Grey's Anatomy Cast Spills New Secrets Behind the Show's Most Shocking Exits
In an exclusive excerpt of the book How to Save a Life: The Inside Story of Grey's Anatomy, author Lynette Rice spoke to cast members about their shocking exits.
Sandra Oh:As much of my life as I feel like I [gave that] character, she has saved me and helped me grow into the artist that I am. If [Shonda] didn't ask me to come back for the series finale, I would hurt her.Shonda Rhimes:I thought it was interesting that Cristina got the happiest ending of any character that I can imagine.
She wasn't kidding. Many of the show's high-profile departures were either surprisingly abrupt or shrouded in mystery and/or controversy. Case in point: After Jerrika Hinton stopped playing Dr. Stephanie Edwards in 2017, rumors persisted that her relationship with Ellen Pompeo—specifically, how Hinton liked to take personal photos on set without asking Pompeo's permission—had hastened her departure from the show. Hinton declined to address the situation for this book, but her comments to
EW's Natalie Abrams at the time seemed to suggest the situation was a bit more complicated than her just deciding to leave one day.ABCNorman Leavitt:Jerrika was always laughing, but maybe she was a little naive. She hadn't been around a lot, so maybe she didn't quite understand the power Ellen had. If she'd gone and said, "Is it okay if I take these Polaroids?" Ellen probably would've gone, "Okay." But by just doing it and not including her, you're setting yourself up for disaster. headtopics.com
Shonda Rhimes:Actors evolve differently, and when an actor like Jerrika comes to me and says she wants to try something new creatively, I like to honor that. Jerrika has shared so much of herself with Stephanie, and I am incredibly proud of the journey we've taken together. While I'm sad to see Stephanie leave Grey Sloan Memorial, I'm excited to see what's next for Jerrika.
As for other cast members, walking papers were issued in myriad ways, for myriad reasons.WatchWould Sandra Oh Ever Return to "Grey's Anatomy?"Tessa Ferrer:Shonda and Betsy, whom I adore, were brilliant, and they were nothing but kind to me. They called and said, "We love you. We don't need your character anymore. That's it." That's just how it was.
Steven W. Bailey:I never found out. I was never officially written off or anything. It just became an issue of economics, like so many things in Hollywood. They just basically determined that I was not adding any value to the show, so they didn't want to pay me.
Sarah Utterback:I remember being at a table read and finding out. Literally being there, you read and you go, "Oh, this is it. This is it." And everyone's looking at you like, "This is it. This is goodbye for Olivia."Nora Zehetner: headtopics.com
I knew my character arc was wrapping up, but I didn't know I was going to die as opposed to just going off in the world to another hospital. I didn't have any control over it. If I had, I would have saved a baby or something before I died instead of sleeping with Mark Sloan.
ABC/Mike RosenthalKim Raver had a rather abrupt exit in season eight as Dr. Teddy Altman, only to come back in season fourteen to stay indefinitely. Her first goodbye on the show was gut-wrenching because, while grieving over her dead husband, Henry (Scott Foley), she told her former lover Owen (Kevin McKidd) that she hated him.
Jeannine Renshaw:It was hard to find stories for Kim [at that time]. We wanted Owen to be with Sandra Oh, so it was like, Who is he going to pick? Cristina or Teddy? It was getting harder and harder to find a place for her in the stories. No fault of hers, but once Henry died, that was such a moving, gripping story, and it just felt like we hadn't given her a lot of other things that could then foment into a story.
Kim Raver:I called Shonda and said, "Isn't this a little too harsh?" She was like, "You've got to go for it." It had to come from such a place of pain that Teddy couldn't even express her grief and the only person she could do it with was her person. I was wrecked when Scott's character died, but it was so wonderfully complicated with Cristina and Owen. It was an incredible collage of complexity, which was a gift. headtopics.com
ABCBrooke Smith was a huge fan favorite for her portrayal of Dr. Erica Hahn, a cardiothoracic surgeon who was dubbed "the new Burke." After sleeping with Callie for the first time in season five, Erica gave what was lovingly nicknamed the "leaves speech" for comparing their sexual experience to getting glasses as a child. Erica gazes at Callie with teary eyes and declares,"You are glasses. I am so gay." Shortly after shooting that episode, the decision was made to yank Smith off the show. Smith didn't see it coming.
Brooke Smith:I know Shonda was very happy with the leaves scene. The next thing I heard was a message from the assistant director saying she wanted to see me after I wrapped. I had my Prius key in my hand the whole time. I guess I remember that I was squeezing it. I was totally blindsided. When she told me that I was going to be let go or fired or whatever, I said, "When?" And she was like, "This is your last episode." We were already shooting it. I was like, "What's going to happen to me?" I know there was quite a bit of time between when I was told and when the episode aired... It definitely felt like the order came from above. It was clear Steve didn't like me. I mean, I do remember him coming to visit the set about two weeks before I got fired. I remember asking, "Who is that guy?" Someone replied, "What do you mean who is that guy? That's the head of ABC!" Well, surely, I was thinking to myself, he's going to introduce himself, right? He never did.
Mark Wilding:Steve McPherson made his decision and then that was that. She was gone. It was one of those things where we were told he didn't like her, so get rid of her. Then we came up with a six-episode arc to ease her out of the show. But it was like, "No, you don't understand. Get rid of her now." We had to do it in the here and now.
Stephen McPherson:I don't even remember who [Brooke Smith] was. This is why I left and hate the entertainment biz. I pity people like her—delusional blame and hate directed toward others in attempts to make themselves feel better. I had nothing to do with anything regarding her, including even casting her. When you're in a position like I was, there is a daily onslaught of hate pointed at you, as people want to blame their own failures on someone.
Brooke Smith:I loved Hahn. I thought she was great. I feel bad that she didn't have a proper send-off. I remember at the time, like, "Oh my God, what a coup. How did I get here?" I'm still hurt by Shonda, because I never heard from her again after that day. I guess part of me thought maybe, just maybe, she just didn't like the character and fired me. I have no idea. But if it was some order from above or whatever, I just kind of hoped that she would fight for her characters a little more.
Shonda Rhimes:Sara Ramirez [was] an incredible comedic and dramatic actress and we wanted to be able to play up her magic. Unfortunately, we did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke's character would sustain in the long run.Randy Holmes/ABC
Bidding farewell to Eric Dane, aka McSteamy, was also particularly tough for the writers. Though he was a highly respected plastic surgeon, Mark Sloan's best attributes were how he brought levity—and a great set of abs—to the halls of Seattle Grace.
Shonda Rhimes:When Mark Sloan first appeared onGrey's Anatomyin season two, the original idea was to have him do one episode. But none of us planned on what would happen once we cast Eric Dane. His Mark Sloan wasn't just flirty and handsome—Eric's Mark Sloan was dirty and hot but also completely self-aware of what he was lacking in emotion and self control. Eric's Mark Sloan was smart enough to know he was a man-whore and sexy enough to make the audience believe in him anyway.
Dane and Chyler Leigh sizzled, despite a difference in their ages. But their love was not meant to be: Lexie died in the plane crash at the end of season eight because Leigh wanted off the show to pursue other projects, while Mark succumbed to his injuries from the same disaster the following year. In a statement at the time, Shonda Rhimes made it sound like a decision that she and Dane made together, if not Dane's alone: "It felt like the right time for him. I love Eric, and Eric and I have been working together for a long time, so it was bittersweet. I'm happy he's going to go on and do other things." But economics may have had a lot more to do with it.
Jeannine Renshaw:Everyone wanted to keep McSteamy alive. He was a wonderful character to write for, very funny. I don't think anybody wanted him to die. As I recall, it was a budget thing. We had to get rid of somebody. So I don't think anybody wanted to kill anybody. Chyler had asked to leave, so then we just felt like... yeah, it was time, story-wise. You have to lose people on that show.
Shonda Rhimes:I like to believe that Mark is with Lexie somewhere. That those two characters are spending eternity together, getting to have the relationship they were never able to have when they were alive.Vivian Zink/ABCIf only George O'Malley had someone waiting for him on the other side. By the time the decision was made to kill off T. R. Knight's character in the season five finale, it ended a long and supposedly uncomfortable period between him and Rhimes. The tension seemed to start after he followed the Isaiah Washington incident by announcing he was gay.
T. R. Knight:I think she was concerned about having my statement come out so close to the [initial] event.Shonda Rhimes:I said, "If you want to come out, that's awesome. We'll totally support you." And then he went away, thought about it, and came back and said, "I'm going to make this statement." I remember saying to Betsy Beers, "This is our proudest day here. T.R. got to come out, and I got to say to him that it wouldn't affect his character," because he was concerned that he was going to come out and George would suddenly be gay. I was like, "We aren't going to do that." The idea that a gay actor can't play a straight man is insulting.
But then Knight saw his screen time diminish in seasons four and five, so when it came time to discuss his character's future with Rhimes, Knight said he would rather leave instead.T. R. Knight:There just comes a time when it's so clear that moving on is the best decision.
Shonda Rhimes:I wasn't done telling stories for him. We used to joke that George would be the last person wheeled out of the hospital as chief of surgery. I looked in his face and he was really sure.Katherine Heigl:I didn't think it was the right decision. I felt like some of the problems could be worked through or looked at differently or tolerated, because it [was] a good job on so many levels.
Mark Wilding:I just think he wanted to go do something else, frankly. I don't know that he was happy on the show at that point. I don't really think it was a breakdown in communication so much as it was he just didn't want to do the show anymore.
T. R. Knight: Read more: E! News »
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