Why I left ER, by Sherry Stringfield

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Attached is a copy of the interview in Entertainment Weekly where Sherry Stringfield reveals why she left ER. This article is about 4 years old.


It's one week after the death of Princess Diana, and that's the first subject that comes up when Sherry Stringfield arrives for lunch at an outdoor cafe in New York's Greenwich Village. "I got so many messages on my machine the day after she died," says Stringfield, 30, who stunned Hollywood when she quit her plum (and twice Emmy-nominated) role as Dr. Susan Lewis on ER last year to return to New York and spend more time with her boyfriend. "All these people called and it was like they finally got it. They understood why I left. It wasn't just about a guy. My priest back in Texas called and said, 'You've been on my mind all day.' You know, people can get certain good things out of fame, but until it killed a princess nobody ever talked about how bad it can be."

Stringfield is no princess--she dives into her pasta with gusto, wisecracking, dishing, rolling her eyes--but she's led a fairy-tale life as an actress. She's landed (and then walked away from) not one, not two, but three high-profile--though ultimately unfulfilling--acting gigs, starting with a leading role on the CBS soap Guiding Light, which she nabbed just one week after graduating from college in 1989. She ditched the soap in 1992 to travel in Europe. When she returned to the States in 1993, she nailed her first prime-time TV audition: a part on NYPD Blue. She left Blue after one season because she felt her character--David Caruso's bitter ex-wife--had run its course. ("I loved David, though," she says. "He was so protective of me!") But it was when she left ER in November 1996--after less than two years--that people officially decided Stringfield was...well, nuts. Leave the hottest show on TV for some investment banker in New York? You couldn't help but think that perhaps Stringfield belonged in a far more padded part of the hospital than the emergency room. It was a little scary," says Stringfield of her decision to leave ER and move back to New York, where she's now teaching acting at her alma mater, Purchase College, SUNY, and doing commercial voice-overs. "People I knew really well were taking my arm and looking deep in my eyes with the whole tilted-head thing, you know, saying 'We're worried about you.' Puh-leeze. It's like when you walk away from a really wonderful job like that, you start messing with everyone's priorities. It's like you're dissing them."

And, as Stringfield discovered, they have no qualms about dissing back. A few months ago, when it got out that she and her boyfriend, Odell Lambroza, had broken up, a friend called from L.A. "She tells me, 'You and Andrew Cunanan were the two top stories on the news tonight.'" Stringfield throws her head back and laughs. "That's pretty much how Los Angeles views me--I'm on a par with serial killers."

David Milch, the executive producer of NYPD Blue who hired Stringfield--and then graciously released her in 1994 when she asked to leave--agrees that Stringfield's departure hit Hollywood where it lives. "Everyone has to deal in to this work-obsessed environment," he says. "If you don't, people don't like it. Sherry's situation reminds me of the tulip craze in Holland in the 17th century. There was this collective decision that tulips were the greatest thing in the world. Sherry is like someone who says, 'They're just tulips,' and it p---es people off."

Stringfield definitely ticked off one of her bosses at ER--namely, executive producer John Wells, who declined to comment for this article. But Steven Spielberg, who helped develop the show, was "amazingly understanding," even though Stringfield, an integral part of ER's ensemble cast, bailed just as Dr. Lewis got embroiled in a budding romance with Anthony Edwards' Dr. Green. "I wouldn't describe the situation as pleasant," she says. "[The producers] were in shock. They tried to talk me out of it. It took a long time to get out of my contract."

Exactly why she wanted to get out has been widely misunderstood, according to Stringfield. "At first the producers thought I was negotiating for more money or pulling like David [Caruso] s---. It took them a while to realize it was about having a full-bodied life and getting out before I felt I'd sacrificed so much to get somewhere that I couldn't afford to leave. I'm from the theater. I never wanted to be a star."

Which is not to say that Stringfield didn't cherish the part of Susan Lewis. "I played the best role I've ever seen on TV or film in the last five years. It was hugely gratifying." Less agreeable, however, was ER's punishing schedule. Stringfield says she routinely worked 18-hour days, suffered from sleep deprivation, and contracted both viral meningitis and pneumonia. "You get a cold, they won't let you off for a cold, then you get the flu, then you're running a fever, you're still coming in, you're taking a nap on the gurneys in between scenes, you push, push, push, and finally your body says no f---ing way."

Stringfield says that on occasion, ER cast members worked even when they were seriously ill and dehydrated. "There were a couple of episodes where people did scenes with IVs in their arms," Stringfield says, though she won't name names. "They'd have the bag inside their lab coat. One time I opened someone's trailer and the person was sitting there with an IV. It was scary." A source close to ER disputed some of Stringfield's claims, saying no one on the show ever works 18 hours a day and added that Stringfield had the lightest workload of any cast member except Gloria Reuben. "Sherry rarely put in a 40-hour work week," says the source, who did confirm, however, that at least one actor, Noah Wyle, was hooked up to an IV once on the set because he had a "really bad cold."

Even when Stringfield wasn't sick, she was stressed. "I had my electricity turned off three times because I never had time to pay my bills," she says, laughing. "It was a joke. I'm making a ton of money, and I'm walking around my apartment with flashlights." Stringfield wasn't given a goodbye party after she finished her final ER scenes last November, but says she misses the cast and is still close to Anthony Edwards and George Clooney. Edwards, however, declined to comment about Stringfield, and Clooney failed to return phone calls. She doesn't want to talk about the demise of her two-year relationship with Lambroza but says slyly that "contrary to reports that I was devastated and had given up my career for him, we're still friends and I'm incredibly happy to be doing my own thing in New York."

And considering she just snagged a leading role in her first feature film--a Miramax drama called 54, costarring Mike Myers and Salma Hayek--it appears that Stringfield continues to do her own thing quite successfully, thank you. "I had to have a 100 percent belief in myself to leave ER," she says. "I had to be my own champion. But I still don't know why it all has to be so strange to people." She bangs her glass of diet Coke on the table in mock frustration. "Why does anybody want to be famous?" she wonders. "You know what's important to me? Having lunch! Pasta! Seeing my friends! Is that so crazy?"

-- T Lem (t_lem@yahoo.com), November 28, 2000


Ooooooh, wow - this is really......wow. I never new of the reason why she left.

-- Tara (tiggii30@hotmail.com), November 28, 2000.

I wonder how Sherry feels now, years later. And I wonder why she and Julianna weren't friends, as Julianna said in an interview.

Sherry's priorities sound great - no wonder some of the industry people weren't supportive.

-- (sjmjuly4@aol.com), November 28, 2000.

When did Julianna say that they weren't friends? I thought I read somewhere that she liked everyone she has worked with on ER. Is this not the case?

-- Cammie (rmaelhorn@home.com), November 28, 2000.

Well Sherry is not alone. Kellie left ER for her husband. So Sherry's not the only one who did something like that. And for Julianna and Sherry not being friends, well that's news to me too.

-- Andie (non@no.com), November 28, 2000.

From an article by Roger Friedman:


-- JLS (ewwhatevr@aol.com), November 28, 2000.

Oops. That didn't work. Anyway. Here we go again. From Roger Friedman's article for Fox411:

***Interestingly, Margulies told me she never heard from actress Sherry Stringfield, who played Dr. Susan Lewis before she abruptly left the show two years ago. "She never said goodbye, and when I called her she never returned the calls. She was always fine on the set, but we were never really friends. I don't think she was a people person. I heard she got married and is happy living on Long Island."***

-- JLS (ewwhatevr@aol.com), November 28, 2000.

Wow. I'm shocked. Here I read a while ago (and I wish I could remember where I read this) that Julianna said that she cosidered everyone who was on ER like her second family. Now I hear something else where she and Sherry aren't friends. So which one is true?

-- Cammie (rmaelhorn@home.com), November 28, 2000.

Just because they weren't friends doesn't mean they didn't get along. There are plenty of people I can have a good time with but still not consider my "friend".

-- JLS (ewwhatevr@aol.com), November 29, 2000.

Funny, a year after Sherry left ER, both Sherry and Julianna were sitting side by side each other at the 1997 Emmy awards. Both ladies were up against each other for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. They split the vote, which allowed Gillian Anderson of The X- Files to come up in the middle and win. I wonder WHY Julianna didn't mention that. I'm sure they must of exchanged some words. I don't think they would have ignored each other during a three hour telecast. I think this cold breeze must be coming more from Julianna than Sherry.

-- T Lem (t_lem@yahoo.com), November 29, 2000.

It sounds to mean like Sherry has an ego problem. I mean here they both are on the number 1 show. Julianna (who was never supposed to be a main cast member) wins the first year for Supporting actress. Sherry didn't win. So Sherry may have resented Julianna for that. As for the Emmkys a year after she left, I think they were putting on an act by acting friendly, if they did at all. No I hear Julianna saying that they aren't friends when I too have heard that they were. So it sounds like Sherry hated the fact that Julianna was more popular than her. This is just how I see. No offense to anyone.

-- Andie (non@no.com), November 29, 2000.

First, I have a question? Did Stringfield end up in the film 54? I do not remember her in that, though I didn't pay all that much attention to it, but if she had a lead role I think I would have remembered. By the way, I saw her in a bit role in Autumn in New York as a friend of Richard Gere's. It didn't do much justice to her acting, I was hoping for some more.

I started watching ER right after she left (souly because I had seen GC in One Fine Day and then got addicted to ER) and heard all about it; I remember how surprised people were, but I don't blame her. It's another job; people try out jobs all of the time, and if it's not making them happy, they should have the right to leave. Unfortunately, it affected many fans who liked her. And I always wondered about what they did when actors got sick...Noah Wyle, my poor baby! :) I remember last season, the epi where Carter returns to work after the stabbing, JM sounded sick. Anyways, who knows who are really friends and who are not...she starred in a TV movie produced or directed (?) by AE some years after she was finally allowed to do work (she agreed to something or the other of not doing any acting on TV for some amount of time), so they must be on good terms.

-- Elaine (mrsclooney78@hotmail.com), November 29, 2000.

Julianna also said in earlier interviews that she felt sidelined by the some of the cast during her first season and so when new members joined after her she always made attempts to make them feel welcome. Julianna always has said that George was her best friend there from day one, so I think she may have been alluding to Sherry....I agree with the opinion that since the character of Carole wasn't supposed to last past the pilot, and then she ended up getting the Emmy, Sherry may have felt rather threatened. A shame, because she did an excellent job too. And I agree that regardless of awards competition, not everyone is going to be good friends at work....that's human nature.

-- (sjmjuly4@aol.com), November 29, 2000.

It sounds to me that Sherry may have been jealous of Julianna because of Julianna being more popular. Is that sad or what?

-- Cammie (rmaelhorn@home.com), November 29, 2000.

Sherry Stringfield did end up in 54 - like Autumn in New York it was a small part - blink and you'll miss her, but she's there. For some reason I can't remember her part...I could describe Sela Ward's character, or Neve Campbell's...oh, wait, I think she plays Mike Myers' (well, his character's) accountant! Hope that helps...

-- vicki (6vm1@qlink.queensu.ca), November 30, 2000.

- JLS said: Just because they weren't friends doesn't mean they didn't get along.

Exactly what I think. Why do people have issues understanding that? This is not about jealousy at all, it's just about people working together who get along well but are not the closest friends. Are you friends with everybody you work with, Andie? Also, I think we should assume that JM, SS and anyone else is mature enough not to be jealous of one another in such a stupid way.

Plus, it's not really up to us to judge on their personal decisions. Even ACTORS have a right for private life.

-- Anne (annebercher@gmx.de), November 30, 2000.

I think it's very cool that Julianna and George were good friends. That's probably why they had such great chemistry as Carol and Doug. As for Sherry Stringfield, I say YOU GO GIRL. Good for her for having her priorities straight and doing what SHE wants. I felt the same way when Julianna left ER ... she had her priorities straight, too, and both Julianna and Sherry turned down a heck of a lot of money so they could live their lives and HAVE private lives. It doesn't sound like there was tension between them, just that they never got to be good friends.

-- Cindy (tailchasers51@hotmail.com), November 30, 2000.


This from TV Guide On-Line

THE DOCTOR'S (BACK) IN: Original ER cast member Sherry Stringfield who quit the show after three seasons to get a life has clinched a deal to return for the drama's next three seasons, Variety reports. "I just felt like really working again, and it was the obvious choice for me," she says. "It's a great show and I certainly didn't leave on bad terms. The only reason I left was I just needed a life, and I have absolutely no regrets because I got one. I got married, I had a baby girl in March. And it will be cool to work together with everyone again." Stringfield's reunion with leading man Anthony Edwards, however, will be short-lived: The actor recently announced that next season will be his last. Since leaving ER, Stringfield has done voiceover work, taught acting at her alma mater, SUNY Purchase, and appeared in several TV movies.

-- T LEM (t_lem@yahoo.com), June 05, 2001.

I am so glad to hear that Sherry Stringfield is returning and I am so happy to hear she got married and had children. I have followed her career since Guilding Light on CBS....... I will definately return to watching ER full time now!

-- April (Reagansmum@aol.com), June 09, 2001.

hi, i am a 13 year old girl from austria.so i can,t write english very well,i am sorry for the many mistakes.

i was very sad when sherry stringfield had gone away from er.the first episod without her,was not the er that i had seen before.it was so ..... . i can,t find a ward for this.but now i am very very very happy that she is comming back.

-- nicole simon (nici.simon@gmx.net), July 06, 2001.

i have actually never seen an episode of "ER" when sherry stringfield was in it, besides reruns i mean. i guess those sort of count. so i'm curious to see what kind of a person she is, and what kind of a person she has become. not to mention all the speculation on what's going to happen with her and mark now that he has elizabeth and ella. nicole simon - when does ER start in austria? does the season begin the same time our season in america does (i guess october)? doesn't the u.k. get the episodes later than america - like right now they are only just seeing new episodes from february 2001? i must admit i feel very ethnocentric at times like this - very glad i live in the u.s.a.

-- e. kerry (efields01@yahoo.com), July 07, 2001.

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