Actress Kim Raver, 49, was born and raised in New York and had a regular role on Sesame Street as a young child. She studied acting at Boston University, honing her craft at the Huntington Theatre, and made her Broadway debut in Holiday. She recently returned to Grey’s Anatomy for its 15th season, playing a cardiothoracic surgeon, while she and her husband, Manu Boyer, are co-producing three Lifetime films based on the novels of British author Jane Green. Previously, Raver played prominent roles on Ray Donovan, 24 and Third Watch, while her film work has included Night at the Museum, City Hall and Mind the Gap. She is fluent in both German and French, and she splits her time between New York and Los Angeles.
Jonathan Soroff: Have you ever said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV?”
Kim Raver: Yes. Guilty. I have to admit I’ve pulled that one out of the hat. It’s not a card I like to play, but when you’re in the emergency room with your kid or whatever, it’s kind of easy to do.
Have you learned any real medical skills or knowledge? I think I have, and I feel like I might be able to save somebody, but I wouldn’t want to be the person I was trying to save. [Laughs.] I know what to say and what it looks like, but I don’t know if it would actually work.
How else has it changed you? I guess I’m less squeamish. We have an insane thing coming up soon [on Grey’s Anatomy] and, literally, my hand was in this fake person’s chest, handling the heart, cracking the ribs. … You definitely learn not to be grossed out. I love it.
What do you think is the appeal of medical dramas? I think it’s living vicariously. It’s the high stakes of life and death and there’s probably something a bit like watching a car wreck. Medicine is such an insane field. The reason I like medical dramas is that when I’m watching, I get to live out that thing that I wish I could do, but I don’t want to go to medical school for 25,000 years.
Ever sat in on open-heart surgery? I have, actually, and I thought I was going to be such a badass. I was like, “I’m fine.” And I was kind of standing at the patient’s head, looking in. At first I was fine, and operating rooms are freezing cold. All of a sudden, I felt this wave of fiery heat rush from my feet up to my head, and I slowly backed away so I wouldn’t faint on the patient, and I leaned up against the wall. The doctors performing the surgery were like, “You OK?” And I was like, “Oh, fine. I’m just, y’know, leaning up against the wall!” It’s pretty intense. They kinda work on people like mechanics on a car.
Kim Raver on the cover of the Holiday Shopping issue
What is it about Jane Green’s novels that you find compelling enough to adapt them to film? The thing that I loved so much about learning Shakespeare at BU was that you really get down to human existence. So what I love about Jane’s books and adapting them is that she hones in on specifically women and what happens to them when a bomb is dropped in their lives. Who do you become? How do you pick up the pieces? It’s the human condition when a certain element is ignited in their lives. What happens when the shit hits the fan? How do you proceed, without becoming a victim?
You co-directed the first one, Tempting Fate, with your husband. I did. And Alyssa Milano is the lead in it. She’s extraordinary. I feel like it’s a role we might not have seen her play before. She has this depth, but also a comedy and lightness.
Were you nervous about directing? Oh, God, yes. On the one hand, I absolutely knew I was ready to direct. I felt confident in forging ahead. I’m so lucky to have lived in Shondaland. Shonda Rhimes is absolutely amazing, and there are so many incredible women I’ve worked with alongside her. To have people of that caliber as examples gave me a huge amount of confidence. But I was definitely very nervous and unsure to what capacity I’d be able to translate what I wanted in terms of acting, or to verbalize it.
Was it the first time you worked with your husband? It was, and I would say that if you get along and work well together as a couple, then you’ll work amazingly as colleagues. The fundamentals of marriage are similar to how you’re going to get along on set, because you’re problem-solving every 20 seconds, just like raising kids together. You also have to be able to delegate, and my husband and I are really good at that. So that was all out of the way. Where it became challenging was when both of us wanted what we wanted and the other had a different idea, but then you find a compromise. And that was eased by the fact that we really trust each other.
What do your kids think about what you do? For the longest time, I kind of shielded them from it. I wanted to keep them very grounded, so I tried not to highlight it. But both my kids grew up on sets, so they were exposed to it in the best way. The craft of the business. They learned what goes into it. And to this day, they call craft services “the candy truck.” They understand that it’s a job that yes, has its perks, but they’re not about celebrity or entertainment as much as “this is how that gets done.”
Do you live up to your last name? Raver? [Laughs.] Yeah, I would say so. Growing up in New York City, I was a bit of a raver. I was like a wild-child, but with a sense of responsibility. My mom was a single mother raising two kids, and I didn’t have the latitude to really misbehave. I had a lot of responsibilities. But I snuck into clubs underage, to dance or whatever. I went to Ibiza at a really young age with a bunch of my French friends. There was some wildness.
How realistic was Third Watch? Very. First of all, we had a lot of tech supervisors on the set in each of the departments. A lot of first responders were there. You can see by what they did after 9/11. [The first show following the tragedy featured real-life first responders.] After 9/11, we were bringing generators and lights to Ground Zero. A lot of our cast members were actually firefighters or policemen who joined us as day players, and we spent a lot of time together. We were like family. Molly Price married one of the firefighters, Derek. That’s how close we all were.
Wardrobe: Schai turtleneck and pants, Steve Madden shoes
Switching gears, Is Ray Donovan the most binge-worthy show on TV? I know. I think it’s Liev, and the insanely talented cast, creators, crew. I had an amazing time working on that. They took the time on that like it was a film, very cinematic. On TV, you’re usually banging out pages and making choices very quickly that you have to stick by. With Ray Donovan, there was more time. I feel so fortunate to have joined that cast. So extraordinarily talented. The key is a great cast and outstanding writing.
Was 24—the most edge-of-your-seat, cliff-hanger show of all time? Yeah. I think so. That was the most extraordinary, high-tension, high-speed, incredible experience. It was like shooting a movie more than television. We’d shoot our wide masters and close-ups at the same time, so everybody was there. In TV, a lot of time you might do a scene without the other characters, but not on that show. It was like doing a play. Everybody had to be there all the time. We’d be on location, with gunfire and explosions. My first day of work on that show, my character was bound, gagged, thrown into the back of a truck and kidnapped. There was an explosion. Then, I think they added a love scene. I was like, “Hi, Kiefer, nice to meet you,” and now after having a kidnap/explosion scene, we’re getting intimate. It was intense.
Actor who ever intimidated you? There have definitely been some characters along the way that you have to learn how to navigate. But in those situations, I’ve always tried to just keep it about the work.
Every actor has a million nightmare audition stories. How about an audition you nailed and you knew it? It’s funny. I was in France with my in-laws and family when I got a call to come meet with the producers of 24. I had just finished Third Watch days before, but my manager said, “Get on the plane right now.” So I did, and I arrived in LA, and I auditioned for Audrey. They’d been looking for months for that role, and I remember the producers saying, “OK, let’s introduce her upstairs.” I was thinking, “Wow! Maybe I got the role!” And they started introducing me as Audrey, and we began shooting something like two days later.
Actor who taught you the most? That’s a really good question. Very early on in my career, I had very small roles where I got to watch actors like Olympia Dukakis and Al Pacino at work. I literally just sat there and watched them. Then, over the years, the actors I enjoyed the most were people like Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Oh, because I had such sort of intense stuff with them. And they taught me a lot in the sense that you go through so much together, it allows you to grow as an actor.
Anyone you’d never work with again, and why? I once had an audition with a director I don’t think I’d ever work with. This was way before the #MeToo movement, and he just reeked of everything that it’s about.
What was the weirdest thing about being on Sesame Street as a kid? That Snuffleupagus would be lowered down from the ceiling. That, and the fact that I’d be standing next to one of the Muppets, which seemed very real to me when I was 5 or 6, and someone would come along and literally rip the nose off because they were Velcro’d on, and switch it out.
Did seeing that stuff take away from the magic? No. That’s what’s so amazing about being a kid. For me, it enhanced it, because I felt like I knew a double secret. I would go to school and I’d be like, “I know where Big Bird lives.” It was like knowing where Santa makes his toys.
Did you ever catch Ernie and Bert making out? [Laughs.] No. But I did know how Carroll [Spinney] would get into his Big Bird costume, and I thought it was hilarious and amazing.
Have you ever done a role in German? No, but I’ve had to do interviews or talk shows in French, and it’s terrifying. Your adrenaline is already pumping like crazy, but then you have to switch into a completely different language.
Do you miss the theater? Oh, yeah. I miss it all the time. But I also have two kids, and with the theater, the time when I would have off, they’re in school, and the time I’d be at the theater, they’re home, so I just kind of pressed pause on that. But I 100 percent love it. I was even thinking that this summer, I could do something. I can’t wait to get back to it. I did Twelfth Night at the Huntington Theatre, which is where I got my acting chops. My Broadway debut was thanks to being able to work out of the Huntington when I was at Boston University. Everyone should go to that theater. I had my Broadway debut with Laura Linney and Tony Goldwyn literally right out of school, and that would not have happened without that training at the Huntington.
Is there a project you’re dying to do? Well, I look at people like Bradley Cooper, or Reese Witherspoon, or Charlize Theron, who went from acting and then created these amazing films, and I’m in awe of them. They’re taken seriously now, instead of their work being viewed as a vanity project. I would love to do that, and yes, there’s a story that I’d like to write, produce, star in, direct. But it’s more to tell that story. And it’s an exciting time for actors, because that multi-hyphenate thing is respected, and there are a lot of new places for content. And I’d like to go back to Broadway. ◆
Photographer: John Russo; Hair stylist: David Gardner/Exclusive Artists Management using Phyto Paris; MakeUp artist: Spencer Barnes/Tack Artist Group; Stylist: Alvin Stillwell; Location: Los Angeles; Wardrobe (top): Topshop shirt, Schai jacket and pants, Steve Madden shoes, Dee Ocleppo handbag