'Grey's Anatomy's' Shonda Rhimes on Sandra Oh's Exit: 'This Feels Different'

The showrunner talks with THR about losing one of the medical drama's original stars.
ABC; Getty Images
Sandra Oh on "Grey's Anatomy," left, and Shonda Rhimes

"We have a story that we want to tell and we want to tell it really well, and that story isn't about her leaving the show as much as it is Cristina Yang's growth as a person and as a surgeon."

That's the send-off Grey's Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes has in mind for Sandra Oh, one of the medical drama's original stars.

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Oh, who plays prickly Dr. Cristina Yang, will exit ABC's top scripted drama following the end of its upcoming 10th season. It's a departure Rhimes knew was coming and one that is completely different than those which have occurred during the show's past nine seasons.

Here, Rhimes talks with The Hollywood Reporter about saying goodbye to one of the original six stars who started the series as interns and have grown to become owners of the hospital where the drama takes place.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What was your reaction when you heard Sandra Oh would not be returning? Were you surprised?

Shonda Rhimes: I know Sandra pretty well. It was one of those things where I so wished it wasn't true for many reasons. For me, as a human being, I love spending time with Sandra, and as a writer, writing for Sandra is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I would hope that it wouldn't be happening -- but I also know Sandra, and I know that it's time for her to have new challenges. I get to have new challenges all the time because I get to create other shows, but she doesn't get to do that, so I fully understood it.

THR: Are you expecting any other cast departures besides Sandra? Would you like to keep the rest of the original six (Patrick Dempsey, Ellen Pompeo, James Pickens Jr., Chandra Wilson, Justin Chambers) beyond season 10?

Rhimes: I have no idea at this time. Everybody has different factors that influence whether they want to stay or go, none of which is they don't want to be there. Everybody really wants to be there. It's a family at this point; everyone is very close-knit. Everybody who is there is somebody who is really happy to be there. Everybody has their different reasons. For Sandra, it was about her desire to stretch herself as actor. For everyone else, we'll see. Everyone has different factors: people have families, some love the stability, some will not love the stability. It depends. I'd have all of them until the end of time. I joked with Ellen that one day her daughter Stella is going to play Meredith Grey and my daughter will run the show. (Laughs). I want everybody for as long as they want to stay.

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THR: How soon in the season will Cristina's exit be addressed? Will it be a season-long story?

Rhimes: It won't be until the end of the season. The minute Sandra and I started talking about this, we have a story that we want to tell and we want to tell it really well, and that story isn't about her leaving the show as much as it is Cristina Yang's growth as a person and as a surgeon. Cristina Yang is not going to magically decide she wants babies, no.

THR: Do you know how Cristina's story ends? Will it be a happy or sad one?

Rhimes: I know how it ends, but I'm not going to say anything else.

THR: Is there a way that Cristina and Owen can end up together despite Sandra leaving and Kevin McKidd continuing on with the show?

Rhimes: No comment.

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THR: How does Sandra's departure impact the season's trajectory? How far along did you have it mapped out?

Rhimes: It wasn't. I spoke to Sandra a while ago -- I know her and she was the first person I needed to ask that question of. We needed to have a conversation, that was clear, between the two of us. We weren't in to [crafting] season 10 yet.

THR: How do you feel now that the Fab Five -- Meredith, Cristina, Izzie, George and Alex -- is now going down to two? What is it like having to write toward such an emotional departure?

Rhimes: For a long time the show has essentially been a love story between Meredith and Cristina more than anything else. Meredith, Cristina and Alex, for me, were always very important characters. George and Izzie exited fairly early, and while I'll always miss the characters, this feels different. We've been doing this for 10 years -- I've known these people longer than I've known some members of my family who married in. It's a different feeling and a different emotion. This is the first one of the five that's leaving where nobody wants them to leave; it's that feeling.

THR: How will Cristina's departure impact Meredith?

Rhimes: We won't deal with that until we get there.

Grey's Anatomy returns for its 10th season with a two-hour premiere on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 9 p.m. on ABC. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for more on Oh's Grey's Anatomy departure.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com