PASADENA, Calif. — In school, actor Jamie Bamber had everybody fooled. He was a top athlete in his native England, a champion on the rugby team and a contender in cricket, tennis, golf and skiing. But he was also an academic who devoured Dante's Divine Comedy in the original Italian, lived for a time in France and Italy, and studied literature at Cambridge.
Still he harbored a deep, dark secret: he wanted to be an actor.
"Leaving Cambridge and going to drama school rather than pursuing (academics), everyone thinks that's a gutsy move," he says.
"But actually it's the opposite. That was me feeling a release not having to pick a career that really didn't interest me — which everyone was having to do. ... I'm very grateful that I didn't do that at that stage."
Americans know him best for his five years as Lee "Apollo" Adama on the heralded SyFy series Battlestar Galactica. But he's forsaken his space-age tights for scrubs in David E. Kelley's Monday Mornings, airing on TNT.
The medical drama, based on a book by CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, follows doctors at a hospital in Portland, Ore. The title refers to the weekly peer review of complications and errors in patient care. It also stars Ving Rhames, Alfred Molina, Jennifer Finnigan and Bill Irwin.
Bamber says he's no good at making decisions. Yet he's made momentous ones in his lifetime. "Deciding that acting is something that I'll admit to people is important to me and not just a bit of fun to meet girls, that was a big decision because ostensibly I was the athlete in school," he says.
"Leaving Cambridge for drama school, I managed to get a first-class degree scholarship. That was a huge deal which I never thought I could achieve, and the very moment that that happened, I chose to go to drama school."
His parents understood, he says. His mother had trained as an actress. His father was a lawyer by training who went into management consulting. "She married my dad, who was from Detroit, Mich., a bit older than her and already had four kids, and her acting got very much put on hold," he says of his mother.
"But she had trained in teaching as well, and she started a theater group in Paris when we lived there and directed plays for kids.
"So my first role — I think I must've been 5 or 6 — was as the Wicked Witch of the West, the best role of the piece, as far as I'm concerned. It didn't matter what gender I was at age 6. So she definitely ignited that in me because I'm not a natural extrovert; I'm not a natural performer. I don't sing. I don't dance. But she definitely showed me the release and the sense of living that can come from acting."
Without doubt, the most critical decision he made was to marry singer-dancer-actress Kerry Norton after a brief courtship.
"I met Kerry in May 2001, and we were married and had a child by the summer of 2003," says Bamber, 39. They now have three daughters, a 9-year-old and twins, 8. "So it was quick, and we moved in together very quickly. We met in a bad movie and thought we were being very discreet in keeping it from everybody, and the producer sidled up to us both in the bar one evening and asked if we wouldn't mind sharing a room at the next location to limit the budget, which I thought was the best idea ever."
Arriving at this point hasn't been easy, he says. "Kerry and I have a wonderful marriage, but we have got to know each other and moved a lot and had three kids in a very short time, and we had many differences of opinion about what the future held for us, and that's difficult in a marriage. But we have dealt with it and come out so much stronger that I'm glad that each of those differences of opinion happened because we had to talk about it. We had to work it through. We had to decide that we were right for each other many times and that our future was the family together."
10 p.m. Mondays on TNT