So…you know that dark, tragic tale I told you was coming down the pike on Private Practice? The top secret plot you’ve been begging me to give you more info on? Well, be careful what you wish for: At the end of the ABC drama’s Oct. 28 episode, Charlotte King—the tightly wound doctor played by KaDee Strickland—will be attacked and raped by a deranged patient (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Nicholas Brendon). The incident kicks off a major season-long story line that will touch every character on the show. “A lot of violence against women on television is from the point of view of law enforcement,” points out executive producer Shonda Rhimes, “as opposed to standing in the shoes of the actual victim and seeing how it is for them and the people around them.” To that end, the Nov. 4 episode will be unlike any previous hour of Private in that it will revolve solely around the immediate aftermath of the attack. “It takes place all in one night, and it’s [set] almost entirely in the hospital,” reveals Rhimes, who penned the episode. “And there’s almost no music. It’s a fairly silent episode. It’s a compelling, painful episode. The work KaDee did in it was amazing.” Speaking of Strickland, what does she think about all of this? In the following interview, the actress reveals her surprising reaction upon first learning of the story line, explains why she didn’t use a stunt double while shooting the assault, and assesses the long-term fallout for Charlotte and Cooper.
What went through your mind when Shonda presented the story to you?
KADEE STRICKLAND: I was thrilled. I was so on board. It’s funny, we were at a table read and I gave Shonda my usual hug and “What’s up?” and she said, “I’m going to do something with your character this season, and it’s huge and you’ll know soon.” And I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” Once she saw the look on my face, she said, “We are going to have Charlotte be raped this season. Are you okay with that?” And my response was “Hell, yes. Let’s do it. Let’s go. I’m in.”
Why were you so enthusiastic about it?
STRICKLAND: There’s something wonderful about playing a character for four years and then having her completely turned on her head. Creatively, it’s a real gift for an actor. I also knew that this would reach so many people who have either experienced it or have been close to people who have experienced it. The only thing I said was that we have to get it right. And Shonda was totally on board with that.
Talk to me about the Nov. 4 episode.
STRICKLAND: It was amazing. It’s a page-turner. It doesn’t feel like our show—and I don’t say that with any negativity toward our show. It almost feels like a movie in some ways, because it takes place in one night.
Rape stories are a dime a dozen on TV these days. How will this one be different?
STRICKLAND: I think what you’ll find different about this is that Shonda poured her heart and soul into getting it as accurate as possible. And it is. I mean, it’s legitimately very accurate. We worked very closely with RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network] on this. Also, we in no way are going to let this thing go away in four episodes. Charlotte will live with this for as long as she’s a character on Private Practice.
Over the past three seasons, Charlotte has been slowly tearing down the walls she built up around her. She’s less closed off than she was in the beginning. Is she going to revert to old Charlotte now?
STRICKLAND: It’s a shifting thing. And that’s the other thing that’s so great about this; no one responds to rape in the typical fashion. And that’s the one thing that I learned in doing my homework. I spoke to survivors on [nearly] a daily basis. Also, this is a very violent rape. It’s a very brutal attack. So yes, you will see those walls go up. She’s in denial at first. She is not accepting of what has happened, and she is trying very hard to act as if it didn’t.
Did you use a stunt double while shooting the assault?
STRICKLAND: No way. I wasn’t letting anybody else step into those shoes. I would’ve been heartbroken if anyone suggested it. We had a great stunt coordinator, and we gave [Nicholas Brendon] full permission to go for it. I didn’t want to act around it and play around with it. I wanted to make it as realistic as possible.
Did you get injured?
STRICKLAND: Yeah, a little bit. It was really safe, but I definitely wasn’t unscathed. And I don’t think [Nicholas] was either. Let’s just say that the day after, the makeup artists had a few legitimate bruises to cover up.
I’m assuming this will derail Charlotte and Cooper’s wedding plans.
STRICKLAND: Well, it is Shonda-land. But I think derailing things with something like this is a lot more interesting than [one of us having] an affair or [getting] cold feet. This is very real. Do I think the wedding is off? I don’t. I think that you’re going to see Charlotte and Cooper as you’ve never seen them before. And you will see sides of Cooper you’ve never seen before. I love working with Paul [Adelstein]. Charlotte leans into Cooper in a way that I don’t think she ever has in the history of the show.
I understand Addison is the only person Charlotte confides in about the actual rape. I’m guessing that will bring those two characters closer together.
STRICKLAND: I love what it does to my dynamic with Addison. She is our hero, and it’s really fascinating what they’ve given us here. It’s a different dynamic than we have gotten to play together.
For more on this sure-to-be-groundbreaking story, check out Ask Ausiello tomorrow. And to learn more about RAINN, call 800.656.HOPE.