In Doc, the brilliant Head of Internal Medicine at an Italian hospital, Dr Andrea Fanti, has his life turned upside down when he survives a shooting, but loses his memory of the past 12 years. When he wakes up, he has to struggle with reconciling what he remembers of his colleagues, his family and who he is with the world around him. It sounds like a creative idea for a show, but in fact the series takes inspiration from a real-life story. Dr Pierdante Piccioni lost 12 years of his memory after an accident, and Doc is loosely based on part of a book he wrote about what happened.
In many ways, Doc is a show for our times. Piccioni fought his way back from his accident - and has been working on the frontline during the pandemic. Filming was halted due to COVID-19, but resumed to continue a story where a central theme is turning something bad into something good.
Here, Dr Piccioni and Luca Argentero, the actor who plays Dr Fanti in the series, talk about making the show, what it means to be a doctor, or play one, in the middle of a pandemic, and about finding hope in what seems like a terrible situation.
What do you feel sets Doc apart from other medical dramas?
Luca: The most unusual and gripping thing about this show is that it is based on a true story. When I go into a movie theatre or watch a TV show and I see ‘based on a true story’ something in my brain clicks in a different way than it does with a fictional story. Also, Doc has a kind of Italian touch that I’m proud of. It talks about love in every version you can imagine. It can be love for a woman, love for a wife, love for a child, love for power, love for money and then there’s hate, which is the opposite of love. It’s a very Shakespearean kind of story and this kind of love and passion is shown in a most Italian way. Personally, I’m proud that we’re showing this passion, which audiences in Italy have seen and will now be seen abroad.
How do you account for the show’s success?
Dr Piccioni: People who watch this show can identify with Dr Fanti as one of us, which is another reason for its success; nine million viewers in Italy is incredible. They can identify with him because before we see him as a doctor, we see him as a patient, and everybody has been a patient in their lives. That is one of the keys to the show’s success.
Are there themes that make it timely now?
Dr Piccioni: I am a Covid doctor, I’m now working in a Covid hospital, and people want hope at the moment. They want to dream and the series allows them to do that. It is very important at this moment in time, during a pandemic, and for me it’s therapeutic on two levels - it’s therapeutic for my work and for my story.
Luca, how would you sum up how Andrea as portrayed in the show?
Luca: Which Andrea? There are a couple of versions of him. There’s the young Andrea, who is a very passionate doctor full of life and energy. Then there’s the ‘bad’ version of Andrea as a result of a tragedy. I don’t like him, but I don’t blame him for the way he is. He has started to think of patients as numbers rather than names but that’s his way of doing his job. Sometimes you have to protect yourself. Then there’s the newborn Andrea and I fell in love with him from the very beginning, when I first read the script. He’s the personification of how you can turn something bad into something good. This is what I learned from Pierdante Piccioni; you can be the best version of yourself, even when the starting point is the lowest. Turning a difficult moment into an opportunity is very important at this precise moment in time. We all feel fear and worry about the future but we are all trying to imagine the best version of that future. We are starting from a very low point for all of us but there’s always a way to turn all this stuff into something good. That’s probably also why the audience has given us so much love and has been so invested in the story.
Dr Piccioni, how different is Dr. Fanti to the real you?
Dr Piccioni: The show is inspired by my life, not fully based on it, and I thought Luca was very clever in portraying this idea that you are always the same person. Dr. Andrea Fanti is really Shakespearean in that he is four, five or six people within one person. The secret for an amnesiac like Andrea is to remember that first he is a patient, then he is a doctor. That’s the worst conflict of interest for a physician but as Luca says it’s about transforming a bad thing into an opportunity.
Luca, do you now have a new-found respect for doctors?
Luca: For the first time in my career I felt proud of the category of character I was playing. I felt lucky to live in Italy, to live in a country where a perfect nobody can be cured by the best doctor in the country for free. I felt that kind of responsibility in representing a medical professional. I was snowed under with messages from real doctors and real nurses saying thank you because they felt well represented. I felt proud and humbled by that. And for the first time, I felt I had a special responsibility because the first part aired during the first Covid lockdown and the second part aired during the second lockdown. The medical profession was under so much stress and normally, certainly here in Italy, people only talk about doctors when things go bad or when somebody makes a mistake. You don’t pay attention to the thousands of lives that are saved on a daily basis. Nowadays we think of doctors as modern heroes, but they have always been that. In a way Doc contributed to creating a new awareness of the profession.
Dr Piccioni, having surrendered your story to the show makers, how did you feel when you saw the end result?
Dr Piccioni: I felt proud and emotional. A lot of people told me my story was therapeutic for them and for a doctor that is fantastic. To be therapeutic on two levels - with my work and with my story in my books and the TV series - brings such a mix of good emotions. The key is to be proud because, in relation to what Luca says, for the first time I felt people looking at me like I was a hero. And Luca contributed to that because Dr. Andrea Fanti on the show is the chief of the heroes because, I repeat, he is one of us.
In the show's Australian premiere, all 16 episodes of Doc will be available to stream at SBS On Demand from Thursday 20 May.