French-Canadian actress Laurence Leboeuf learned to speak fluent English when she was 16 — but you’d never know it from her role on “Transplant.”
“French is my mother tongue … my whole world was French — my parents, my surroundings,” says the Montreal native, 34, who plays intense second-year resident Dr. Magalie “Mags” Leblanc on the NBC medical drama, set in a bustling Toronto hospital (but filmed primarily in Montreal).
“When I get back to speaking English all the time my accent disappears slowly,” she says. “My mom watches the show in French — and she says she can’t understand me because I talk too fast.”
Season 1 of “Transplant,” starring Hamza Haq as Syrian-born Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed, originated on Canada’s CTV, where it aired last winter/spring to big numbers and was renewed for a second season.
NBC added the series to its fall schedule amidst the pandemic shutdown; since its September premiere, it has performed admirably and is an odds-on favorite to return to NBC next season. (Production on Season 2 has been delayed in Montreal due to COVID — CTV has targeted a January start date.)
As “Transplant” winds down to its two-part season finale (airing Dec. 8), Leboeuf says the relationship between Mags and Bash — there’s been an unspoken romantic spark between them — will be expanded upon. “It was always lingering in the scripts but was never really addressed,” she says. “It will become a bit clearer.”
There’s a perceptible French lilt in Lebeouf’s real-life accent — but that’s nearly non-existent on-screen in “Transplant.”
“The first time I read the script it was pretty clear what kind of data freak she was,” she says. “She was first in her class — a dedicated, hard worker who disappears into her work with little of a personal life.
“What came about when we were shooting was … I really wanted her to speak super-fast all the time, like maybe she’s a little bit clumsy, socially. I like those awkward moments.”
Speaking quickly was challenging enough; having to learn the show’s nonstop barrage of medical jargon, while maintaining Mags’ rapid-fire verbal pace, posed another hurdle for Leboeuf to overcome.
“Seriously, that was the biggest challenge for everybody,” she says. “Hamza and I discussed this because we had some of the most difficult medical chunks of dialogue to spit out. It was like, ‘Really?’ I had to learn the [medical] lines phonetically and didn’t even understand what Mags was saying though I got the sense of it.
“And then there’s the other stuff, like putting in an IV,” she says. “We had a boot camp where we had the chance to rehearse our big medical scenes on weekends with a doctor there with us. It took about 4 to 5 hours to choreograph it. And we always had a nurse with us — we called him ‘Magic Mike’ because his name is Mike — who made sure everything we were doing everything right.”
That boot camp brought the cast, most of whom had never worked together before, a lot closer, Leboeuf says.
“We all hung out together pre-COVID,” she says. “We had a Christmas party [last year] at my place and we went to restaurants together often. We have a group text going where we often share news. I saw Ayisha [Issa, who plays Dr. June Curtis] and Hamza not too long ago.”
Leboeuf, who just last week signed a new management deal, says she’s not sure where Mags is headed in Season 2.
“They don’t want to give us any information about storylines or arcs until the situation stabilizes more and we’re back in production,” she says. “I know [Season 2] starts a couple of hours after the Season 1 finale. It won’t be a year later or anything like that.
“I trust the writers a lot and I love to let myself be carried by their waves and where it’s going,” she says. “So far it’s been pretty amazing. I hope we find out a little more about [Mags’] personal life, which we haven’t really seen yet since she’s been at the hospital most of the time.
“Hopefully we’ll dive more into that.”
In the wake of the show’s success, NBC ordered another Canadian drama, Global TV’s “Nurses,” which also takes place in a Toronto hospital and will preview Dec. 7 at 10 p.m. before moving to Tuesdays starting Jan. 5.
“It’s such a big reward and a big compliment for the series that it travels anywhere,” Leboeuf says of “Transplant.” “We heard early on that it might sell to the States … and when the news finally came it was like, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s amazing!’ It’s an terrific market and is great visibility for everybody.
“To give it your all and then to see it succeed in the US is a really nice reward.”