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'The Knick,' the Cinemax series from Steven Soderbergh, centers around old NYC hospital

Clive Owen plays the brilliant, but drug-addicted surgeon

Clive Owen plays the brilliant, but drug-addicted surgeon at Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900's New York in the Cinemax series, "The Knick," premiering Aug. 8. Credit: MCT

Before there were such medical conveniences as antibiotics, there was "The Knick."

New York's Knickerbocker Hospital is the setting of the early-1900s Cinemax drama series from Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic"), who directed all the show's episodes. Premiering Friday at 10 p.m., it stars Clive Owen as skilled but arrogant chief surgeon John Thackery, who uses primitive treatments -- even on himself, for his drug addiction -- while engaging in office politics.

"It was one of those scripts that reminds you of why you do what you do, really," Owen says of the pilot by "Knick" creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. "Steven had called me and told me a little bit about it, and while I was shooting something else and sitting in my trailer, I started to read it ... and 40 minutes later, I'd read the whole thing and just knew there was no way I wasn't going to do it."

Also in the "Knick" acting ensemble: Andre Holland as the hospital trustees' pick for assistant chief surgeon over Thackery's own (Eric Johnson, "Rookie Blue"); Juliet Rylance ("Sinister") as the chairwoman of the trustees; Eve Hewson, a daughter of rock star Bono, as an inexperienced nurse; Michael Angarano as a surgical newcomer to the Knick; and, briefly, Matt Frewer as Thackery's chief-surgeon forerunner.

"The Knick" is set in the early 20th century and boasts wardrobe by veteran movie costumer Ellen Mirojnick. The show, says Owen, is "brilliantly researched and so informative in everything."

It was a graphic time, gauging by the way "The Knick" depicts operations. Owen allows the first such scene was "greeted with these sorts of 'oohs' and 'aahs'" from foreign buyers at an early screening of the premiere, "but the reality is, that was how surgeons] did things then. We had this amazing expert we just leaned on so much; he knew the historical accuracy, so it's not a blood-fest just for the sake of it."

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