T.R. Knight hangs up his scrubs -- The departing ''Grey's Anatomy'' star talks about good and bad times on the set

To hear T.R. Knight tell it, he probably never should have been hired for Grey’s Anatomy. When he walked into his audition, he was a relative unknown, a character actor from Minneapolis with only one major TV credit to his name — the DOA Nathan Lane political sitcom Charlie Lawrence — and a look that, by Hollywood standards, defied categorization. But thanks to casting director Linda Lowy, he nonetheless was tapped to play intern George O’Malley, the medical drama’s bumbling Everyman. ”Who was I coming in? She really stuck her neck out,” he recalls, ”and I was so appreciative of that.” His gratitude only magnified when the ratings came in the morning after the show’s March 2005 debut. Suddenly, he was living every actor’s dream — starring in a monster hit. Even sweeter, Knight genuinely loved his colleagues, in particular the Fab Five, as fans would come to christen him and fellow original interns Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers, Sandra Oh, and Katherine Heigl. ”When we were all together, the amount of fun we would have [was] sometimes a little too much fun,” he says. ”We were a ragtag team of weirdos with a kind of unexplainable chemistry.”

Cut to five years later, and Knight is seated in a Venice Beach, Calif., café discussing why he’s walking away from Grey’s. His surprising decision came after George’s screen time was greatly diminished last fall. But what’s even more surprising is that when it happened, Knight chose not to ask exec producer Shonda Rhimes what was going on with his character. Instead, he simply asked to leave. ”My five-year experience proved to me that I could not trust any answer that was given [about George],” he explains. ”And with respect, I’m going to leave it at that.”

So how did this happen? It’s a long, complicated story, one that begins with a messy season 3 incident on the set that pushed Knight to come out publicly and led to what the actor describes as a ”breakdown in communication” between himself and Rhimes. Factor in Knight’s ongoing creative frustration with his character, and the fact that George ”just kind of dis-appeared” last fall, and it makes more sense that Knight would ask to be let out of his $14 million contract (that’s $180K per episode) three years early. ”I leave with such gratitude for how I grew as an actor — there’s nothing to be sad about,” says the 36-year-old, whose laid-back blue-jeans-and-T-shirt appearance stands in stark contrast to his reserved, somewhat nervous demeanor. While Knight has agreed to talk for the first time about his reasons for leaving Grey’s, he’s definitely a little uncomfortable being interviewed. He is, however, perfectly at peace with his choice to exit the show: ”There just comes a time when it’s so clear that moving on is the best decision.”