Wilmer Valderrama has come a long way since his breakout role on That ‘70s Show.
Since portraying foreign-exchange student Fez on Fox’s Ashton Kutcher starrer, the 36-year-old actor has in the past few years focused on more dramatic work, including a multiple-episode role that kicks off Thursday on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.
“I did eight years and 200 episodes of That ‘70s Show, and after that I was looking to exercise a different muscle,” he says, noting that subsequent features Party Monster, The Dry Land and Fast Food Nation taught him to work at what he calls a “different stamina.”
“I fell in love with a different tone,” he says of the experience. “I like finding humor within drama formats, and I like high-concept stuff too.”
That interest in high-concept and doing things differently led him to the El Rey Network’s From Dusk Till Dawn, where he plays a type of character he’d never gotten the chance to do before: a villain.
“Ultimately it became about challenging myself to do things that weren’t in my comfort zone that I hadn’t done before,” he says, thanking the multiple film studios and TV networks who took a chance on him playing different roles, including a lieutenant on Fox’s short-lived Minority Report reboot and a detective on NBC’s Kyle Killen drama Awake.
All that brings Valderrama to Grey’s Anatomy, where he plays MS patient Kyle Diaz — an aspiring musician who comes to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital for treatment after a tremor threatens to derail his big touring break. He turns to Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) for treatment and winds up being immediately taken by her protégé, Stephanie (Jerrika Hinton).
The actor tells THR that he was approached by Shondaland producers for the part and received a straight offer for the role. “They saw me in it, and I read it and thought it was fun — it wasn’t as heavy as the other stuff I’ve been doing,” he says. “It was a breath of fresh air. I’m excited to be part of Shonda Rhimes‘ universe. It’s a bonus to be part of a show that’s been such a dynasty.”
Part of the appeal, he says, is that like Minority Report and From Dusk Till Dawn, the role is something different for him. “I like that he’s romantic and sexy and fun and silly. It made me want to do it,” he explains.
As for what to expect from him on Grey’s, Valderrama says Kyle calls Stephanie out right away after he takes an immediate liking to the typically guarded doc.
“He sees her as a very fun, exciting and sexy challenge — and someone who is very unique, who caught his eye on a different level,” he says. “We’ll see the evolution of that and how he will make her believe in him.”
Following Grey’s, Valderrama will take on another dramatic role with one of the leads in CBS military family drama Four Stars, with what he says is another compelling character allowing him to stretch his creative wings.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.