By FRAZIER MOORE
NEW YORK — On “Emily Owens, M.D.,” Mamie Gummer plays a med school graduate just starting out as an intern.
No longer will Emily be the nerdy schoolgirl plagued by nervous perspiration, exclusion from the cool crowd and awkwardness with boys! She has reached a long-awaited turning point: adulthood. At least, that’s what she tells herself.
Except her new life as a doctor feels uncomfortably like her former life. Denver Memorial Hospital feels eerily like high school, with its cliques and gossip and a fellow intern who, gorgeous and popular, was Emily’s nemesis back in high school.
As a doctor, Emily knows her stuff.
But on a personal level, she’s still dorky and naive.
“She’s really smart,” says Gummer, “which rescues her when her heart and lack of confidence get her into jams. She’s very easy to embrace. I really love her!”
With a little luck, the audience will love her, too, and make a hit out of “Emily Owens” (premiering Tuesday at 9 p.m. EDT on the CW network). And in the process, turn Mamie Gummer into a star.
Maybe then she’ll be recognized for her own sizable talents rather than, primarily, as the actress-daughter of Meryl Streep.
The family resemblance is easy to see. But Gummer comes across as more ethereal, more vulnerable than her celebrated mom. Warm and friendly during a recent interview, she is also plainly ill-at-ease at being interviewed.
Gummer makes no bones about it: Interviews aren’t her favorite thing.
“I feel like I’m a secondary artist, a kind of a conduit for the writer, and if it’s a good writer then I have a great road map. If the material’s not as good, or if I’m writing the material — which is what I’m doing right now, talking to you — then I get a little nervous.
“I understand it’s part of the job, so I try not to be too guarded,” she offers in a gentle, halting voice. “I try to be open, but not completely laid bare.”
Asked how she likes her status as a budding celeb, she laughs and answers warily, “We’ll see.”
The second of four children of Streep and sculptor Don Gummer, Mamie Gummer may not yet be a household name. But at 29, she has accumulated solid acting credits. She made her off-Broadway premiere in “Mr. Marmalade,” a dark comedy in which she co-starred with Michael C. Hall. She arrived on Broadway in a revival of “Les liaisons dangereuses.”
In the 2007 film drama “Evening,” she played the younger version of Streep’s character. She appeared in the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” and has guest-starred on CBS’ “The Good Wife.”
In 2011 she was a regular on “Off the Map,” a short-lived ABC drama where she played a doctor at a medical clinic in a South American jungle.
Now, a doctor again, she’s stepping front and center as the star of her own series.
Yes, her mom has seen it. Her father, too.
“They’re big `Emily Owens’ fans,” she reports, “over there at the Gummer household.”
But then the conversation inevitably comes around to this central question: What led Mamie Gummer to step into a field where her mother plays such a commanding role?
“It didn’t really occur to me that I shouldn’t,” she replies. “I don’t know if I was delusional.”
She studied theater at Northwestern University, “where I had the support of my friends and fellow actors as we were all coming up together. It wasn’t until I graduated and entered the field professionally that I went, `Oh, s—! I should have considered that!’ But by then it was too late, and I’m a stubborn person.
“Besides, acting is really fun and deeply gratifying,” she goes on. “When I was younger, it was more of a look-at-me kind of endeavor. But as an actor goes deeper, it becomes `look-at-me and see YOU’: What can I reveal about YOU, the audience, that you recognize?”
Most everyone will recognize something of themselves in Emily Owens. The basic premise of the show is by no means groundbreaking (this fall, the time-honored medical genre is adding no fewer than three series about women doctors). But Gummer demonstrates a special, winsome appeal as Dr. Owens. And alongside a supporting cast that includes Michael Rady, Justin Hartley, Aja Naomi King, Kelly McCreary and Necar Zadegan, she appears in nearly every scene.
“I wasn’t prepared for the workload,” she concedes. “I’m grateful for it, but with acting, it’s always feast or famine and, right now, I feel like I’m GORGING.”
She readily admits she shares some of Emily’s traits, including insecurity about her looks.
“Of course! Are you INSANE!?” she yelps incredulously when asked. “My eyes are too small and they’re too close together and I have a pointy nose. But who cares? Who cares?!”
Well, it sounds like Gummer cares.
But she insists not so much anymore.
“I married a man who makes me feel beautiful, all the time,” she explains, meaning actor Benjamin Walker (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), whom she met in “Les liaisons dangereuses” and wed a year ago.
“And also, I’m getting over myself a little bit,” she proudly announces. “I’m almost 30! It’s time!”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.