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After almost two decades of healing wounds, both physical and romantic, the staff of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital is still going strong.
Despite the onscreen departure of series star Ellen Pompeo, Grey’s Anatomy has already been picked up for its 20th season, meaning fans had plenty to celebrate at the show’s PaleyFest panel, held at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday.
Krista Vernoff — who will depart as showrunner after the 19th season — was joined onstage by 15 members of the current ensemble cast, including Chandra Wilson, James Pickens Jr., Kevin McKidd, Caterina Scorsone, Camilla Luddington, Kelly McCreary, Kim Raver, Jake Borelli, Chris Carmack, Anthony Hill, Alexis Floyd, Harry Shum Jr. Adelaide Kane, Midori Francis and Niko Terho.
The audience unleashed raucous applause as soon as moderator (and original castmember) T.R. Knight appeared, and they only grew louder as series stalwarts such as Wilson and Pickens took to the stage.
This season introduced a new class of residents, known as “the underdogs,” and Vernoff spoke to the challenge of creating and casting a group of characters who were capable of carrying the series forward.
“Every time I would create a character and do a casting call, I would watch, and I would think, ‘Oh, if that extraordinary actor can’t bring that character to life, then it’s the wrong character.’ And in order to reinvent the character, I would rename it,” Vernoff told the audience, referring to Shum, Kane, Francis, Terho and Floyd.
“These actors presented themselves, they would do the audition, and I went, ‘I see, the character,’ and then I renamed the character and revamped them around the star power of those five,” she continued. “So some of them I imagined, and the actor brought them to life, and some of them I reinvented around the actor. What was important to me was that they felt real and true and like underdogs.”
The PaleyFest event marked Vernoff’s first show-related appearance since news of her departure was announced in January, with executive producer Meg Marinis taking over for season 20. Before the panel began, attendees were shown an advance screening of an episode scheduled to air Thursday called “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” which was directed by Wilson.
Not only has Wilson appeared on over 400 episodes of the show, but she’s also directed 24 episodes and recently surpassed co-star Kevin McKidd as the castmember with the most directing credits on the series.
During the conversation, she shared that she had to learn not diminish her own character in episodes that she directed.
“It does take a bit of compartmentalizing in order to tell the story and figure out where Bailey fits into it, but you’re always a director first and then when it comes to blocking I had to learn how to stop putting Bailey in the back of the scenes so I could watch on the monitor,” Wilson explained. “I had to say no, Bailey is important in that scene and she has to be in the middle of the room with everyone around her.”
One topic that wasn’t discussed was the exit of Pompeo, who took a step back from playing Meredith Grey on the currently airing 19th season, after leading the ensemble for almost two decades. While she still does the show’s voiceover narration and remains an executive producer, her character departed the show on the Feb. 23 episode and won’t return until the May 26 season finale.
McCreary, who has played Meredith’s half-sister doctor Maggie Pierce for nine seasons, also recently announced her departure. Her farewell episode airs April 13.
The new class of interns, however, all shared an excitement and joy to carry forward with a show that aired its first episode when some of them were still in elementary school. Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursday nights on ABC.
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