Eric Dane’s recently announced exit from Grey’s Anatomy may have caught fans by surprise, but creator Shonda Rhimes wasn’t quite as blindsided.
“It was a thing that Eric had been thinking about for a while, but it felt like the right time to him” she tells EW. “I love Eric, and Eric and I have been working together for a very long time, so it was bittersweet. I’m happy he’s going to go on and do other things, but I’m really sad to not be able to work with him every day.”
Creatively, the timing was also right. After last season’s plane crash, which claimed the life of Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), many fates – including that of Dane’s character Mark Sloane – were left up in the air. And though Dane is slated to return for two episodes in the upcoming ninth season, Rhimes says his imminent appearance should not necessarily be considered a nod to his fate on the show, especially in light of the unique format of the season’s first episodes.
“When we start the season, we are ahead enough in time where we see the outcome of lots of things. And in the second episode of the season, there’s rewind – we go backwards – to where they’re still in the forest,” she shares. “So you see what happened and in the next episode, you see how we get there. That was a really great experiment for us, and we think it turned out really really well.” This approach, she says, allowed them to tackle the crash aftermath in a way that felt different from what fans saw after the equally traumatizing hospital shooting a few seasons ago.
The third episode will resume the timeline seen in the premiere, and looking ahead, she says she’s planning on using Dane’s absence to bring Justin Chambers and Jesse Williams to the forefront in a big way. “The loss of ‘McSteamy’ [Dane] is going to leave a giant hole in our world in terms of – for lack of a better phrase – man whore-ness. I’ve told the actors who play Alex and Jackson [Chambers and Williams] that we need some leading men here. We need to add to that pool, and they’re going to step up,” she says. “I think the breed of what Eric Dane did can never be replaced, but I do think there’s some room for some men at the hospital to spread their wings. We haven’t seen that in a while.”
That includes, she adds, a possible love for Alex (“I’m looking for Alex to find his person”) and exploring the dynamic between Jackson and newly devirginized April (Sarah Drew). “I think it’s going to be funny, sexy, and good,” she says.
Look for more Grey’s Anatomy scoop in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s annual Fall TV Preview, coming soon.