One of the tensest events in the history of Grey’s Anatomy is the infamous scene from “As We Know It,” which premiered following Super Bowl XL in 2006, the second half of a two-part episode. After surgically removing a bomb from a man’s torso, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) hands it over to defuser Dylan Young (Kyle Chandler) — and it blows up before he even makes it out of the OR.
Executive producer Shonda Rhimes, Pompeo, and episode director Peter Horton recall the details.
SHONDA RHIMES: I remember having to talk it through with [then ABC Entertainment Group president] Stephen McPherson. It was a big deal that we were doing the Super Bowl episode, so I wanted to make sure it was something they wanted to do. He seemed fine with it.
PETER HORTON: It was a very ambitious proposition. There were a number of long days because of that. When that explosion scene came up, the only way you get through it is with a tremendous amount of prep. We worked on how we wanted to do it, what walls we wanted to collapse, what lights we wanted to fall.
RHIMES: I always knew the [bomb] moment was going to involve Ellen. I don’t know if anyone else was jealous. I don’t think anyone thought like, “Oh, great, I want to have my hand stuck in a body cavity and stand there with all those horrors.”
ELLEN POMPEO: It was very late at night when we filmed it. I had been working something like 17 hours. I was exhausted, so I was excited that I didn’t have to do the stunt. They had this amazing stunt girl who was going to do it for me. They strapped her to a cable so they could pull her back when Kyle blows up.
HORTON: The stunt double was fairly young. She wasn’t quite prepared for when she got yanked, having landed on her back and getting her head snapped back. And boy, did it. You could hear it. As stunt people do, she immediately sat up and said, “I’m fine.” But clearly she had whacked her head hard, so she had to go through concussion protocol. We’d only had one take of this thing, and I needed to have a couple of things adjusted from that one take, so I had Ellen do it.
POMPEO: We had a knock-down, drag-out fight because he insisted I do the stunt. I said, “A f—ing professional stuntwoman just gave herself a concussion doing it. I’ve been working 18 hours. I can barely see straight. Now you want me to try it?” He was adamant. I was adamant. We were screaming at each other. I even said to him, “Why are you even making me do this? You’re going to use that take with her head bouncing off the floor,” because it looked amazing. It was like slow motion. Anyway, I ended up doing it, despite me not wanting to. And of course they used the first take.
HORTON: If you look in the episode, you will see the stunt girl hit her head. We left that in. It had been very effective. But we used part of Ellen’s take, which is the part she never remembers. We never would have put her in jeopardy. We pulled her much slower than we pulled the stunt double.
POMPEO: I remember thinking Kyle Chandler was amazing. I wasn’t surprised his career really took off after that because he was so natural.
RHIMES: He would pitch me ideas on how Dylan, his character, could maybe not explode, and I would show him the line in the script that said, “Dylan explodes.” That’s literally all it said. He was written to explode. But I did not expect to have Kyle Chandler. I didn’t want to explode him.
HORTON: Whenever you direct anything, some of your best moments are accidents. When we did the blast, all of these bits of debris fill the air and come slowly down like a rainstorm. It added such a fabulous texture to that moment, when Ellen is sitting up and looking at the remains of poor Kyle Chandler.
POMPEO: Nothing seemed as monumental back then because we had no idea how long this show would run or how iconic these moments would become.
HORTON: It was the highlight of Grey’s Anatomy in all of its 12 years. It was a special moment when it all came together in just the right way.