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Guide to Nat Geo THE HOT ZONE: Q&A w/ Julianna Margulies, Topher Grace + Episodes + Photos

Maj Canton - May 27, 2019




On Monday, May 27, 2019 at 9pm ET/PT, National Geographic Channel premieres the intense, high-stakes, scientific thriller, THE HOT ZONE, a six-part limited series -- airing over three consecutive nights (5/27, 5/28, 5/29). Based on the book by Richard Preston, the series is inspired by the terrifying true story of the origins of the Ebola virus, and its first arrival on US soil in 1989. When this deadly virus suddenly appears in a research lab outside of Washington D.C., a heroic Army scientist (Julianna Margulies), risks her life to head off the outbreak before it spreads to the human population. After you watch this series, I promise you will think twice about shaking anyone's hand ever again!


Starring: Julianna Margulies as Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Jaax, a devoted wife and mother of two and the chief pathologist at the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases; Noah Emmerich as Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Jaax, Nancy's husband and head of the veterinarian division at the military base; James D'Arcy as Trevor Rhodes, a consultant at the Center for Disease Control; Topher Grace as Dr. Peter Jahrling, a very skeptical virologist working with Nancy; Liam Cunningham as Wade Carter, a reclusive Ebola expert -- and Nancy Jaax's former professor and mentor.


On Wednesday, May 29, at 11pm Nat Geo premieres the companion documentary special, GOING VIRAL: BEYOND THE HOT ZONE, which combines the dramatic real-life stories of viral close encounters, scientific investigations and archival news clips to chronicle one of the most terrifying medical crises of our time. It follows scientific researchers, Ebola survivors, policy and decision makers, and the real-life subjects of THE HOT ZONE, Nancy and Jerry Jaax, to capture the truth behind one of the deadliest viral infections known to mankind. The hour long documentary features interviews with Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, who has served as a front-line physician providing care to Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and will be deployed to the Uganda/Democratic Republic of Congo border to address the current Ebola outbreak; Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was a key decision maker in the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak; and Dr. Pardis Sabeti, who discovered Ebola mutations and was named TIME magazine “Person the Year” in 2014 as a leading Ebola fighter. GOING VIRAL tells the stories of the people on the front lines who are tracking, researching and fighting the deadly virus. For more information about the Ebola Virus visit the CDC: Centers for Disease Control.



This past February 2019 TV Tango attended the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, where National Geographic Channel presented a panel that included stars Julianna Margulies, Liam Cunningham, Topher Grace and Paul James. Here are a few highlights (edited for clarity and readability) from that panel.


Cast and writers/producers of THE HOT ZONE at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour in February 2019 at The Langham Huntington in Pasadena.

(front row, L-R): Liam Cunningham Topher Grace, Julianna Margulies, and Noah Emmerich

(back row, L-R): James D'Arcy, Brian Peterson, Kelly Souders, and Paul James



Topher Grace as Dr. Peter Jahrling

Question: Topher, your character is seen wearing a “Dukakis-Bentsen” t-shirt though the show takes place after that election happened and that ticket lost the election.

Topher Grace: This was my idea. I wore a Kerry shirt for about two years after the 2004 election, I was so bummed. And I remember I bumped into John Kerry's daughter somewhere and she said, "Oh my god, fantastic you're still wearing that t-shirt." So my belief is my character Peter, has got a very different point of view than some of his peers here and it's not a mistake, he knows he's wearing it in that time.

Julianna Margulies as Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax

Question: Since Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax is a real person, could you talk about her?

Julianna Margulies: Things that struck me about her personally was that she just doesn't see herself as anything but a woman going to work. I looked at her character as a hero, because she really emphasized what a threat this was and got the ball rolling to stop it from spreading. But to her, it was just another day at the office, really. There're moments when she has a tear in her suit where, once she's in the decontamination chamber, she's thinking of her children and her husband and her life and how that can all be compromised if she's infected. But ultimately it was amazing to play a woman who gets excited about going into a Level 4 biohazard lab, and dissecting tissue that may carry contagious agents that could kill you.

Paul James as Ben Gellis

Question: Do you find yourselves washing your hands more?

Julianna Margulies: I definitely wash my hands more, and am very aware of what I'm touching, where things might have been. I now carry wipes in my bag. I never used to do that. It's also not just the hand-washing. I worked with Nancy Jaax's real-life nephew who is an Infectious Disease Specialist, one of the top in the field. And he told me that infectious disease specialists never touch their face. He said, “Now that you know that, you're gonna watch people and you're gonna see how many times in five minutes they will touch their face.” And, he said he never gets the flu or sick, maybe once every six years, because he's not constantly touching his face. So, now I'm always sitting on my hands. It’s kind of fascinating and really horrible.

Liam Cunningham: On a plane, I used to completely ignore coughing. I don't ignore coughing anymore. I try to count the seats, how far this cough is away. And public transports, people sweating on public transport concerns me now.

Paul James: I wash hands after the bathroom and regular times but I definitely find myself doing it a lot more. I notice, on the subway in New York, people coughing a lot more than I used to.

(L to R): Grace Gummer as Melina Danport, James D'Arcy as Trevor Rhodes, and Liam Cunningham as Wade Carter.

Question: Recently in December, a U.S. health worker may have been exposed to ebola in the Congo and was evacuated to Nebraska. What was your reaction to that?

Julianna Margulies: There were a lot of stories about Ebola the whole time we were shooting. Every day there seemed to be another story about Ebola in small print, which I found really disturbing—that it wasn’t on the front page. It just makes our show more relevant and more timely. The biggest issue is that everyone thinks that because Ebola is found in these far away African villages that it has nothing to do with us here in the U.S. And to see something that happened in 1989, to see that Ebola touched U.S. soil and that the CDC's reaction to it when you watch the rest of the show was basically, “we dodged a bullet.” And the people who were working, the researchers, the pathologist, were all saying, "No, no, no, no, no. We didn't dodge a bullet. We need to find a cure. There's not a cure. There's nothing you can take. This has a 90% fatality rate." No one's writing about it. That’s frightening to me. So my reaction is good that it’s out there, that people understand this is something we should take seriously.

Liam Cunningham: What the government is doing now, the people who take care of it, the CDC—the Center for Disease Control— as far as I know their budgets have been cut recently. And, the interesting thing is that, as we speak, there's an outbreak of about 500 is it? About 500 victims dead. And, they're scared of it entering a large, populated area. And, apparently, it's been identified in a city of over a million people now. And, there's a 90 percent mortality, fatality rate on this disease. It is a monster.

(L to R): Paul James as Ben Gellis and Topher Grace as Dr. Peter Jahrling

Question: Topher, before THE HOT ZONE, you played a religious man faced with a medical miracle. What’s it like to get your headspace into two very different roles?

Topher Grace: I wouldn’t know how to equate those two projects. Before I was playing a pastor in the movie she's talking about, I was playing David Duke. I love switching it up. Some actors play the same thing over and over again. The more different it is the better, for me. It's certainly not why I did this. I did this because I loved the book. When I was in eighth grade I read it. It was the first book that just totally scared the shit out of me. It was the scariest thing I'd ever read. It might to this day be the scariest thing I ever read. Because it was real. It's still alive. And also it's invisible. So that’s why I wanted to do it. And they did such a great job writing the script and I love the cast so much.

Julianna Margulies as Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax

Question: Julianna, you’ve played a lot of medical professionals over the years, what’s the difference between those positions and the one you play on THE HOT ZONE?

Julianna Margulies: First of all, being a nurse in an ER, aside from the fact that you're dealing with gloves and blood, is completely different from being a pathologist working in a biohazard Level 4 lab. My experience didn't help at all because I don't have a medical brain, so none of the terminology stays there. I memorize it, but then it just goes somewhere and I can't hold onto that. Otherwise, I feel like I'd be doing really important work. The lawyer stuff I can retain because I understand the story, but science is so hard. I didn't do well in school in science.


If you want to know nothing about the episodes at all, skip this section. Provided by Nat Geo, this episode guide includes general episode descriptions and specific plot details.

"Arrival" (Monday, May 27, 2019 at 9/8c): Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax is a wife and mother of two, with one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Every day, she dons layers of protective gear and enters the Biosafety Level 4 lab at USAMRIID, where she handles the world’s deadliest viruses. On a fall day in 1989, when she arrives at work, she tests a sample and fears it may be in the deadliest category of viruses, known as filoviruses. Even more unnerving is the location it came from — a monkey research facility 20 miles from the nation’s capital. When a breach in the lab causes the samples to be lost, it’s Jaax’s instincts against the world.

"Cell H" (Monday, May 27, 2019 at 10/9c): Lt. Col. Nancy Jaax must take matters into her own, capable hands. She convinces an employee at the Hazleton research facility to hand over more samples from the infected monkeys. Back in the USAMRIID lab, she and her overly confident partner, Dr. Peter Jahrling, test the new specimens and come face to face with the virus through their microscope. Jaax is determined to figure out the source of the virus. She brings in her mentor, reclusive Ebola expert Dr. Wade Carter.

"Charlie Foxtrot" (Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 9/8c): When representatives from varying agencies disagree on how to handle Nancy Jaax’s discovery, she quickly realizes there are few protocols in place for containing a deadly virus on U.S. soil. An employee at the monkey research facility falls ill, causing Jaax to fear the virus has spread to the human population. Travis Rhodes, from the Center for Disease Control, arrives with a different way of handling matters. As Jaax battles the obstacles on the ground, viewers find out Carter and Rhodes were among the first responders to discover Ebola in Africa decades earlier.

"Expendable" (Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at 10/9c): Nancy Jaax begins to lead a team from USAMRIID to prepare for the most dangerous mission any of them have ever faced. With full access to the research facility, the life-threatening stakes cause great concern in the Jaax family home. Her husband, Jerry, searches for a way to protect his wife. Meanwhile, Jaax believes her mentor, Dr. Wade Carter, may have a different agenda. His obsession with exposing the dangers of Ebola is driving him to make questionable decisions. The team of animal care specialists at USAMRIID, led by Jerry, heads out to eradicate the virus at the facility, while more employees are tested for possible exposure.

"Quarantine" (Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 9/8c): Inside the primate research facility, unforeseen dangers arise. Nancy Jaax works tirelessly in Biosafety Level 4 to find out why the virus is behaving differently in human victims than expected. With the daunting task of euthanizing monkeys, unforeseen dangers arise, and even the strongest of the team are pushed to the brink. The families of the employees are quietly gathered to protect others from possible exposure, and Jaax is forced to make an impossible choice between her family and her duty to her country.

"Hidden" (Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 10/9c): An already volatile situation inside the infected research facility boils to a head. With Nancy Jaax stepping up while those around her fall, exhaustion threatens the precision needed to sterilize the threat. Their efforts to contain panic are threatened when the press arrives and neighbors become aware of the danger next door. Jaax is forced to confront her mentor, Dr. Wade Carter, when a situation spills out of the monkey facility and puts people on the outside in danger. Jaax ultimately must face the ramifications of trying to balance her dangerous career and her loving family. Longtime rivals Dr. Carter and Travis Rhodes reach an impasse that could determine how many more people outside the lab have been exposed.