If you suspected there was a twist surrounding Mary McDonnell’s three-episode Grey’s Anatomy arc, congratulations, you were right. Turns out her character, a celebrated cardiac surgeon brought in to boost Seattle Grace’s national ranking beginning Nov. 13, is living with Asperger’s syndrome. “Shonda [Rhimes] thought it would be interesting to have an incredibly skilled surgeon who, socially, is initially misunderstood,” explains executive producer Betsy Beers of the autism-related disorder, which is characterized by eccentric behavior and a general social awkwardness. (Think Emily Deschanel’s Brennan on Bones.) Eccentric behavior and social awkwardness? Sounds like she’ll fit right in! Or will she? Only time — and my following exclusive Q&A with the fraktabulous McDonnell — will tell.
AUSIELLO: How does everyone react to your character, Dr. Virginia Dixon?
MARY McDONNELL: In her first surgery she works primarily with Bailey
and Karev, who are both sort of caught off guard by her difficulty in
communication. They don’t really know until the end of the episode that
she has Asperger’s. It’s challenging for them. On the one hand, you’re
introducing a dramatic and comedic dynamic that people have to react
to. On the other hand, you’re bringing on a very dignified real human
being with a disability that can be very problematic for everyone.
What’s it like playing her?
It’s been a wonderful experience. Grey’s has to do with social nuance
and behavior between people, and this is a character who can’t really
relate to any of that. She comes in and brings a little bit of a
different behavior to Seattle Grace.
How different are we talking? She’s still going to hook up with one of her colleagues, right?
[Laughs] So far, I have to tell you, I don’t see any romance. That just
makes me giggle. But she’s just coming in for three episodes so far, so
we’ll see. That’s the furthest thing from her mind.
Might your stay be extended beyond the three episodes?
There’s always a possibility. I think with this character, there’s a
great collaboration to kind of experiment with her and with her
situation and see the kind of effect it may have on the world of
Grey’s, because she’s very atypical.
Did Shonda create the role with you in mind?
I don’t know if it was created with me in mind, but I was told that
Shonda had me on her mind as soon as she started thinking about it.
She’s put a great deal of trust in me, and it’s part of why I wanted to
do it. Because when someone hands you something this compelling and
complicated and gives you good writing and also says, “I’m trusting you
to find the nuance here,” then you kind of go home and think, I’m lucky
to be alive.
To read McDonnell’s thoughts on the end of Battlestar Galactica, check out this
week’s Ask Ausiello. To weigh in on her Grey’s stint, scroll down
to the comments section and start writing.