'Grey's Anatomy's' Jessica Capshaw on Arizona's Heartbreaking Loss and What's Next
The actress talks with THR about her character's big reveal in the ninth season premiere and previews how the events of the deadly plane crash will affect her going forward.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's ninth season premiere of Grey's Anatomy.]
Grey's Anatomy's Arizona Robbins is alive -- but in no way does she resemble the happy, peppy, perky doctor who first zoomed through Seattle Grace sporting a pair of light up wheelie sneakers.
After a summer where showrunner Shonda Rhimes was mum on Arizona's fate, Thursday's ninth season premiere kept viewers guessing if Jessica Capshaw's beloved pediatrics surgeon had become the latest victim in the plane crash that claimed the lives of Mark (Eric Dane) and Lexie (Chyler Leigh).
Unseen throughout nearly the entire hour, it wasn't until Callie returned home after watching her best friend (and the father to her daughter, Sofia) take his last breath and march in to confront Arizona, who is very much alive -- but missing her leg.
Left with a broken leg -- with exposed bone! -- in the plane crash, Arizona reveals that her left leg had to be amputated. Angry and depressed, Arizona has been shutting everyone out, including her orthopedic surgeon wife Callie -- who she revealed was the one responsible for her loss of limb.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Capshaw early Friday to discuss the big reveal, what Arizona's road to recovery will look like and how the events of the crash will impact one of TV's few openly gay couples.
The Hollywood Reporter: Huge episode for Arizona last night. Did you watch live and follow fans' concerns for Arizona via Twitter?
Jessica Capshaw: (Laughing) And yet it's so little screen time! I watched on TiVo 45 minutes after it aired and during commercial breaks I was looking. I primarily got on Twitter originally because it seemed like it would be a great way to talk to people who were watching the show. When this story line happened, it seemed like the best thing to do to service the story is not say anything. So when I couldn't talk about work, I became the most boring person on Twitter!
What was your first reaction to finding out Arizona's fate?
I was shocked. I don't know that there's to hear that idea and not be shocked. It was shocking and it was meant to be shocking and to go on shocking and to provoke and tell a story that is a rare one. It's a rare story in the sense that we think that while there are many people who have had to amputate or will have to amputate, it's not something people are aware of in their daily life. It's still something where it's rare to see someone who is an amputee and a lot of times I think you might see someone who is but might not know about the disability. I don't think I thought of it, it wasn't even in my ether that it could happen to one of the characters on the show.
Arizona lashed out at Callie for being responsible for her amputation. Will she hold Callie responsible?
It's a very complicated reckoning. If you lose something that's that important to you like a limb -- and it's the only thing that Arizona said in the preview: "Don't let them take my leg" -- she sees Callie as her guardian. It's really hard: the worst thing thing that's ever happened to this woman is going to come as the hands of the person that's supposed to be the best thing in her life. That's a very rich dilemma. The story is going to be about how to come to terms with that and how to figure that out. Of course there's going to be blame and Arizona definitely sees herself as a victim in this. This happened to her, she didn't do anything to make this happen.
How will Arizona continue to punish Callie for being the one to perform the amputation?
You're leaping to a conclusion in that last sentence but you'll find out what happens. That's going to be the story: How do you come to terms with something that devastating happening to you at seemingly the hands of the person who is supposed to love you and take care of you the most. She'll be figuring that out.
How will we see them as a couple work to overcome Arizona's loss? Arizona was there for Callie during her recovery after the car crash.
Right?! They're very accident prone, these two (laughs). That's further on down the road. When something this devastating happens to someone, it gets to be their time to figure it out for themselves. As much support as you could possibly get around you, at the end of the day it's still you alone figuring it out. You can be supportive but you have to come to terms with things so that you can then show up for other people and allow other people to show up for you. The beginning of the story is much more about the actual occurrence of this loss.
Are they strong enough to work through this?
What will Arizona's path to recovery look like? Will it get worse before it gets better?
There's a strong commitment to telling the story authentically. It's going to be as close to what the real story would be if this happened as it possibly can be. There's loss, rehabilitation, how will she become mobile again, using what devices. That's going to be a big thing. The intent is not to spend the entire season with her struggling and trying to find the way. There will be some resolution and understanding as well as some coming to reckonings if you will early on. It's not all darkness and brimstone; it's trying to get through this. There's no light without dark and there is no dark without light. You have to have both to understand what the other is in relation to itself. That's what the beginning of this season is for her.
How will the crash change her relationship with Alex (Justin Chambers) considering she's the one who yanked him from the Boise flight upon learning of his decision to go to Johns Hopkins?
Arizona's two most important relationships at Seattle Grace are Callie and Karev. Her relationship with Karev has always been very intimate; she's always been a mentor to him and told him to believe in himself more than he thinks he should even believe in himself. She felt very betrayed by the end of last season when he was going to leave after she'd done all she'd done. She yanks him of the plane and look what happened. Arizona always has been so perky and present and always says things you'd wish you'd say in a moment and has the outlook that you wish you'd had. For first time, she's actually saying things that sound a lot more honest and in the moment so there's definitely blame and resentment. She is a devastating circumstance and she blames everyone.
Could we see her take some legal action against the hospital or see her parents return?
I don't know, anything is possible.
If she can't turn to Callie and there's this blame with Alex, who will Arizona lean on for support as she tries to work her way out of this?
She's trying to work her way out of this and ultimately she will find some peace with [Callie and Alex] -- not without putting in the work and the time -- but also is not a person joining forever but a new character in her life who will certainly help. Since they don't know her and are independent of her world there, it's all fresh and new and this person now knows her just in her current circumstance.
Sounds like a therapist.
No, not a therapist.
Wrapping up, how will this ordeal fundamentally change who Arizona is?
If you look at the past season and a half, a lot of stuff has happened to her. She left for Africa but when she came back, from then on out, everything happened to her: she found out her girlfriend was pregnant, she became a mom, she got in a really big car accident and now is in a plane accident. There's been all this stuff that's happened to her and she's been very resilient and steadfast and consistent in her character. But this might just be the thing that tips the cart and makes her take a step back and actually be in the moment of how painful this is. Through the car crash, the baby and everything else, she's always been "the good man in the storm" and the apple cart is getting turned over; she's going to start wondering why all this is happening to her and how she can start making things happen in her life as opposed to happening to her.
Are you looking forward to seeing what's next for Callie and Arizona? Hit the comments with your thoughts. Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC. Check out a preview of next week's flashback episode, below.