For more from T.R. Knight on his return to Shondaland, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Next month, the actor formerly beloved as an affable intern morphs into Tommy Vaughan, the self-serving brother of Mireille Enos’ Alice Vaughan, in season 2 of ABC’s The Catch. The recurring role marks a reunion for Knight and Catch showrunner Allan Heinberg, a former Grey’s writer, as well as EP Shonda Rhimes. EW spoke with Knight about coming home.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Who first reached out to you to return to Shondaland?
T.R. KNIGHT: Elvy Yost [The Catch’s Sophie] and I are friends; we’d done two plays together in New York before she got The Catch. So when I was in Los Angeles [in January 2016], she was like, “Let’s get together with Allan.” I hadn’t seen Allan for years. The Catch hadn’t been picked up for a second season yet, but he mentioned that if it was, he’d like me to come on as Mireille’s brother. That’s how it first happened.
Was there a part of you that was nervous given your exit from Grey’s?
No. Excitement would be the word I would use, but not nervousness about it. Because that was eight years ago, it was just excitement I had about it. Allan I loved, and [with] Mireille, I am just completely enamored of her as an actor, so I was really excited to get to play with her.
What’s your relationship with Shonda Rhimes like now? Did you need closure?
I don’t think it was closure. What’s the opposite of closure, opensure? [Laughs] I know that’s not a word — is it? But no, we had emailed, of course, and I saw her at the first table read [in August 2016]. That was actually the first time I had seen her for many years. Both she and [EP] Betsy Beers were there, and it was incredibly emotional, surprisingly emotional — in a great way — to see them and hug them. Since then, Shonda and I have had a meal together, so it’s been fantastic. It leaves me with a very grateful and thankful heart to be invited back.
How was the character of Tommy first described to you?
As that person in your family who you love, but the moment they step into your life, they turn it upside down. One of the many things I love about it, besides getting to act with Mireille, which is almost like its own drug in itself because — maybe that’s a poor way to describe it — but there are just some people you get to act with and it’s addicting almost. Then there’s also playing someone who easily justifies all of their actions with no issue at all. Personally, in my real life, I’m not like that. He’s like that saying of, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” He lives by that rule. He just is going to do what he wants to do and then he figures it will all work out.
Is this basically George O’Malley if he didn’t pass his medical boards?
To me, they’re on opposite ends of the scale. With George, and I loved playing him so much, but he just tried so hard to be good, to do the right thing, and he constantly failed miserably. He really wanted to be a moral person, but then he ended up having affairs, hurting people, and doing the wrong thing. With Tommy, there’s a level of selfishness there that George does not have at all.
What kind of dynamic does Tommy have with Alice?
Tense. There’s a lot of love there, but there’s an ugly past as well. With siblings that have a shared troubled past, there’s a lot of blame. There’s a lot of unsolved issues between them, so it’s kind of a roller coaster with them. I always hate it when I use words like that, because it just sounds like boring, bullshit actor-y stuff, but you know what I’m saying: It’s exciting to play.
Tommy brings a case to Alice’s doorstep, but can he actually be trusted?
To do what he thinks is right for himself? Yes, of course he can. [Laughs] You can depend on Tommy for that.
Had you watched The Catch before landing the role?
I saw it all because Elvy was on it. Also, I had been caught up on Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, who just killed Wes. [Sighs]
You sound exasperated over Wes’ death.
I can’t talk about it now. I’m bothered by it. That poor guy! What a life, Jesus, like, come on! He had it rough. Once you see the effects of it like the burn, part of your brain goes, “Maybe they’re just sleeping,” but I think he’s really dead.
Have you watched Grey’s since you left?
I’ve checked in a couple times. I need to catch up fully on that, but there have been so many years that have gone by. I’d have to start exactly where we left off. I need a huge bout of bronchitis or something that lasts three weeks — not that I wish that on myself — in order to do that. But that’s on the list that I need to accomplish.
You’d probably tune in and be like, “Who are these people?”
It’s been on longer than I was on it at this point! It doesn’t seem like that much time has passed.
The hospital is not even called Seattle Grace anymore.
I know. I don’t know the backstory of that. It’s called something completely different.
The backstory is that Shonda Rhimes killed a bunch of people.
It always happens. [Laughs] And even in Scandal, how does your lead take a chair to somebody’s face and bash their skull in, and then you’re still rooting for the lead character? It’s like, “What?!” It’s amazing is what that is.
What’s the atmosphere on set like on The Catch?
Great. They’re extremely welcoming. They just couldn’t have been kinder, from the crew to the cast to everyone in production, so a pretty lucky experience to have.
Did your experiences on Grey’s color what it was like to work elsewhere? Were you more guarded stepping onto new sets?
No, no, no, the opposite I think. There were so many wonderful experiences. [After] doing so much theater, to be able to spend five years with some really remarkable people, and also get to constantly explore acting in front of a camera for that time, there’s so much I learned from [Grey’s] as a person, and also just as an actor, that it informs everything, but in a way that I’m really grateful that it informs everything.
The Catch returns Thursday, March 9 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.