Guess the doctor really has left the building. On June 7, ABC Studios confirmed that Grey’s Anatomy star Isaiah Washington — whose character, Dr. Preston Burke, broke off his wedding to Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and skipped out in the May 17 finale — will not return to the show. The decision is the culmination of months of speculation after an ugly incident last fall, when Washington used the word ”faggot” during an on-set disagreement with costar Patrick Dempsey, reportedly in reference to costar T.R. Knight. (The blowup prompted Knight to announce he was gay on Oct. 19.) Washington reignited the controversy by repeating the slur as part of a denial in front of reporters backstage at the Golden Globes in January.
The actor later released an apologetic statement and shot a PSA for the gay-rights advocacy group GLAAD that aired during a May 24 Grey’s rerun. And a source close to Washington tells EW that he asked for the chance to tell his side of the story — and even offered to resign twice — but the studio and network said no. Says the source, ”He even volunteered to sit down with Diane Sawyer.” An ABC Studios insider says the company was working in Washington’s best interest by discouraging him from speaking out about the incident.
In the end, Washington’s actions were not enough to save his job. And it now appears unlikely that he’ll be back on Grey’s in the fall to tie up loose ends. ”I’m saddened by the outcome,” Washington tells EW from the set of his upcoming indie film, The Least of These, in which he plays a troubled priest who teaches at a Catholic high school. In this exclusive Q&A, Washington talks about his final season on Grey’s, how he found out he was fired, and whether he’ll ever return to prime-time TV.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you feeling about what happened last week? Did you think it was fair?
ISAIAH WASHINGTON: I don’t know if it’s a question of ”fair.” I’m saddened by the outcome. I did everything that the producers and the network asked me to do. I came back under great duress and stress, and thought I was doing the job I was hired to do. I thought that was going to speak for my future at Grey’s, but apparently that wasn’t the same vision that the network and studio had for me.
Why do you think the decision was made by ABC? Was Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes happy about it?
I knew she was aware of the decision. But you have to understand that she’s at the helm of one of the top-rated scripted shows on television.
Were you in touch with Shonda after you were fired?
She called me on Thursday of last week [June 7] and told me that I would not be returning to the show. Just like she personally called me and invited me to the show. It was full circle.
When was the last time you talked to Shonda?
There are rumors you may file a lawsuit against ABC.
I don’t know anything about that.
Have you heard from many of your castmates?
No. Everyone is still on vacation. I don’t expect to hear from my castmates. I did talk to Chandra Wilson and I got a text message from Kate Walsh. Everyone’s doing their own thing. People are still trying to enjoy their summer before they get back to the grind. I think a lot of people are out of the country. I’m still getting calls from people discovering that this change has occurred. [EW also spotted Washington receiving a hug and hi-five from former cast member Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Denny) at the Chateau Marmont in L.A. the day he was let go.]
Would you consider you and T.R. Knight to be on good terms?
I don’t know. You have to ask T.R. that.
Anything you’ll miss about Grey’s?
I’ll miss working with the team. I think the past season we got our rite of passage and we pretty much all learned what we can and we can’t do…like any other new show or fledgling child trying to find its legs. Season 4 is going to be stronger, better and wiser and smarter, and I had hoped to be a contributor to that. That’s not the reality.
NEXT PAGE: Washington on a rumored Grey’s spin-off for Dr. Burke, whether he’d ever come back for a cameo, and whether he’s worried about being labeled ”difficult”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are rumors that you were originally supposed to be the lead in a Grey’s spin-off. Did Shonda ever approach you?
ISAIAH WASHINGTON: Me for a spin-off? No. No. Never. I love Shonda Rhimes and her writing ability and I felt like she made me a better actor because of her talent. I was invited back by Shonda to be part of the team and I always had a team player mentality about that. I took it as a humbling opportunity to be invited and be part of the team. I’m going to miss her writing. She’s an extraordinary talent. She’s very collaborative and allowed me to create the Dr. Burke that the world has grown to love.
Would you be open to cameo on Grey’s?
Dr. Burke is probably the greatest challenge I’ve ever had. I’ve studied the medical world extensively. I enjoy surgeons and I’m glad they do what they do and I gave it everything I had. If Shonda calls me and says, ”Look we want you to do something for Grey’s Anatomy” I probably would not hesitate. But I don’t really see that happening.
How do you think this is going to affect your career?
I’m working right now [on the indie film, The Least of These]. I can only take one day at a time. I can only apologize so many times. I can only accept so much responsibility. All the players involved have taken care of what we needed to take care of in-house — and the media took it in a different direction. I hope that everyone is happy for the outcome for Isaiah, but Isaiah will go on and do what I love to do. And I have to go about the business of letting people know what’s written about me is not the truth. I’m merely an actor, a husband, and a father who’s trying to do a great job and be very grateful and understanding that I’m in a very privileged position. This isn’t a time for me to be looking back; it’s only a time for me to be looking forward. I just hope people can understand in the industry and otherwise that it’s a horrible misunderstanding what transpired with our show and it was blown out of proportion. If the naysayers out there feel that some justice has been served and that they’re happy with the outcome, so be it. It’s incumbent on me to take what I do, do it well, grow from the experience, and move on.
Do you have any concerns about being labeled as difficult as an actor?
Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to address a lot of that down the road. It’d be very cleansing for my soul to let the fans and the general public see a side of me that I feel was horribly represented in the press.
What type of offers have you received?
I’ve gotten a ton of offers in both film and TV, and now my agent Ben Press and I are just sorting through all the options. There is one network in particular that’s very interested. But I don’t want to say anything specific until it’s a done deal.
Why did you decide to make the movie The Least of These?
Actually, I decided to do the part based on the recommendation of Sandra Oh. I was telling her about it last fall and she felt it was a strong role that would be good for me. Since Sandra is a Golden Globe winner among other things I always take her advice. She’s a smart lady.
Would you work with ABC again?
[Laughs] I don’t know. That’s up to ABC.