BURBANK, Calif. -- Anthony Edwards sinks into cushions in his trailer on the set of ''ER,'' a light stubble dusting his face. He's traded his green scrubs for a red wool sweater, rumpled pants and running shoes.
On this afternoon at soundstage 11 on the Warner Bros. lot, with his scenes already completed and hardly anyone paying attention, Edwards is perfectly playing his character, the beleaguered Dr. Mark Greene, without even trying.
''I'm so sickeningly close to it that I don't know if I separate so well anymore,'' he said.
''What I like about playing Mark Greene is there's a lot of things about him that I would like to be. I'd like to be that committed, to be that good at something.''
There was the handsome George Clooney, the intense Eriq La Salle, the doe-faced Noah Wyle, the gritty Julianna Margulies and the graceful Gloria Reuben. But it has been the low-key Edwards who has anchored the show, making ''ER'' an NBC juggernaut for the past six years.
He provides another impressive performance in an episode airing Thursday at 10 p.m. EST titled ''Under Control,'' in which everything that could go wrong in the hospital seemingly does. It's the only original episode airing this month.
''There are days where the doctors go, 'Oh, why this day? Was it a full moon or what was it in which so many things just multiply?''' Edwards said. ''This is an episode where they try to capture that, 'Oh, no one would ever believe all this would happen at once.'''
How much is he like Dr. Greene, anyway?
''What I like about playing Mark Greene is there's a lot of things about him that I would like to be,'' Edwards said. ''I'd like to be that committed, to be that good at something.''
His commitment is acting, though don't tell that to him.
''What I'm committed to doing is pretending,'' he said, laughing, ''which is very different. It's absolutely what I do for a living. I'm incredibly lucky.
''It was only 100 years ago that they didn't allow actors to be buried in cemeteries. Now people are actually asking us to endorse them politically. I'm like, 'Come on, you want the seal act to endorse.' We don't want the clowns telling people how to vote.''
''Under Control'' will showcase Edwards, a four-time Emmy nominee for his work on ''ER.''
''Our show more than any has a really good balance,'' he said. ''It's not a one-character show, so we always are kind of bouncing around anyway. The frustrating thing is the fact that the networks are spreading out shows between sweeps periods so we have an audience that's going to have to watch three or four weeks of reruns before we get a new show on.
''That's one of the energies of this episode -- to try and make sure the audience comes back, that we're not cheating the audience. The thing that people don't realize is that actors and writers feel a great affinity and responsibility to the audience. They feel bad about the fact that everybody has to watch these reruns for three weeks.''
Not that doing ''Under Control'' was easy.
''It's just a lot of work,'' Edwards said. ''It's fun work, but the challenge is you don't want to let the audience down by being lost. In that kind of taking them through the journey, your challenge is to keep it subtle and yet interesting, which is probably what we should do every episode.''
Predictably, he deflects praise for steering the show to the top of the Nielsen ratings, where it long reigned until dislodged by the ABC phenomenon ''Who Wants to be a Millionaire.'' ''ER'' reclaimed the top spot in February with a two-parter killing off Kellie Martin's character, medical student Lucy Knight.
It's the team that makes the show click, he said, not any one person.
''It was just a great convergence of really sparse and intense writing, really good acting,'' Edwards said. ''You see why this show works because the acting on all the levels, all the different characters, came together perfectly. (It was) beautifully directed.
''When our show's great, you can't go, 'It's Tony Edwards or it's Julianna or it's (executive producer) John Wells. You can't have a great performance on this show without great writing and everybody else doing it well. ... That seems to be the tightrope of 'ER' that I like to be around.''
He'd better get used to the tempo. Clooney and Reuben are long gone and Margulies is next, but Edwards is committed for two more seasons.
And that's fine with him.
''It would just take one or two horrible prima donna-type actors to ruin a perfectly good show like this,'' he said. ''We just don't have them.''
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