The stars of Grey’s Anatomy are dishing on first-day jitters in the operating room, prepping for working with medical equipment and being pregnant on set. In a unique crossover event, actors Chandra Wilson (Dr. Miranda Bailey), Kim Raver (Dr. Teddy Altman) and Greg Germann (Dr. Tom Koracick) got together, virtually, with four real doctors from Netflix’s Lenox Hill to discuss being and portraying medical professionals.
The session aimed to highlight and celebrate health care workers, and the actors also talked to the doctors -- Dr. David Langer, Dr. John Boockvar, Dr. Amanda Little-Richardson and Dr. Mirtha Macri -- about representation in the workplace.
Lenox Hill follows the four doctors as they face highs and lows in their personal and professional lives while working at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital. One of the challenges viewers have witnessed on the series (which was filmed before the coronavirus pandemic, though they debuted a bonus episode about dealing with the virus in June) is Dr. Little-Richardson completing her OB-GYN residency while dealing with her own pregnancy -- something Raver can relate to, having worked on Grey’s while pregnant.
“You were so vulnerable in showing working with your pregnancies, and I could really relate to that, having gone through two pregnancies working -- and also a fake pregnancy for Teddy!” Raver said after Dr. Little-Richardson discussed how pregnancy didn’t go as planned. “I was fake pregnant on [Grey’s], but it was so interesting to see how you’re this incredibly compassionate, amazing doctor and the flip side of then having to be the patient was really brave and great to see.”
“For me, just as a person, not as the character, I think that was one of the biggest lessons -- I had a plan, I knew how my pregnancy was going to go, I had my lists … and it went completely different!” Raver continued. “For me, that was also the greatest gift with parenting.”
Raver, 51, also recalled her first day on set, during which she felt a little “claustrophobic” while getting loaded into surgical gear then thrown into the deep end of the show’s fictional operating room for her very first scene.
“I felt like it was a ballet of my hands, which is a totally different language to learn, [plus] a different language with the medical [terms], and then infusing it with the story we’re telling emotionally,” she said. “So, there’s three things going on simultaneously.”
While there’s a lot to think about, Wilson noted how important it remains to the cast to know their stuff on set. She noted that they approach scenes involving surgery or equipment with “tremendous respect,” assisted by Dr. Linda Klein, a medical professional who has also directed the series.
“We know what the instruments are, we know what the machines are and what they’re supposed to do so we can react accordingly,” Wilson said. “It’s important for us for no one to be able to say, ‘That would not the be the way that would go at all.’ We want to make sure we’ve honored whatever field it is that we are supposed to be displaying.”
“For me, one of the things I had to learn was how to stand next to an operating table for six hours because our operating scenes usually take about five or six hours to shoot, so it was about, ‘Okay, where’s the cushions and what do I do with my neck!’” Wilson continued.
While they pride themselves in working hard to master medical terminology and be adequately educated on procedures and equipment, Germann added that, ultimately, he hopes such knowledge fades into the subconscious while he loses himself in a scene or storyline.
“As actors, we’re always hoping for that grace where we’re in the middle of doing a scene and we forget that there’s a camera there and we’re just focused on each other and obstacles we’re facing and what we’re trying to do,” he explained. “That’s the eternal challenge -- to drop into that place. The skill set is not comparative [to real-life doctors'], but the objective is similar.”
“We’re trying to get to a place where our muscle memory and training takes over and whatever self-consciousness we might have or the day we’ve have been having [slips away] when the surgery starts. [So that in] that moment when they say ‘action,’ we’re able to let go of all that and just be in that moment.”
Wilson, Raver and Germann all praised the Lenox Hill doctors for their work, with Wilson thanking them for their service to the “health and well-being of humanity.”
For Dr. Little-Richardson, exposing both her work and personal life to a television audience was about helping show a different perspective, highlighting representation in the medical community and raising awareness of the "disparity that continues in maternal health for Black women across socioeconomic differences."
"I wanted to represent three things really clearly: I wanted to represent Black people; I wanted to show us in different aspects of how maybe a lot of the general community may view us," she said. "I wanted to show Black families, my personal families, our relationship and how cohesive we are and loving and supportive."
"I wanted to show women in medicine and how we are strong and at the forefront,” she also said. “We're 50% of medical classes now."
“It’s similar in that medicine is stressful,” she said, calling the comparisons a compliment.
Dr. Langer, who once took his daughter to visit the Grey’s set, added that, naturally, real-life isn't as soapy as the series. “They’re actually pretty accurate or more accurate in the beginning, but then the medical stories kind of veer into craziness or lunacy because it's the people and the relationships that underlie the show’s success," he said.