Colin Donnell and Norma Kuhling talk Chicago Med’s new rivalry

CHICAGO MED -- "Naughty or Nice" -- Episode 304 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Donnell as Connor Rhodes, Norma Kuhling as Ava Bekker -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)
CHICAGO MED -- "Naughty or Nice" -- Episode 304 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Donnell as Connor Rhodes, Norma Kuhling as Ava Bekker -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC) /

Chicago Med has a brand new rivalry, and stars Colin Donnell and Norma Kuhling spoke to One Chicago Center about Connor and Ava’s competitive dynamic.

While Chicago Med has love in the air, one place it isn’t is the cardiothoracic surgery department, where there’s been a rivalry brewing in the first part of the season.

Chicago Med season 3 promoted Norma Kuhling to series regular as new fellow Dr. Ava Bekker, whose sole mission seems to be pushing her new colleague Dr. Connor Rhodes to his limit.

Ahead of the show’s midseason premiere, One Chicago Center talked to Norma and Colin Donnell about how they perceive their characters’ dynamic.

And will the two surgeons ever get on the same page?

More from One Chicago Center

That’s up in the air still, but the two actors told us how much they’ve enjoyed working together, even if their characters haven’t.

“Introducing Norma to the show last [season] was awesome,” Colin said. “I think the relationship between Connor and Ava is one of the biggest storylines that we’re going to go through this season. She’s provided an awesome foil for Connor, and brought out a contentious side that I think he wasn’t even aware of.”

“It’s just been really fun to get to play with the kind of mutual alpha situation,” Norma explained, “where she’s coming from this hospital in South Africa where she’s the top dog, and he’s the top dog here. And the kind of resulting competition.

“She just loves the game. She just really enjoys giving him a hard time and watching him get all riled up. She sort of says and does things that maybe most people might not, but might like to. And enjoys getting settled into the Chicago Med world.

“I think that that’s been the most fun thing, for me at least, is just exploring that relationship and what it is to be part of the new hospital.”

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But while Ava has been infuriating to Connor in most of the first four episodes in Chicago Med season 3, Norma did tell us that there’s more to her character than that, and we will see a nicer side of her as time goes on.

“She’s a tough cookie, but I think we’re starting to see this more and more, that she does care more than she lets on,” she said. “She will be there for you in a minute if you really need it, but in the meantime she won’t mince her words and she’ll rile you up for fun.

“There’s an underside to it that they did tell me we were going to bring out more and more as it went on. So while she’s been really hard to like, you want to keep bringing forward more human qualities, because I know that that’s part of it as well.”

Dealing with the headaches caused by Ava Bekker is just one part of a world that seems to be collapsing around Connor’s head, yet again, this season. We asked Colin what it’s like to play a character who never quite gets on solid ground.

“That’s one of the great things about the show for me to be able to play,” he explained, “is that as soon as things start looking up, they sort of just knock him down a peg. Which leads to growth in the character, and I think that’s one of the beautiful things about how the writers have progressed Connor.

“They’re peeling back the layers of his personal life. He’s going from being this sort of alpha male presence in the ED, to learning from a mentor, to falling in love, to now that’s on the rocks again. They’re really developing him slowly and in a very smart way.

“Conflict breeds growth. And I think that they’ve done a really smart job of making sure that there’s a constant conflict in his life. He’s not a very smiley guy, which is sort of the opposite of me, but I love it. He’s dark, he’s a little brooding, and he’s trying to figure his s–t out.”

Speaking of figuring things out, why does Connor Rhodes keep being stuck with colleagues who push all of his buttons personally? Between his thorny relationship with Dr. Isidore Latham (Ato Essandoh) last season and now this, it seems like everyone he has to work with, has some issue with him specifically.

“Latham and Connor have gotten to such a great place in their relationship,” Colin reflected. “Now with Ava coming in, it’s provided this great competition that I think Connor doesn’t even know that he’s going to thrive off of.

“He’s dealing with so much in his personal life that the work has unknowingly taken a back seat. But once you start to get down into it, I think he’s starting to figure out that he really needs to be pushed in this way. And he’s enjoying the back and forth at work, and trying to figure out how to be his best self against Dr. Bekker.”

Next: Chicago Med's compelling case of Connor Rhodes

“Sometimes the most contentious relationships can bring out the best,” agreed Norma. “I think that’s an interesting aspect of this too, for both of them.”

Will that be the case with Connor Rhodes and Ava Bekker? We’ll have to keep watching to find out, but Chicago Med has definitely set up a rivalry to keep an eye on.

Chicago Med airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC.