Chicago Med's Jessy Schram Dishes On Playing Dr. Hannah Asher - Exclusive Interview

When Dr. Hannah Asher was first introduced to "Chicago Med" fans during Season 5, no one expected her to hold a career-crushing secret. To her co-workers at Gaffney Chicago Medical Center, Dr. Asher was an accomplished emergency obstetrician-gynecologist. Behind closed doors, however, she dealt with a heroin addiction up until she sent herself to rehab for a second time at the start of Season 6. Upon her departure from the medical drama, it seemed that the world had seen the last of Dr. Asher.

Fast forward to the final few episodes of Season 7, and a big surprise was in store for fans. Someone brand new had been hired in the emergency department. It turns out that Dr. Asher herself was the one returning to the Windy City, sober and ready to rebuild both her successful medical career and her reputation among the hospital staff.

Returning to the halls of "Chicago Med" was an exciting moment for Dr. Asher, and it was also an emotional experience for the actress who played her. Now, star Jessy Schram will soon be seen back on our small screens for what she promises to be an action-packed eighth season.

In an exclusive interview with The List, Schram opened up about what it was like to rejoin the cast of "Chicago Med," discussed the challenges of playing a doctor with a drug addiction, and teased Dr. Asher's and Dr. Will Halstead's fates in the upcoming season.

Jessy Schram was 'completely surprised' by Hannah's return on Chicago Med

Your character got to make a comeback this year on "Chicago Med." How did it feel to return as a series regular?

It felt amazing. The cast and the crew are so delightful to work with, [and] it felt like I was coming back to a family, so it was nice to have that be a more solid position now.

Were you surprised when you first received the call to return to the show, or were you aware that her story would eventually be continued?

I was completely surprised. In the beginning when I was on the show, there were a lot of talks about continuing the storyline. Then when COVID hit, every storyline in the world changed. When the show had come back after a slight pause that everybody took, I wrote it off as, "What an amazing journey." 

Everybody told me on set, "Hey, you didn't die, so there's always the possibility you're coming back." [Laughs] The crew on my last day of filming was like, "Hey, you're not dying. We'll see you again one day."

To get a random phone call a few years later was such a surprise and felt so amazing. It felt like coming home.

When you returned in Season 7, did you approach playing Hannah any differently since she had returned from rehab with this fresh start?

Yes. To be honest, I had anxiety about how I was going to approach Hannah coming back. There had been a decent amount of space that we haven't seen her, so she went away for a while. There was that creative freedom to make my own backstory that only I would know about before coming on set.

Coming back, [it was about] wanting to play this line of an addict that's in recovery, where life goes on and she's rebuilding — and to also not lose the essence of somebody that is still working through something, because addiction never actually goes away when you're in recovery.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Here's exactly how she prepared to play Hannah

When you very first joined "Chicago Med," how did you initially prepare yourself to play a doctor who is also a drug addict?

I will admit that I didn't realize I had such a skewed vision of what an addict looked like. When they told me that I'm going to be playing this very successful doctor, but one that is also on heroin, it was very confusing to me in my mind about how that person could be functioning.

I did talk to a lot of different medical advisors. I talked to different gynecologists when it came to the doctor part of things. I watched so many documentaries on the opioid crisis and addiction. I had a very skewed vision of what the face of addiction looks like, which is maybe the person on the street that's homeless, that doesn't have much going on anymore, that's lost a lot through their addiction. What I discovered is it could be the mom in the minivan, or it could be your doctor or anesthesiologist. There's a lot of functioning addicts in the world.

I had to do a lot of research and watched a lot of documentaries, trying to figure out what that looked like for Hannah.

Hannah has clearly been through so much throughout the show. What are some of the most memorable reactions that you've received from fans over the years about her?

Well, first we have the classic — the Manning-Halstead fans. The first reaction is, "Oh, no, who's this?" Because this is possibly a love interest that could break up our most beloved couple. [Laughs] That's memorable — people needing to accept that Will is getting involved with Hannah and that she could possibly be tainting his humanity. There was a lot of reaction to that.

But I still am constantly blown away. The people that I meet randomly walking down the street or at the airport — so many people are telling me their stories of how the character has affected their life, whether it be that they know somebody that has an issue with opioids or whether they themselves are somebody that has turned the corner and are continuing to build in their life.

The most memorable reactions are understanding that everybody is affected by the opioid crisis that we've gone through, but also the ability that my storyline is created for people to really relate to. It's such an honor that they're able to share that with me, a complete stranger, but somebody that they feel comfortable with.

The most challenging scene she was ever a part of

Have there been any scenes on "Chicago Med" that have been difficult for you to portray?

It is hard because we deal with the subject [matter] of all of our guest stars coming in with new medical issues. Because I'm playing a gynecologist, it's such a personal female experience — you're in the surgery room as an actor, excited that you're getting to pretend that you're cutting through all this latex and stuff, but the reality is, the storyline is real.

It was hard coming back for the last episode that I had as the premiere of Season 6 when Hannah was first going away. That was a hard scene because she had overdosed, and it was coming to terms with this relationship that she had in this moment of strength that she needed to make go away after a moment of weakness. That was a very emotional scene on all different kinds of levels.

I'm sure it was hard for you personally as well, because you knew that she would be leaving.

Yes. I remember leaving that day and walking out of where our base camp was, looking at Nick [Gehlfuss], who plays Will, and getting a little emotional, getting all embarrassed, being like, "Wow. What an experience, and half of that experience was because of you and the team being so supportive and open and thoughtful." It was really sad to leave during that moment, so that mixture of leaving a relationship was in real life and on screen.

What she will always remember about playing a medical professional

What's the most surprising thing that you've learned about the medical field since you began playing a doctor?

That doctors are amazing and insane at the same time. I remember getting to go in with one of our medical advisors, and they put me through these drills of giving birth. There was a dummy giving birth to a dummy, and we were running these drills so that I can have some experience of what that looked like and felt like.

I remember afterward almost being a little shell-shocked leaving, walking home from the hospital and looking at everybody on the street, thinking, "You have no idea what doctors go through every day in these life-saving situations." You do, but until you're actually in a room seeing or witnessing a version of it — I'm still mind-blown when I think about doctors.

[In] almost every storyline, I have to do different levels of research so that I understand what's going on, and I am constantly amazed by the bodies and the human situation.

I've always said it takes a very special person to be a doctor, because it could not be me at all.

Oh, my God — the pressure. I find it so exciting. I love learning how to do the stitching and the sutures and everything. I practice my knots on bananas randomly, because that's the kind of person I am. I love getting so into it, and I put this pressure on myself to try my hardest to portray this so that my sister-in-law, who's an E.R. nurse, doesn't call me out like, "What were you doing?" I love being an actor because I get to step into other people's careers and life without that pressure of actually needing to save a life.

I'm constantly amazed at our special effects team as well. They make these pregnant bellies that literally have freckles and hair on them. They're so realistic. There was one scene where we were doing a C-section and all of a sudden, nobody told me that there was going to be embryonic fluid within the area that I was at, the uterus. I was cutting it, and it blew up in my face, and I was like, "Oh, my God!"

They're like, "No, Jessy. Hannah deals with this all the time." I'm like, "I know, but I didn't think it was going to be this real!"

Chicago Med is filmed in her hometown

Do you feel any special connection to "Chicago Med" in particular because you get to be in your home state of Illinois?

I definitely do. That was one of the exciting parts of getting to audition for this role a few years ago — I grew up in Chicago, acting as an actor in commercials and voiceover. I left when I was 18, so getting to be back in my hometown with a hometown crew, and the Midwest work ethic, and being in the city ... It's a different kind of hometown pride that's happening right now. It feels great.

All of the other "One Chicago" shows are filmed in the city, too. Do you ever run into the other casts?

Yeah. I've only run into the cast recently because of our crossover episode. Otherwise, everybody is ... Chicago's a big place. We're pretty spread out.

All of the shows were my sister's favorite shows, and she was living downtown at the time when they were first premiering. When I auditioned for it, I called her, and she's like, "We watch all the shows because they film right around our corner." She's telling me all the locations that they're filming at, and she's the reason why I have the backstory on all the shows before I got on.

I'm originally from the Midwest, too, so it's fun to be able to see that on camera.

It's fun. We use so much of the city. Being a local person, it's fun to see your city on TV.

She promises that the new season is going to be an action-packed adventure

Since Hannah has returned to "Chicago Med," fans have been left wondering if she will ever get back together with Will. At the end of Season 7, Will has become trapped in a building that's on fire, so we don't know now if they will ever even get to reunite. Is there anything you can tease about Hannah's love life going into Season 8?

I question it as well. I'm constantly asking what's going to happen with us.

We're leaving off in a dire situation where there's people trapped in the building. We don't know who's getting out, who's staying in, what the effects are that the fire is going to provide for everybody.

But I will say with the relationship, it is definitely a constant stepping stone of two steps forward, one step back. They're constantly in this circular momentum of figuring out what their relationship is now. We've seen them argue about their past. We've seen them both project onto each other who they used to be. Coming into Season 8, we're finally getting to see who they will be now and see what grows from that, whether that be romantic or just platonic.

What are you most excited for fans to see in Season 8 overall?

Season 8 is extremely active so far. We're filming Episodes 5 and 6 right now, and already, there's more action than there's been in the past, which is super fun. We've got some new characters, so there's more relationships happening. It's an incredibly active season, and we've only just begun.

Here's what else is coming up next for Jessy Schram

You've starred in a lot of Hallmark movies recently. What's been the biggest difference between working on an intense medical drama and a warm, fuzzy holiday movie?

The differences are everything you would think they would be. I get to smile more when it comes to our Christmas and seasonal movies. I'm constantly catching myself on "Chicago Med" making sure I'm a figure of authority — I can smile, but it's "let's be professional now," so the characters are completely different.

What's so much fun for me is that I get the best of both worlds. I get to go away for a few weeks and film this magical movie that's about Christmas and laughter and smiles. Then I get to go and dig deep into the ethical lessons of humanity when it comes to "Chicago Med."

In addition to acting, you've also gotten to sing in a lot of your projects. Will we be able to see you sing again soon? What is coming up next for you?

Yes, hopefully. Because acting has been abundant for me in all the best ways, it definitely has put the track of music on a slowdown. I'm hoping that this Christmas, I'll at least have a Christmas song to share with people to go along with all the special holiday movies. From there, [I'm] working on a new EP, so in the next year or two, there should be more music out there.

Season 8 of "Chicago Med" premieres Wednesday, September 21 at 8:00 p.m. ET (7:00 p.m. CT) on NBC.

This interview has been edited for clarity.