An Oscar-nominated director has cast two dozen real-life doctors in a film starring Eddie Redmayne and based on the true story of a nurse who murdered patients he cared for.

Tobias Lindholm said he recruited nurses, doctors and paramedics to make the performances of his lead actors, Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, all the more “naturalistic”.

In the Netflix feature film The Good Nurse, Redmayne plays Charles Cullen, who used intravenous tubes to poison patients with deadly drugs. Described as an “angel of death”, Cullen is said to have killed up to 400 people in the 16 years he worked at nine hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In 2006, he received 17 life sentences. Chastain portrays Amy Loughren, the fellow nurse who helped bring him to justice.

Jessica Chastain plays Amy Loughren, the nurse who helped bring the real Charles Cullen to justice. Photography: JoJo Wilden / Courtesy of Netflix

The Good Nurse is Lindholm’s first English-language feature film. Just as he recruited real soldiers for his movie A War, he wanted real medics and doctors for this production, because they would know “how to move and react” in hospital rooms.

“Instead of hiring actors and training them to do it, we had to surround our actors with the real McCoys…so it could rub off on them and make their performances even more naturalistic,” he said, adding: “Actors are about communicating emotions. These real people… were able to be in the moment and do their job without telling us any other story. It’s quite different for an actor [who’s] always aware of [the] story.”

Lindholm chose, for example, a scene in which Chastain’s character needed emergency medical help: “The nurses we surrounded Jessica with in this scene are all real nurses. We did it because it looks easy when done right, but they know how to do it, how to move, when to move… We needed Jessica to be the one to… communicate the emotions in this scene. Others should just fight for [her] life. These people have done it so many times that for them it’s like pressing “play” and they do it, which made Jessica stand out even more.

Tobias Lindholm attends the European premiere of The Good Nurse at the 18th Zurich Film Festival on Sunday.
Tobias Lindholm attends the European premiere of The Good Nurse at the 18th Zurich Film Festival on Sunday. Photography: Thomas Niedermüller/Getty Images for ZFF

As Covid-19 restrictions made filming in hospitals impossible, doctors helped filmmakers recreate hospital settings with absolute precision.

Referring to the pandemic, Scott Franklin, one of the film’s producers, said: “It was also very important for us to have real nurses and real doctors, especially after all that they had just done. We really wanted to give back to this community and use as many of these people as we [could].”

He added that the doctors welcomed the fact that the film criticized the system rather than the individuals. “Cullen is a bad apple in a bunch of amazing, superhero, underrated, underrated people,” Franklin said.

Redmayne described the film as a “compelling glimpse” into a system that had broken down. “There were things in it that I found extraordinarily revealing, the first being that it was allowed to happen, and the second being an insight into what a nurse’s life is like and how one of the reasons it was allowed to happen is because it is such a brutal, underpaid, underrespected and understaffed job,” he said.

The Good Nurse premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, ahead of its theatrical release on October 19 and on Netflix worldwide on October 26.

The screenplay, which was co-written with Glasgow writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, is based on Charles Graeber’s book of the same title.

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