It’s the Grey’s Anatomy reunion we’ve wanted for years.
As part of Variety’s Actors on Actors conversations, Ellen Pompeo and Katherine Heigl sat down to discuss past and present projects (Grey’s, Firefly Lane) and reminisced on their time on the ABC medical drama. Heigl left in Season 6, while Pompeo took on a limited role starting in Season 19.
Check out the major takeaways below.
Early Days of Grey’s and Near Title Change
The show was a breakout hit, with huge ratings for its first season. “Those numbers, I don’t even know if people can count that high anymore,” Pompeo pointed out. And both were grateful that social media didn’t exist back then.
According to Heigl, “I was nervous that they were not going to air it. There was a moment where it was unclear if they were going to air it. … It felt like the network or studio somebody didn’t quite like what we were doing.”
Along those lines, Pompeo recalled that someone wanted to change the name of the show to Complications. “It was just like somebody had died, and everybody on set felt we’d been working so hard, and we loved the show so much, and if they changed the name, it’ll never go, it’s a horrible title, and it was just this collective mourning on set,” she said. “But that only lasted for a day or two.”
Heigl’s Exit & Being Labeled the “Villain”
It was in 2010 that Heigl left the show, as the controversy surrounding it included complaints about the hours on set and her withdrawing her name from Emmy contention.
“I was up here in my headspace, in my gut, in my mind, in my life. I was just vibrating at way too high of a level of anxiety. For me, it’s all a bit of a blur, and it took me years to learn how to deal with that, to master it. I can’t even say that I’ve mastered it, but to even know to work on it, that anxiety and fear — and stress is stress,” Heigl said.
While she has gotten “comfortable with my role as the villain,” it wasn’t until her mid-to late-30s that she was able to “tune out all the noise,” she told Pompeo. Before that, “I was so naive. … I got on my soapbox, and I had some things to say, and I felt really passionate about this stuff,” she explained. “There was no part of me that imagined a bad reaction. I felt really justified in how I felt about it and where I was coming from.”
The success of Grey’s in those early seasons “gave me this confidence that was a false sense of confidence,” she continued. “It wasn’t rooted in anything real. It was rooted in something that couldn’t and maybe wouldn’t always last for me. So then I started getting real mouthy, because I did have a lot to say, and there were certain boundaries and things that I was not OK with being crossed. If you cannot stand up for yourself in this industry, very few people will stand up for you, so you better learn how to, and you better be OK with them not liking you for it.
Added Pompeo, “I’d like to see other people try to walk a mile in your shoes during that time, and let’s see how they would’ve handled it.”
Pompeo Stepping Back from Grey’s
For Season 19, Pompeo appeared in less than half the season (though she continued to narrate), and she told Heigl that the “anxiety [of having a job or not] is why I stayed for so long.”
She’s also “happy” to let Meredith go, admitting that she wants Meredith to “stop making bad decisions,” pointing to her character’s relationship with Nick (Scott Speedman) as one of her “frustrations.” The two seemingly worked things out in the finale, though this conversation with Heigl remains vague about those events. “Somehow Meredith can’t figure out how to make a relationship work still, after all this time, and I guess if she were to make it work, then where’s the conflict, there has to be conflict,” according to Pompeo. “It’s not that I don‘t think there shouldn’t be conflict. There should be conflict. I guess I just have different ideas of about what the conflict should be.”
As for her future on the show, “I will be making some appearances hopefully next year if I can find some time,” Pompeo said. “It’s not a complete goodbye.”
While discussing when they first met, Heigl went back to the first week prior to filming the pilot. “[Director] Peter Horton had us doing all those actor exercises, which I had never done before, but it did bond us. Didn’t we do trust falls? And then we sat in a circle and laid our heads in each other’s laps. It was all trust exercises,” she recalled. Pompeo then brought up the fact that Heigl threw her baby shower for her.
Watching (or Not) With Their Kids
While Heigl did watch Grey’s when she was on it (“I was anxious to see how it all turned out”), Pompeo admitted, “that was not good for my mind to do that, so I avoided that.”
But they have watched the show with their kids, though Heigl shared of doing so with her daughter, “there would be scenes that I would be so embarrassed to be sitting next to her watching. I’d be like, ‘Can we fast forward this moment?’” Specifically, one of them is “maybe the oral sex with the ghost,” referring to Izzie and Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) because “I don’t know how I’d explain that.”
Memories of Key Scenes
Chances are, if you think of Grey’s Anatomy and Meredith, you’re going to think of the “pick me, choose me” scene, and that’s made a comeback with those Pompeo’s daughters age. “My daughter and her friends, they sit around and they’re like, ‘Oh, she’s a ‘pick me girl,’” she said. Off that, she recalled, “I fought that speech so hard. That’s another really interesting thing about life is some things that I was so against, and I was like, ‘Why would I beg a man — I can’t beg a man on TV! This is so embarrassing,’ And then it turns out to be one of the most successful scenes or famous scenes ever.”
One of Izzie’s most memorable scenes is cutting Denny’s LVAD wire. “That whole storyline was so intriguing to me. It was fun to do. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a dream to work with. I wanted so badly to nail that scene. I wanted it to feel the way it was written on the page. I wanted it to be as heart-wrenching and all of the things. I don’t do that whole ‘go into the dark place, listen to the music that’s going to tear my soul apart, think about all the things in my life,’” Heigl said. “And the worst was that I really went there. I was 7 when my brother died, but we were in the hospital for a week. I don’t enjoy thinking about that much or that week in the hospital or him in that bed, but I chose to do that for that scene. I don’t think I would put myself in that headspace again to achieve that. I think I would try harder to just act it.”
Praise for Costar Justin Chambers
While discussing the shows they’re watching, Pompeo brought up The Offer, and they raved about Justin Chambers, who played Marlon Brando. “He literally looks just like him, and we’ve always said that about him,” Pompeo said, with Heigl adding, “he really nailed it, and it was so fun to see him in that role.”
This story originally appeared on TV Insider