Gummer plays a doctor with case of the jitters

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On “Emily Owens, M.D.,” Mamie Gummer plays a medical 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 in high school.

As a doctor, Emily knows her stuff. On a personal level, however, she’s still dorky and naive.

“She’s really smart,” Miss Gummer said, “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 at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the CW network). And in the process, turn Miss 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 Miss Gummer comes across as more ethereal, more vulnerable than her celebrated mom. Warm and friendly during a recent interview, she also is plainly ill at ease at being interviewed.

Miss 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 celebrity, she laughs and answers warily, “We’ll see.”

The second of four children of Miss Streep and sculptor Don Gummer, Miss 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 Miss 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 in which 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 over there at the Gummer household,” she says.

But then the conversation inevitably comes around to this central question: What led Miss 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, ‘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 continues. “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?”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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