‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Behind-The-Scenes Show Secrets You Never Knew
Sandra Oh was initially out for a completely different part.
It’s not an understatement to say that “Grey’s Anatomy” is beloved by millions. Since the ABC show’s beginning, the medical drama has garnered loyal viewers that have stuck by creator Shonda Rhimes’ baby even as favorite characters are killed off, end up in plane crashes and endure years of unending romantic drama. In fact, the show just premiered its 15th season and is still not showing any signs of slowing down.
Although much has happened to the characters of “Grey’s Anatomy” since the first season aired in 2005, it’s still a joy to go back and remember some of the biggest moments (and surprises) of them all. We’ve gone behind-the-scenes into the making of the show to shed some light on some secrets you might not know about it.
Shonda Rhimes Was Inspired By Discovery Channel Shows
Writers get their inspiration from a lot of different sources and, often, from real life. For “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes that inspiration came from watching the Discovery Channel.
“My sisters and I would call each other up and talk about operations we’d seen,” Rhimes said in a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “There’s something fascinating about the medical world — you see things you’d never imagine, like the fact that doctors talk about their boyfriends or their day while they’re cutting somebody open. So when ABC asked me to write another pilot, the [operating room] seemed like the natural setting.”
An Intimate Detail From A Female Doctor Also Inspired Her
Rhimes’ second piece of inspiration for “Grey’s Anatomy” came from a very intimate conversation with a doctor.
“My show is more personal [than ‘ER’]. The idea for the series began when a doctor told me it was incredibly hard to shave her legs in the hospital shower,” she said in the same interview with Oprah. “At first, that seemed like a silly detail. But then I thought about the fact that it was the only time and place this woman might have to shave her legs.”
Very Little Of The Show Is Actually Filmed in Seattle
Unfortunately for fans of the long-running drama set in Seattle, very little of the filming actually takes place in the Emerald City. Instead, much of the tear-jerking drama is filmed on a set in sunny Los Angeles. In fact, even the Seattle-based hospital is actually Veterans Affairs Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center in North Hills, California.
But Meredith’s House Actually Is In Seattle
The shining piece of good news for fans of the show who want to tour Seattle is that Meredith Grey’s house (the one where all of the interns lived at the start of the show and where she now resides with her kids and sisters) is actually there. Although there is no street by the name of Harper Lane in the Seattle neighborhood of Queen Anne Hill, the real-life house is located on Comstock Street.
Loyal “Grey’s” fans like @jeanpaiik have been known to snap pictures of it from the street.
call me extra but i found meredith grey's house pic.twitter.com/x6hElB5oEa
— jean🌻 (@jeanpaiik) July 18, 2017
McDreamy Was Almost Played By Isaiah Washington
Before Patrick Dempsey came on the scene and stole our hearts as McDreamy, Isaiah Washington was set to play the role. However, Ellen Pompeo admitted that she didn’t love that idea since it was too similar to her real-life relationship with husband Chris Ivery.
“You know they wanted Isaiah Washington to be my boyfriend,” Pompeo told The New York Post in 2013. “Shonda really wanted to put a black man in the mix. I didn’t think they were really going to put an interracial couple on the show and I didn’t want him. It was too close to home.”
Miranda Bailey Was Almost Played By Sandra Oh
It’s true: Sandra Oh originally auditioned for the part of Miranda Bailey (famously played by Chandra Wilson). However, after realizing that she really wanted to play Christina Yang, the actress walked out of further screen tests for Bailey.
“That’s the antagonist. I want to play that,” Oh told Chelsea Handler.
James Pickens Jr. Has An Odd On-Set Hobby
The man that we know as The Chief (a.k.a. Dr. Richard Webber), James Pickens, Jr., has been known to relax on set by doing lasso work … Yes, you read that correctly. He lassos in his free time while on set.
“It kind of gets me relaxed and ready to roll,” he said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Most Of The Organs Shown Are From Cows
If you’re a fan of the drama, then you’ve probably seen the copious amounts of, um, organs that are used in every episode. Well, it turns out that those are actually from cows.
“We work with Bovine organs, which is cow’s organs,” Sarah Drew said in an interview with Ireland’s RTE in 2010. “The smell is repulsive and makes us all gag. And we use an actual soldering tool to solder the organs. It smells like burning flesh.”
SPOILER ALERT! Chyler Leigh Was Really Under That Plane
One of the most crushing deaths on “Grey’s Anatomy” was that of Little Grey, aka Chyler Leigh’s character Lexie Grey. In the last episode of season eight, Lexie was crushed by a plane — and Leigh decided to stay under the wreckage for the entire two days of filming.
“I opted to stay underneath [the wreckage] for the most part over two days rather than trying to get in and out,” she told Us Weekly in 2012, though she admitted that “it was cold.”
Nurse Rose Was Almost Played By Jessica Capshaw
Remember Nurse Rose? McDreamy briefly dated her while on a break with Meredith — and it didn’t end well after the show’s favorite couple got back together. However, the role almost went to Jessica Capshaw, aka Arizona Robbins. Thankfully, the producers cast Lauren Stamile as Rose and saved something else for Capshaw.
Katherine Heigl Has A Lot In Common With Izzie
Once in a while, actors play characters that seem almost true-to-life. As was the case with Katherine Heigl playing Isobel “Izzie” Stevens.
“The writers incorporate a lot of our own personalities into the characters,” Heigl told The New York Post in 2006. “I cook, I bake, I knit. Izzie’s the super moral version of me.”
Dempsey And Pompeo Were In the Dark About Derek’s Marriage
Although Rhimes may have known about the first major obstacle to Derek and Meredith’s love, both Dempsey and Pompeo didn’t find out until much later.
“You really don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day most of the time,” Dempsey said in an extra from season one’s DVD set. “Stuff is always being rewritten and changed and storylines are being revealed to you. You really have to think on your feet. I didn’t know I was married until halfway through.”
“They didn’t tell me that was coming,” Pompeo said in the same DVD extra about not finding out until the end of season one that her on-screen boyfriend was married. “I was very surprised.”
Dempsey Thought Rhimes Hated Him
Despite being one of the biggest stars of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Dempsey initially thought he didn’t have the support of the show’s creator.
“So I got into the room and [pilot director] Peter [Horton]’s very warm, very loving towards me … we reconnect,” he said during a convention in 2008. “And then Shonda Rhimes looks at me. No expression, just looks at me. The entire meeting, just looking at me. No expression, no warmth, nothing. Everybody else is talking, it’s very quiet, and then I leave. I call my agent and I’m like, ‘It’s not going to work at all. Shonda Rhimes hates me.’ I was completely terrified; she’s scary.”
Denny’s Check To Izzie Was Huge For A Reason
The main reason why Denny’s check to Izzie was for more than $8 million? It’s what worked best on camera! That huge amount was primarily determined by what would be most legible for audiences.
“To get something that they wanted to photograph, it was like, ‘Make the amount bigger!'” propmaster Angela Whiting said to Buzzfeed in 2013.
The Blood Is Made From Red Jelly
Remember those cow organs? Well, in the same interview, Sarah Drew revealed that the blood on the show is partially made with red jelly and some other unsavory ingredients.
“There’s also a lot of silicone and blood matter — red jello [jelly] mixed with blood and chicken fat. It’s pretty gross,” Drew said to RTE in 2010.
Ellen Pompeo Didn’t Have To Audition
The show’s titular character, played by Ellen Pompeo, didn’t actually have to audition like the rest of the cast.
“I didn’t audition for Meredith Grey; I was offered the part by Shonda and the network,” Pompeo said to Backstage in 2016. “Shonda Rhimes wasn’t really ‘Shonda Rhimes’ at the time. It wasn’t a big deal — it was just another pilot … My agent said, ‘Just do the pilot and make some money — these things never go.'”
Kevin McKidd Almost Played … A Lot Of Characters
It turns out that auditioning for one part but being cast for another is pretty typical on “Grey’s Anatomy,” as perfectly demonstrated by Kevin McKidd — who auditioned quite a bit before becoming Owen Hunt.
“One of the things that happens a lot in Shondaland is that we meet actors and love them, but they’re just not perfect for that part,” producer Betsy Beers told Variety in 2016. “We met Kevin McKidd generally for a couple of different parts for him, until she created the role of Owen.”
Dr. Bailey’s Signature Phrase Had Its Start On The Set
Shonda Rhimes told Oprah in 2006 that she heard the now-famous phrase “vajayjay” used on set, so she wrote it into the show. It has since become Dr. Bailey’s signature phrase (though it’s been a while since we’ve heard it).
Pompeo And Dempsey Had Their Sweethearts’ Blessings
Those steamy make-out scenes between Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo were, thankfully, guilt-free. It turns out that each of the stars had the blessings of their real-life loves.
“His wife Jill is very, very nice and very understanding, as is my boyfriend [now husband] Chris,” Pompeo said during a “The Oprah Winfrey Show” special in 2006. “So we’re completely guilt-free.”
Miranda Bailey Was Supposed to Look Very Different
It took a while for Chandra Wilson to be cast as Dr. Miranda Bailey, because the part was originally described in Rhimes’ script as a “short, white, blonde” woman.
“I wasn’t seen for it for a while and then finally casting in New York saw me because she’d known me for years and said, ‘Why not,'” Wilson said during a Paley Center convention in 2008.
“Honestly the reason we were so reticent about talking to her after she auditioned in L.A. was because she was perfect,” Rhimes said during the same convention. “We thought if we spoke to her we would all convey, ‘Oh my god please we want you,’ as opposed to letting things happen the way they’re supposed to.”
The Actors Actually Study Those Medical Procedures
“When we have a specific procedure that we have to perform, the medical staff here is very knowledgeable and they always provide us with a CD or information from the internet about what the procedure is, why it’s done, how it’s done. We can watch a video of it if we like,” Pompeo said in an interview promoting season five.
Rhimes Knows More About These Characters Than Is Written
Leave it to the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” to have more up her sleeve than the audience will ever know. Rhimes admitted that she knows a lot of information about a character that often doesn’t make it into the script, like the fact that she told herself that Preston Burke’s mother owned a restaurant in Alabama.
“Those details were very important for me and internalized,” she said to Elle.
There’s A Good Reason Why The Show Includes Interns
Rhimes knew right away that she wanted to include interns on “Grey’s Anatomy.” As she told Oprah in 2006, it was because she felt they would provide good drama since “there’s something really horrible about not knowing what you’re doing for a living.” Anyone who’s ever been an intern can surely relate!
Pompeo’s Real-Life Pregnancy Complicated Things
When Pompeo was pregnant with her daughter Stella at the beginning of season six of “Grey’s Anatomy,” the show’s crew at first only shot her from the back, neck up or sitting down. However, writers eventually had to give her time off for maternity leave so they had Meredith donate part of her liver to her estranged father, Thatcher.
Sarah Drew Had Great Timing For Her Pregnancy
Thankfully for the show’s writers, Sarah Drew and her character, April Kepner, were actually pregnant at the same time. In a total coincidence, Drew announced that she was pregnant with her second child just after fans out about Kepner’s pregnancy. So, no props or hidden camera angles were needed!
The Strangest Cases Are Still Based In Reality
“[They’re] from articles that we find in the paper or sometimes we sit in a room and say, ‘Is this possible, could this happen?’, run to the door, ask our medical researcher, ‘Can this happen?,’ and she comes back and says, ‘Yeah, you can impale two people on a pole and they can still be talking,’ or ‘Yeah, an entire hospital staff can get syphilis,'” Rhimes told Oprah in 2006.
Isaiah Washington Was Initially Fired For Using A Slur
It made big news at the time but newer viewers of “Grey’s Anatomy” may not remember this fact. Isaiah Washington was fired from the show in 2007 after using a homophobic slur towards co-star T. R. Knight. Understandably, his brief return in 2014 stirred up quite the controversy.
T. R. Knight Left After Not Getting Enough Screen Time
Meanwhile, T. R. Knight left the show a few years after Washington’s firing because he felt that his character, George O’Malley, was greatly diminished and, instead of asking Rhimes about her plans for the character, he simply walked away.
“My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George],” he explains. ”And with respect, I’m going to leave it at that.”
Karev Was Added To The Pilot After Filming
He didn’t start out as a great guy, but Alex Karev has since become one of our favorites — and one of the few original characters left. Though it might surprise you to know that he almost didn’t happen. In fact, Justin Chambers revealed that Karev was brought on after the show’s pilot episode was filmed.
“The role of Dr. Karev … they shot the pilot before I came on,” Chambers said during a 2008 chat at the Paley Center. “The character wasn’t even created yet, I don’t think. They sent the pilot to New York where I live and I saw it and loved it and I went out to L.A. to try to win the part and auditioned and got the role. So that’s how Alex came about.”
That Romantic Post-It Note Was Real
Unlike most props, Dempsey actually did write those vows on the Post-It note in the famous scene between Derek and Meredith.
“The marriage Post-it is unusual, because it’s something they actually built on camera. Which is rare,” propmaster Angela Whiting told Buzzfeed in 2013. “They have the dialogue scripted, and they’re performing the scene together. He’s writing the dialogue down as they’re saying it. He could have been writing the Lord’s Prayer for all we know as viewers. But he wasn’t. He was writing the dialogue, and it was lovely.”