Shiri Appleby on playing TV’s go-to pregnant lesbian ex-girlfriend and tonight’s “Code Black”

Shiri Appleby has been utilizing her time off from starring in Lifetime’s UnReal to guest star as Carla Niven, MD Malaya’s pregnant ex-girlfriend, on Code BlackThings haven’t been working out for them, but there are still some feelings there and a genuine care for one another. So when Carla returns tonight and wants to steer clear of her ex, it’s for good reason.

"Code Black" - Season OnePhoto by Neil Jacobs/ABC Studios 

We talked with Shiri about tonight’s heavy episode and why she continues to be cast as the pregnant ex-girlfriend of hot doctors and EMTs. When we found out you were playing the lesbian ex-girlfriend on Code Black, we had to laugh because you played Shay’s ex-girlfriend on Chicago Fire, too. Do they just come to you for these roles or what?

Shiri Appleby: It is funny both times I’ve been pregnant. I’ve cornered the market on pregnant lesbians.


AE: You really have. Now this week, I’m trying to put it nicely—you don’t look that great. [laughs]

Thank you, I appreciate it!

AE: They did a great job of making you look unwell. And you never want to see a pregnant woman looking that way—as someone who is pregnant right now, what was it like to play that?

Definitely there’s a lot of reality, and it can bring up natural fears you have inside of yourself as an expecting mother. But at the same time, you’re sort of  hormonal and it makes it easy to access a lot of emotions. But in terms of the vanity of looking ugly, I don’t really mind that stuff, to be honest with you. It’s sort of freeing. Obviously on UnReal I don’t wear any makeup either and I keep it simple, and there’s something about that that I like.


AE: I was surprised that you don’t share any scenes with Malaya on tonight’s episode—what can you say about any future you two might have together?

I think that Malaya is definitely somebody that meant a tremendous amount to Carla. And as she’s going through this, I think she’s staying away from her because she doesn’t want to cause herself pain and feeling rejection from her and she doesn’t want to cause Malaya any more pain. I think she feels a bit of rejection from her, and also she understands—she’s a burden right now and she kind of wants to take the weight of this whole situation off herself.

 107087_D00573bPhoto: Richard Cartwright /2015 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. 

AE: This is a very different show from UnReal, which is dark, too, but also kind of comical. Do you like being able to play these kinds of varying roles?

I did a season on ER and I love the medical world. I think it’s so much fun and the set’s environment in those situations are actually really interesting because you have real doctors on set that are really making things authentic. So there’s actually a lot to learn and it’s really high paced and really fast. And for me, I don’t really mind going in and doing guest stars. I actually kind of relish it. You get to take a lot of risks and have a lot of fun without the responsibility of carrying the show. So I kind of enjoy it. I feel grateful that Michael Seitzman and CBS invited me to come play with them.

AE: Do you have any thoughts as to why you get called into play these queer roles?

[laughs] To play pregnant lesbians? To be honest with you, both times—Derek Haas who runs Chicago Fire and Michael Seitzman who runs Code Black—I’m friends with both of them and they both wrote me parts. So it happens to be a coincidence, but it’s pretty funny.

 Shiri on “Chicago Fire”Chicago Fire - Season 1Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC

AE: I also loved on UnReal this past season where you had a great moment with Breeda Wool whose character is coming out. You seem to be an ally on screen, so off-screen is that something you pride yourself in?

I mean I definitely feel grateful to be part of these stories, I think, on television that are pushing conversations forward and don’t feel sort of routine. That episode specifically with Breeda was one of my favorite of the entire season because it was new and it was fresh and you saw characters take risks and really break out of molds that they had been in, and I just think that is really an interesting story for the characters to play and the actors to play. But because I’ve been doing it for so long, anything that feels like a new story and is current and is making commentary is something I really get excited about.


AE: How many more episodes will you appear on this season of Code Black?

I have one more after this.


AE: Because the show is so dark—at least, tonight’s episode is—is there any kind of fun or lightness on set? Even if it’s between takes.

In between takes I was having a great time, especially because I’m set to give birth any second now so when I was on the gurneys, they were always like “Do you want to get up?” I’m like, “No way! I could be here all day.” It was fabulous. I was lying down and people were bringing me water and, like, chicken sandwiches. I really took advantage of it and being pregnant on set as much as I possibly could. But it’s a cast of really fun, young people who are super eager to work hard. It was just really fun. It was really fun. And for me, playing the emotion and going dark is something I really enjoy.


AE: Is there anything else you think people should know about Carla? Any subtleties we should pick up on?

SA: I think she’s just a person who is excited about the future but is obviously putting her future in somebody else’s being and I think that’s a really beautiful, generous thing to do.


Code Black airs tonight at 10/9c on CBS.