Today’s deadline day for Emmy voters to turn in their ballots, and based on her gut-wrenching performance in last month’s Grey’s Anatomy finale, I’m guessing Chandra Wilson’s name will be checked off a lot in the supporting actress race. As Bailey helplessly looked on as fellow doc Percy’s life slipped away, her breakdown was as shocking as it was haunting. In this exclusive interview, the four-time Emmy nominee reflects on what it was like shooting the nerve-wracking episode, speculates on the fallout for her character, and opens up about the one Grey’s storyline she hopes never happens.
How did you prepare for the freak-out scene?
CHANDRA WILSON: My goodness. It was actually one of those things where the situation was so incredibly sad. Pounding on things and lashing out — all of that stuff is very much against my personality. So just being in that position — the richness of where the characters were — was all I needed.
Did it leave you emotionally drained?
WILSON: Actually, I was really energized after that. I just felt like everything was in the right place. We were doing exactly what we needed to be doing at that point in time. Everything led up to that — and then there was still work to do afterwards. When you have that feeling that you’re in the right place it gives you energy as an actor. It would’ve been more draining if I had been pulling from something personal, pulling from my childhood. But because it was what was happening in the show it made it okay.
How do you think this experience will change Bailey?
WILSON: I was asking that same question: “Where does she go?” I think George’s death last year stunned her in a way that she had to decide to keep functioning and try not to get emotional or emotionally involved with her co-workers. But for me, the image that never went away was that the barrel of the gun was in her face. Normally if there’s blood and someone is shot you go into doctor-mode. But she could never get the image of that gun out of her head long enough to do her Dr. Bailey thing. It’ll be interesting to see if that kind of fear still lives with her or comes back to revisit.
Shonda Rhimes originally planned to have Bailey get shot, but she couldn’t go through with it.
WILSON: I heard about that after the fact and I was like, “Wow.” [Laughs] I don’t know what that would’ve been like to get hurt — for Bailey or for me. Because just looking at the barrel of the gun was too much for me.
Your onscreen love interest, Jason George, is starring in Rhimes’ new medical drama Off the Map, which probably means no happy ending for Bailey and Ben. Are you disappointed?
WILSON: I honestly don’t know what that means. I don’t know what’s going to happen to that relationship. There could be some happy ending that we don’t know anything about. [Map] is a midseason show, so there will be [some time] for him to [work on Grey’s].
Was it fun to play a flirtatious, sexual Bailey?
WILSON: It was certainly out of Bailey’s comfort zone. And for me as an actor it was scary to step outside of what you’re used to and try something new.
What are you doing over your hiatus?
WILSON: I’m actually having a hiatus. [Laughs] I forget to do that sometimes. So this year I said I wasn’t going to worry about whether they ask me back next season. I’m just going to sit down and take a break. I’m going to be a mom and go to a PTA meeting — all the things that I, unfortunately, miss out on during a year.
Did you receive your official pickup letter from ABC?
WILSON: I did. I finally received it last week. I was like, “That took long enough!” [Laughs]
Did you really have anxiety about that?
WILSON: It’s not even anxiety. It’s just the reality of what we do. I never get so comfortable that I ever forget that. What we do as actors is really about decisions that get made in rooms with desks. And people change their minds all the time about things. Or get brilliant ideas like, “Hey, I think Bailey should die this year! It’ll be a 10-part arc and everybody will cry!” [Laughs] You have no control over that as an actor. So you make the most of it and you learn as much as you can.
We hear so much about actors wanting to leave Grey’s. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who actually wants to stay.
WILSON: I don’t understand it at all. [Laughs] It’s a little cliché to say this, but a job like this is difficult to come by. And there’s always something else to learn.