Brace yourselves, Grey’s Anatomy fans: The show has parted ways with a female doc who is blond, beautiful, outspoken – and not Katherine Heigl. It’s Brooke Smith. As in Dr. Erica Hahn. As in one half of Callica, Grey’s first-ever significant gay couple. And that’s only part of the story. I’m told this was not Shonda Rhimes’ decision but rather an order that came down from the network. According to one Grey’s source, the suits “had issues” with both the explicit direction Callica was taking (think: undiscovered country, south of the border, etc.) and, more importantly, with the Hahn character in general. Basically, they didn’t like her and wanted her gone ASAP. But how soon? And what does this mean for Callica? Keep yourselves braced, because the shocks don’t stop in the following Q&A with the sublime Ms. Smith. She deserves better treatment than this, and next go-round, here’s hoping she gets it. UPDATE: A statement from Rhimes in response to this story appears at the end of the Q&A.
AUSIELLO: What the hell happened?!
BROOKE SMITH: I was very excited when they told me that Erica and Callie were going to have this relationship. And I really hoped we were going to show what happens when two women fall in love and that they were going to treat it like any heterosexual couple on TV. And so I was surprised and disappointed when they just suddenly told me that they couldn’t write for my character anymore.
That’s all they said?
Yes. Frankly, it was you that warned me this might happen on the red carpet back in July. You said [sometimes networks get cold feet] with gay relationships. And I was so naive. I’m like, “It’s 2008.” But I’m starting to realize that not everyone feels the way I do. [Scroll down to watch our now-infamous exchange.]
Did you get the feeling that the story was making people nervous?
No. At work I had no sense of it. And more fans seemed to like it than not. I don’t think I’m ever going to know [why this really happened].
When did you find out?
I found out in mid-September soon after shooting the monologue that aired last week where Erica has the revelation that she’s gay. They even came down and told me it was a great scene — one of the best they ever shot on the show. So I was really, really shocked. I was floored when they told me [I was being let go]. It was the last thing I expected. In fact, when they told me I asked, “When is this happening?” And they said, “The [next episode] is your last,” which is the one that airs this Thursday. So it was very sudden.
Wait a second – your last episode is this Thursday?
How are you written out?
I’m not written out. My final scene is just me heading to my car. I honestly don’t know what happens in the next episode. I heard not much. [Quick sidebar: This sheds new light on Mary McDonnell’s arrival next week as a top cardiac doc. And if you’re thirsting for some irony, there’s this: Melissa George confirms that her incoming character will be bisexual.]
Who broke the news to you?
I’m hearing that this wasn’t her decision, but rather ABC’s.
You know, I have to tell you, I got that feeling. I don’t know for sure, but it definitely seemed like [Shonda’s] hands were tied. That was just my gut.
Did she seem upset?
She did seem upset. I wasn’t having a very good week that week. I was like, “Oh, God, what is it with this business?!” And she said, “No, no, no. You are such a great actress. We love you.” It seemed like some decision came down from above. It didn’t feel like it was her.
What was Sara Ramirez’s [Callie] reaction?
She was shocked. I’m the one who told her. It took her a few days to get back to me because she was surprised. It was surprising to everybody.
Were you happy with the direction the story line was taking?
You know, I was starting to get there, yeah. I was personally a little impatient with the gay panic, but it was more Callie’s thing anyway. I think Dr. Hahn was sort of figuring it out.
What did you think about Callie going to Mark to get pointers on exploring the “undiscovered country”?
It was a little icky. If you’re a women, don’t you know how to please yourself? But they seemed to be okay with that one.
How are you doing with all this?
It’s actually never happened to me before. But I never had a moment where I thought I did something wrong. I was just really surprised. I just moved my entire family to L.A., so it was kind of like, “What?” But for some reason I feel like I’m fine. I feel like I’m going to be okay.
Response from exec producer Shonda Rhimes: “Brooke Smith was obviously not fired for playing a lesbian. Clearly it’s not an issue as we have a lesbian character on the show – Calliope Torres. Sara Ramirez is an incredible comedic and dramatic actress and we wanted to be able to play up her magic. Unfortunately, we did not find that the magic and chemistry with Brooke’s character would sustain in the long run. The impact of the Callie/Erica relationship will be felt and played out in a story for Callie. I believe it belittles the relationship to simply replace Erica with ‘another lesbian.’ If you’ll remember, Cristina mourned the loss of Burke for a full season.”
Okay, Grey’s fans. I’m guessing you have some strong opinions about Smith’s ouster. Share them in the comments section below. But first, check out my aforementioned (and eerily prescient) interview with the actress from last July.