Chandra Wilson on 'Grey's Anatomy' Season 19 Changes: 'We've Been Very Well-Practiced' (Exclusive)

OG star James Pickens Jr. also talks to ET about the upcoming season and why he views it as a year of 'rejuvenation.'

Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr. have seen it all on Grey's Anatomy. As the original cast members of ABC's long-running medical drama return for their 19th season, both acknowledged that this one will feel a bit different as the show welcomes a new class of interns and Ellen Pompeo takes on a more limited capacity, appearing in only eight episodes, though she'll continue to narrate. 

"We've been very well-practiced over the seasons as to what happens when our characters move in and out of our show," Wilson, who returns as Miranda Bailey, told ET during the virtual Grey's Anatomy season 19 junket. "It's always about the life of this hospital and all of the personalities that come through -- from our series regular characters to our guest characters, the medical event or events of the episode. If anything evolves it's that, but the housing of it is the same."

Wilson maintained that though Pompeo's physical presence may not be felt as much this year, Grey's will always be told through the lens of Meredith Grey. 

"We still will always have the overall theme of Meredith Grey -- her eyes, that experience, sort of that intern experience. Always. It's always there and always peppered through," she assures, "but in the midst of that is the life of the show that continues through each of the characters. And each time we bring on new personalities, our audience, they gravitate to that personality. They find somebody that they really [connect with]."

"We've had a lot of practice at doing it and the hospital still maintains itself. So it's a very, very similar thing with this and the natural evolution of characters." Wilson adds, referring to the various cast departures that's to be expected for a show nearing 20 seasons. "That they change and they grow, and they figure out new journeys. Sometimes that journey's in the hospital and sometimes it's slightly outside of it. But it's very, very fluid."

Because of the circumstances set up last season, season 19 finds Grey Sloan back to underdog status as Meredith, now firmly established as (interim) chief of the hospital, works to rebuild the residency program and bring the hospital back to its glory days amid a doctor exodus. With the residency program up and running again, and five bright-eyed interns ready for action, it's Meredith delivering them the big speech in the OR room, a callback to the pilot when Webber did it.

"I think when we pass the baton, it's never about passing the baton and then you go away. If you pass the baton, then you move on to the next thing that's in store for this human being. And that's what we do in life. We teach our lessons, but then we're still learning our own life lessons at the same time," Wilson says. "That's also something that I love that we give that to the audience to say, 'You can reinvent yourself multiple times over your life.' And in real-time, our audiences have gotten to see our characters reinvent themselves and move forward."

As for the season overall, Wilson and Pickens Jr. both viewed it as a restart.

"Every season has its own personality, and its own character, and its own drive to it," Pickens Jr. tells ET. "And I think we are unofficially, officially, on the other side of whatever that nightmare called the pandemic was. Obviously, Grey's has always been on the cutting edge in terms of trying to reflect what's happening culturally and in society. Obviously, there's a lot going on culturally, especially with elections, but also with these issues revolving around Roe v. Wade. And Grey's never shies away from those issues."

"The vibe I get is one of rejuvenation, engagement, clarification," he continues. "I think those things will be really paramount in moving our stories forward, and how these issues affect each and every one of these characters moving forward. How they come together as comrades, how their voices will become one at different junctures of the season."

Wilson agreed, echoing her co-star's sentiments: "Regeneration and reinvention isn't something that means that you have to stop a thing. If anything, it just opens the door to something even better. I think that's what we're all learning across the world. You don't necessarily do things the way you've always done them, and that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with making a change, and moving into something that could potentially be better."

Grey's Anatomy premieres Thursday, Oct. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.