'Five Days at Memorial' Star Cornelius Smith Jr. on How Apple TV+ Series Asks the 'Tough Question' (Exclusive)

The new eight-part miniseries Five Days at Memorial, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sheri Fink, drops Friday, Aug. 12 on Apple TV+ and will undoubtedly be a sharp study of how our modern U.S. healthcare system tackles disastrous situations. Chronicling the unbelievable mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and how it affected one hospital in New Orleans that sparked national upset after the discovery of 45 bodies, the ensemble series pins systemic failure against human nature for a tale soaked in perpetual tragedy and guilt. Not to mention, parallels to our modern COVID-19 realities, which saw numerous healthcare workers making tough decisions on the frontlines.

But as the cross-genre series looks to answer how all of this happened and who exactly was responsible for the shocking discovery and its subsequent consequences, one rookie internist — Dr. Bryant King — played by Cornelius Smith Jr, arrived with a distinct set of ethics and did his best to speak up for the sake of patients. In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com to chat about the heartwrenching show, Smith admits Five Days at Memorial with its poignant tale carrying a heavy burden has the potential to transform our understanding of communities in crisis through a very astutely humane lens, crafted by showrunners Carlton Cuse and John Ridley.

(Photo: Apple TV+)

"[The show is] really about finding the personal search engine, if you will, about what you want to see have happen in this world and what you want to fight for, and really asking yourself a tough question, a tough but basic question — Am I coming from love or fear? Is love motivating this, or is fear motivating what I want to see have happen in the world?" he told PopCulture. "I would hope that after this series, people choose love, and to know that you can always choose love. You can always choose hope, and at the same time, choosing love doesn't mean you won't have to fight for what you think is right and what you believe in."

With King being one of the few Black doctors on staff at Memorial, he wasn't sure whether he had a voice in the decisions made but he no doubt felt a lot of it was part of a bigger discussion surrounding racial discrimination, especially as Katrina, in a larger sense, was an event that unfolded through racism as many of those displaced by the storm were poor, disadvantaged and overwhelmingly Black. 

"[Bryant] came in with a certain set of ethics and morals and principles that were ingrained and really hard for him to deny and to ignore, particularly in a time of crisis —that's a good time to ignore some stuff, some might say, but regardless, it's just that for him," he said of his character, a man of truth who only wanted to help people. "I think that's what makes him stand out, and that's what makes his journey so compelling and unique because we watch him really find the balance of what that is, of how to tackle that mountain, if you will, of what to do, what not to do, when, where, and it's something that I think people will really gravitate towards because that's what we all want to see in a character, like, how do you face that inner conflict?"

The first three episodes of Five Days at Memorial will debut on Friday, Aug. 12, followed by one new episode weekly, every Friday through Sept. 16. For more on Five Days at Memorial, its cast, and all your Apple TV+ programming, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.