starts off in accident and emergency, and Gardening Australia‘s Costa Georgiadis, who accompanies the hospital’s outreach services for the homeless, for a “fish out of water” look inside the running of a major hospital in this three-part docu-series.

samuel johnson sister

‘I’m proud to walk you to the hardest part of the road. The end,’ wrote Samuel Johnson to sister Connie. Photo: Instagram

‘It’s personal’

Johnson is no stranger to hospitals.

After his sister, Connie, was diagnosed with cancer in her leg at age 11, he dedicated his life to raising money for cancer research, including riding a unicycle around Australia and setting up the cancer charity, Love Your Sister.

At 33, Connie was diagnosed with breast cancer and she died, aged 40, with two young children, in 2017.

He has spent time in the hospital’s mental health unit, and in 2021, was put back together after being hit by a car.

He suffered a brain injury and post-traumatic amnesia.

So why did he choose to come on board this SBS series?

“It was a deeply personal experience,” he told The New Daily.

“I’m phobic about hospitals because of my sister’s cancer … this was an opportunity to walk towards the fire for once, the fire I have avoided my whole life.

“I bit the bullet, and got old enough in life to summon up the courage and walk towards the fire. I’m the guy in the birthing ward you give a helmet to. I don’t cope.”

He said he was happy riding around the country and shaking the tin, not going to the coalface.

“My sister was in hospital her whole life and I was in hospital for a long time after my accident. It was good to walk into that whole system voluntarily and to choose to do that,” he said.

“I walked in with my head as high as I could have it.

“I ended up walking towards my greatest fear on this one, and that’s why it’s the only thing I’ve ever worked on that I’m desperate to see,” admitting he typically doesn’t watch his shows.

Logie Awards

Samuel Johnson with his Logie in 2017. Photo: AAP

Johnson came onto our radar back in 2002 with The Secret Life of Us, before going to win an AACTA and a Logie in 2017 for playing music guru Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum in Molly.

He’s also done stints on radio and in the theatre – including Dancing with the Stars in 2019 – as well as voicing Nine’s Paramedics.

Once described as having a “lumpy authenticity” to draw out the right emotions on screen, he’s doing just that with The Hospital.

SBS commissioning editor Bethan Arwel-Lewis describes Johnson, along with Leong and Georgiadis, as intrepid Aussies delivering a raw insight into the current public health care system as it stands.

They shine a light on the front-line workers and bring us closer to seeing first hand the support they provide to patients.

Johnson spends time in the oncology ward and the hospital’s  mental health unit, which he knows will bring his own battles with mental health to the surface, as well as those of his mother, who tragically took her own life when he was a boy.

Going into the cancer ward was the “easiest part” of the show.

“I’ve spent 11 years with cancer patients … I’ve done 1000 towns and 400 schools … I’ve dealt with all aspects of families dealing with cancer,” he explained.

“I was in the Kinghorn Cancer Centre that Love Your Sister has thrown millions of dollars towards. When I was having my lunch break I was able to look at the wall of a photo of my sister.

“When I went into the lab for SBS, I’d been into that exact lab multiple times. I knew many of the scientists and researchers. So it was like going home.”

He sees the ED’s psychiatric emergency care centre, where uses his personal experience to provide support to a patient experiencing suicidality.

He goes to Caritas, the ward for involuntary patients, and is relieved to discover how things have changed since his mum was in hospital, and how our mental health care system has evolved to help vulnerable patients.

He loved becoming a penpal with an inpatient from the mental health ward, and bonding with Georgiadis over twice-daily swims at Bondi Beach as they grappled with the reality of a public health system under extreme pressure.

Overall, Johnson says it was “definitely the most confronting TV show I’ve ever been a part of, and definitely the most confronting experience of my life”.

“My sister would be so proud of me walking towards the fire … because she only saw me walk away from it for decades.”

The Hospital: In The Deep End premieres on Thursday, June 6 on SBS and SBS On Demand

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