Norma Kuhling interview: ‘People either love or hate Ava for valid reasons’

CHICAGO MED -- "Born This Way" Episode 312 -- Pictured: Norma Kuhling as Ava Bekker -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)
CHICAGO MED -- "Born This Way" Episode 312 -- Pictured: Norma Kuhling as Ava Bekker -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC) /

Chicago Med’s Norma Kuhling plays the show’s most polarizing doctor and told us what’s next for Ava Bekker in her tension with Connor Rhodes and her career.

This season of Chicago Med was upended by Dr. Ava Bekker, as Norma Kuhling‘s character left Dr. Connor Rhodes—and the fans—not sure what to do with her.

That unpredictability will continue, as Ava still has sexual tension with Connor even after she told him that their one night together was a mistake. And the personal friction is nothing compared to what we’ll see between them in the operating room!

One Chicago Center sat down with Norma Kuhling ahead of tonight’s Chicago Med episode to talk about Ava’s future with Connor, the major case that will challenge them both, and her experience joining the cast this season in such a polarizing role.

“Ava’s such an interesting person to get to know,” she told us. “I try not to pass judgment on her personally. You don’t want to judge the people you’re playing because you’re not being them, you’re being you. But it’s been really interesting. Every time I get a script I’m like, what is she going to do now?

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“I have an idea of who I think she is, and it’s been interesting to have my idea of who she is and how that matches up with the scripts I get every week, and try to marry the two ideas of the way the writers see her and the way I see her.

“It’s been a really cool challenge to let the character develop with that open attitude. It’s just been fun to see what happens!”

After Ava spent the first half of the season fighting with Connor (Colin Donnell) professionally, the story turned personal when the two kissed and then slept together.

At the end of last week’s episode, Ava told Connor their fling was a mistake, even though NBC‘s promos would indicate otherwise. So what motivated her to shut him down? Norma explained that Ava has two very good reasons for her surprising comment—as she has concerns about Connor that are both personal and professional.

“I think she’s got a much more vulnerable side than she lets on,” she said. “They finally get together and the first thing he says the next morning is that he’s got a date that night? That’s definitely a shock for her. It’s really hurtful and that makes her immediately go never mind, I shouldn’t have done this.”

The other part of the story has to do with a line seen in the episode’s promo, where Connor asks Ava if her disagreement over their case is because of the work, or if it’s personally motivated. See it below:

“That’s another big thing for her,” Norma told us. “Like, whoa I’m no longer considered a viable opinionated individual in this situation? I can only be annoyed with your decisions because you hurt my feelings?

“I think it’s a combination [of both factors]. I think she is genuinely hurt by the fact he has plans and wasn’t even going to cancel them when they got together, so she’s protecting herself in that sense.

“I think she also realizes them having slept together is going to get in the way of him or anyone being able to take her seriously as a professional. Them [not] being able to work together at all without their feelings getting in the way, then she doesn’t want to do that, because she wants to be able to continue to do her job well.”

That’s the most important aspect to remember; even though Chicago Med has paired these two romantically, it’s not going to change the fact that professionally they work differently, and they’ll continue to have different opinions in the OR.

“They are very different people,” Norma said. “I think they’re really similar in the sense that they’re equally good at their job—although probably each would think they’re better than the other one. They’re both smart. They’ve got valid opinions. They’re often completely opposite.

“I think they butt heads for the same reason they work well together. They’re kind of the same as much as they are different. They have very strong opinions that are right in and of themselves, but completely wrong according to the other person because it’s the opposite of what they’ve done.

“Often one or the other will suggest a treatment option that’s either a really invasive version that could work, or the safe version which is non-invasive and could work but might not have as much of a success rate. Both are totally valid suggestions, but they butt heads because they’re the opposite suggestions.”

The professional conflict between Ava and Connor comes to a head soon when Chicago Med gets to the conjoined-twin case that the two were discussing before they locked lips. They both want in on that high-profile procedure, but only one of them will get in the OR.

“Latham comes in and talks about how they’re going to have a very complicated surgery and he doesn’t know which doctor he’s going to chose to be his second,” Norma teased, “which we can all probably assume is going to create some more tension between Ava and Connor.

“That storyline is probably the longest storyline we had this entire season. We see the pressure of such a huge surgery on the hospital and on the doctors,” she continued. “And this is an interesting tidbit: the day we finished filming it or while we were wrapping it, there was actually a successful conjoined twin case that had happened a couple days [earlier] at a local hospital, with babies as well!”

Don’t expect a quick resolution to the two surgeons’ rivalry or their personal relationship, because something this complicated will take a while to sort out.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a hard and fast roll one way or the other in terms of whether or not they’re right together or if they get together,” she added. “There’s always going to be a question mark there. Because they’re so similar and different, they’re perfect for each other and terrible together.”

“It’s a very contentious relationship. But I think ultimately [they] respect each other and care for each other in a way that’s almost unspoken. I think that’s a big component of them, is what they don’t say versus what they do say.”

There’s a whole other fascinating story here, and it’s Norma Kuhling’s journey on Chicago Med. It’s her first season as a series regular, and her first gig as a regular cast member on any show. It was a “huge, terrifying” adjustment for her, but there’s no doubt she’s risen to the occasion.

“You learn something new every day,” she reflected. “You show up to work and you have an open attitude and you just pray it’ll work out. I weirdly was never nervous. I think the atmosphere there is so wonderful and I’ve been looking forward to doing this for a while, so it was never an issue of nerves for me.

“It was just the onslaught of information. As I was learning the character and learning lines and everything, I was learning this [South African] accent. That was the hardest thing for me, was doing one of the most difficult accents with a week to learn it before we started shooting. As we were going every week, I was also learning more about the accent. They changed it a couple times during the shooting process, so that was probably the most challenging thing this year, and it was a really good challenge.

“And it’s been a rewarding experience,” she added, “getting to learn so much from these awesome people and getting the opportunity to play this crazy combative, awesome person. I think it was both more rewarding and more challenging and easier than I was expecting.”

One thing she’d like to see in the future for Ava Bekker is her broadening her circle outside of the cardiothoracic surgery department and more interacting with other characters in the Chicago Med world as we keep trying to figure out the enigma that she is.

“It would be nice to see her have more friendships in the hospital and learn more about her personally,” she said. “Because her job takes place in a different part of the hospital, she has to be kind of by herself, and I think it would be really interesting to see what would happen if she had some more relationships in the hospital apart from the relationship she has with Connor.

“As the episodes go on we do see more about her personally, and the way she interacts with other people, and that does grow.”

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Since we haven’t explored much of Ava’s backstory aside from one episode, and she does tend to be very outspoken, the character has engendered all kinds of different opinions from the fans. We asked Norma what it’s been like for her to play a character fans haven’t figured out or quite made up their mind on yet.

“I was expecting people to be like, you’re a bad person!” she laughed. “But thankfully, for the most part people have been able to differentiate between the person on the screen and the real person. People are totally alllowed to have their opinions one way or another. People either love or hate Ava for valid reasons. I personally don’t like to pass judgement on her, again, because it gets in the way for me but I think both opinions are valid.

“People might think she’s more of a b-tch than she actually is,” Norma concluded. “Her behavior is really harsh, but she does have a heart, and the way that she conducts herself isn’t entirely selfishy motivated. The way that she jumps on Connor’s case to say you’re wrong about this, it’s not because she’s right. It’s because she’s worried about the patient and she thinks he’s being an idiot.

“She does have a very competitive streak,” she said, “but ultimately the most important thing to her is patient welfare.”

While Dr. Ava Bekker may still have a lot of battles to fight both in and out of the operating room, Norma Kuhling has proven to be a fascinating addition to Chicago Med. Her character has pushed the limits in the cardiothoracic surgery department, and there’s still so much we want to learn of her history and who she is under that competitive exterior.

Here’s to seeing what else Norma Kuhling has up her sleeve in the remaining seven episodes of Chicago Med season 3!

Next: Colin Donnell gives his thoughts on Connor and Ava

What do you think of Ava Bekker? What would you like to see happen for the character before the end of Chicago Med’s season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and tune in tonight to see where Norma Kuhling takes her next!

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