Sharron Matthews Talks Five Days at Memorial, Red Carpets, and More
Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans 17 years ago, but if you live on the Gulf Coast, it feels much more recent, and its effects still linger. Apple TV+’s Five Days at Memorial is an eight-episode limited series about the horrific chain of events that unfolded at that titular New Orleans hospital when it was marooned without electricity or clean water during the storm. It’s a harrowing moment in history to revisit, and in many ways it feels too soon, but Apple TV+ has assembled an impressive collection of onscreen and offscreen creatives to tell the story.
This week, I spoke with the very busy (and loving it) Sharron Matthews, who plays Cheri Landry, one of the nurses who was charged in the death of several patients but never indicted. In our wide-ranging conversation, we talk about the series, her first LA red carpet premiere, and the upcoming second season of Canadian family drama Ruby and the Well.
The gravity of the Five Days at Memorial story isn’t lost on Matthews. When it was offered to her after the unexpected cancellation of Frankie Drake Mysteries in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic, she wasn’t sure it was the right project to follow up a four-season run on that CBC mystery series, but Robin D. Cook, the casting director she’s known for two decades, encouraged her to get involved.
“She said, ‘I’ve read all the scripts. I think this is a really important thing to be in. Not just because of the subject matter and what it’s going to be. But the people who are assembled, who you will get to work with because of the sheer volume of characters, like Vera Farmiga and Cherry Jones and Michael Gaston and Molly Hager and Julie Emery,’” she recalls.
“The thing that was really clear to me…John Ridley, who wrote the script for episode five [which aired last week], and who directed it, did such an amazing job of letting you know that these people were left on their own. And then they had five hours to evacuate 200 people, more than 50 of whom were critical, out down seven sets of stairs through a parking garage, through a hole in the wall, up a rickety staircase to a helipad that was seven flights up.”
“They were in the middle of the lowest flood plain in New Orleans, surrounded by some of the poorest areas, before this all happened. John asked us all to read the book before we started. Sheri Fink wrote an amazing book. It’s hard to take in the whole thing. She made a journalistic endeavor so interesting.”
“The city had asked the government to rebuild the pump system and fix the levees and do all these things. And they did none of it and then heavily suffered because of it, monetarily, spiritually, physically, morbidly. It speaks to corporate and class systems and people left behind. No one knew what anyone else was doing. There wasn’t a plan for a place that should have had a plan. Of all places, it should have had a plan.”
Matthews spent five months on the production, and many of those days soaking wet. “I’ve never experienced anything like that shoot in my life. We had four or five different sets of scrubs depending on the date that we were shooting. As the scrubs went farther and farther along, it just got more disgusting,” she explains.
“You’d get to set and then you’d stand on a blanket and wardrobe would spray you down with warm water and then they’d cover you with grease, because that looked like sweating. And then makeup would spray you down in the face and then hair would come and spray you down. And that would happen all day long and right before every take. The whole thing was heavy, wet, and hot.”
Just as Cook had promised, the caliber of people involved did not disappoint. “It was a really amazing group. It was such a big cast. There’s so many people doing so many things. The first five days are spread between 20 to 30 people,” Matthews shares. “I worked with all these amazing actors, who I didn’t see every day, but we spent time in the green room, talking.”
“Myself and Sarah Allen, who plays Lori Budo, the other nurse who was charged, were largely in the shadows for those first five episodes. I was only ever really with Vera and Sarah. Vera was the number one on the call sheet. We followed Vera, because she was playing a doctor, and nurses follow doctors. Vera is an amazing leader. There was always a director’s plan, of course, but she came in with an emotional plan for the three of us.”
Part of that emotional plan set forth by Farmiga and the creative team was keeping a very clear delineation between “action” and “cut.” “When we got to set, we were on. And when we were off, we were off,” Matthews says.
“There was a certain lightness of heart created by people like Vera and Cherry and John and Carlton [Cuse] and Wendey Stanzler, who was the director of the procedural part of the show, which is coming up now, that we maintained in order to approach the material. I think they and everyone in charge of it gave their very best to this. It’s not easy and not all TV should be easy.”
Earlier this month, Matthews was invited to LA for the red carpet premiere, and following an initial hiccup when two potential stylists ghosted her, Matthews had a magical evening, styled meticulously and in a hot hurry by a crack team at Nordstrom, who she happily shouted out on Instagram.
“I flew down and I had a great week with friends. And then on the day of the premiere, I woke up, I got ready and then they showed up and they did my hair and makeup and all my friends showed up and they brought champagne. And then we all got in the Escalade, which was funny, because I asked Apple how many people I could have because I didn’t want to be the Beverly Hillbillies. And they said, fit all your people in there. I only took three with me,” she laughs.
“I did the step and repeat [on the carpet], which I’ve never done before, and I’d said to my stylist, ‘We have to kill this. I have to kill this. Like nothing less than kill. Not a flowery dress, not ‘She wore something sort of interesting.’ I have to look fashion forward.’ And I was so happy with my outfit, which they tailored in three days.”
“I ended up being the only Canadian person from the cast who came, and they were so excited that I was there, which I thought was incredibly sweet. It was a very celebratory moment of making it to the end of a very long journey.”
In September, Matthews is back in a recurring role on the second season of the Canadian series Ruby and the Well, where she plays Lucy Lefontaine. “[This season], it’s interesting watching Ruby forming an even better friendship with Mina and Sam and the people in town. She’s made this town a community of people,” she explains.
“My character does a lot more this season. I have a whole episode that’s dedicated to my character’s dilemma, and I get a husband. We had so many single mothers, all of a sudden it was like, ‘We’ve got to make someone married,’ and Lucy [got a] husband.”
“A lot of characters like Lucy are secondary characters brought in for the catharsis of other actors. And I feel like this season, you see a little bit more of my character’s journey, of her challenges and her trials and her joys, especially her joys, which I love.”
“She’s not Gladys Kravitz, but she’s a teeny bit of a busy body, but it comes from all heart. That woman is all love. She’s a real family-oriented person to a fault. That’s what you see in this season, that she puts herself last.”
“I was shooting Memorial and Ruby at the exact same time. That’s actually what made shooting Five Days at Memorial [less intense] for me. There’s so much unadulterated joy on the Ruby set and these kids are so smart and Zoe [Wiesenthal] is such a rock star. We shoot it on the Frankie Drake set, so it was like going home.”
Photos courtesy of Apple TV+, Family Channel, and Sharron Matthews.
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