Giacomo Gianniotti on his devastating Grey's Anatomy departure: 'It was totally DeLuca'
The actor played Dr. DeLuca for seven seasons on the Shondaland medical drama.
Warning: This post contains spoilers about the March 11 episode of Grey's Anatomy, "Helplessly Hoping."
Dr. DeLuca has left the building.
In yet another tragic death at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti) was killed in Thursday's episode of Grey's Anatomy. After he and his sister Carina (Stefania Spampinato) followed a sex trafficker — whom DeLuca recognized from a previous visit to the hospital — to try and bring down her ring, he was fatally stabbed. Try as they might, Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and Teddy (Kim Raver) were unable to save him on the operating table.
Despite his end coming way before his time, DeLuca did get to spend some quality beach time with Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and say his goodbyes, before running off for a touching reunion with his mother. Yup, it was teary stuff. To help us through our mourning, we chatted with Gianniotti about DeLuca's departure and whether we can expect to see him back in some dream form or another any time soon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How has the reaction been since last night's episode aired?
GIACOMO GIANNIOTTI: It was pretty overwhelming. I don't know if even in a lifetime I could respond to all the tweets and messages I've received, but I've been doing my best to try and like things and repost things and thank people the best I can. I will say I have definitely felt the love. It's beautiful.
Showrunner Krista Vernoff told EW that the story line came to her fully formed and she didn't even really want to kill DeLuca off. How did she break it to you, and how did you feel about it when you first heard?
Krista Vernoff and Debbie Allen, my executive producer, called me into their office and they said they wanted to talk to me about a story line. We sat down and we talked, and they were noticeably different. They were a little emotional. I said, "What's going on, guys?" They proceeded to tell me the story. They're like, "Look, we've worked it a million different ways and we love you so much, you've given so much to the show — especially with this mental health story that we've been through with this character who's so beloved by fans, and it's helped so many people who are suffering mental illness — but this story line just keeps coming back to us." Krista said, "As the storyteller I have to tell the story. It's my responsibility, even though it makes me sad to say goodbye to one of my favorite actors on the show. I love you so much, Giacomo, but ultimately we have to tell the best story, and this is gonna level people but it's also gonna help people." Something that Krista mentioned to me is that in this year there has been so much loss — we've lost half a million Americans to COVID and countless other deaths for other reasons — this was a chance for a lot of people who've held a lot of pent-up energy and grief over their losses to have a collective grieving moment through a fictional character and help a lot of people grieve the loss of a loved one. I thought it was beautifully written. We touched on this human-trafficking story line, which is another huge global pandemic, and we shed light on that very important issue. I just thought they checked all the boxes. Seeing everybody's reaction to the episode last night, I think we did a great job. So, yes, it's sad to leave, but it's nice to go telling a beautiful story that hopefully helps a lot of people.
Yeah, using his departure to raise awareness for sex trafficking was a cool move. Were you glad too that DeLuca was in a good place with his mental health and that wasn't part of his demise here?
I had said to Krista that that was very vital to me, and she totally agreed. I was very grateful that that's not where the story line was going. Originally, when they said we're going to kill your character, I was like, "Oh God, please don't let it have to do with that, that'd be horrible." And they were like, "No, no, no, no. Of course not. We totally agree it can't be that. It has to be totally natural circumstances." The fact that he gets to die a hero and for a noble cause, I think is nice and very DeLuca. DeLuca is known for thrusting himself into danger, doing unorthodox things to save his patients, and standing up for people. So he wasn't doing anything out of character. It didn't feel forced. It was totally DeLuca.
Totally. Did the rest of the cast know going into the episode that DeLuca was about to die, or was it a secret you had to keep for a while?
I think it was the first couple episodes, maybe around episode 3 or 4, that they had mentioned it to me that that this was something they were thinking of doing. So it was like four episodes that I was having to keep the secret to myself, which was definitely tough.
How was the table read of the episode? Was everyone pretty emotional?
I don't think people were really told before, so it was sort of a surprise to everyone. We were all on Zoom, of course, and everyone was just kind of looking up with tears in their eyes and shocked and jaws on the floor and being like, "Are you kidding me?" Because as we find out, we don't know what happens until the very end. At that time in the script, to protect the integrity of the story line, in that version of the script, it didn't say whether he died or not. So everyone was on the edge of their seats, wanting the answer.
What was it like when you came to shoot it? Was it a tough last day on set?
I think my last stuff, if I'm remembering it correctly, was my stuff in the OR. Strangely enough, DeLuca's end was my end too. It was emotional. I felt like, here I am on this table, I've got blood everywhere and bleeding out, and it just made it very real. I got to spend a lot of time with Kevin McKidd and Kim Raver, who were my surgeons. It was nice. I love them both very much. They were very great surgeons, but maybe not on that day.
Right! Maybe it's them I should be mad at, not the writers. How long did you have to lie there covered in fake blood with a tube in your mouth?
It's different parts, an hour here and then a break and then an hour there. It comes in waves.
You've also directed an upcoming episode. Did that make it a little easier to end DeLuca's arc?
Yeah, and the whole cast knew that I was directing too, so they all knew that I was going to be spending significant time with all of them. As an actor, you don't get to really work with everybody because you only work with the people that your character interacts with. Directing is just an honor. I've been trying to carve a career as a filmmaker for quite some time now, and this was my first shot. So I knew that I was going to spend time with every single cast member on the show and get to say goodbye to them. It was just a really nice serendipitous coincidence that directing gave me that opportunity.
How did you directing an episode come about? Was it something you'd flagged interest in a while back?
The first episode I ever did at the end of season 11 was directed by Kevin McKidd, who is an actor on the show. I immediately saw, "Oh wow, Kevin is directing." Then I saw Chandra Wilson [Dr. Miranda Bailey] was also directing, and Debbie Allen [Dr. Catherine Avery] was directing, who's also sometimes an actor on our show as well. I just saw all these actors I worked with throwing their hat in the ring and doing a great job. I had always wanted to do that, but I always felt like it was like a pipe dream. I was directing short films and music videos, because a lot of my friends are musicians. So when I saw that they were able to switch those hats and do that, I just immediately talked to Debbie Allen, probably about four years ago. As our executive producer, she manages a lot of the directing on the show. I just said, "I want to direct. I've been working as a director for a long time, studying that art form. I'd love to dive deeper into it on television." She started mentoring me and has been one of my greatest mentors and friends through this whole process. Then last year she said, "Okay, here's your shot. Next year, I'm going to give you an episode. Let's see what you got." I was very honored. That was all before we knew that I was going to leave the show. So it very coincidentally worked out that I got to direct and it was also such a great way to say goodbye to everybody. I cannot wait for you guys to see it. I'm editing it right now. I had front-row seats at the best film school you could ever go to.
DeLuca ends up on Meredith's beach in this episode. How was shooting those scenes? The "I had plans" line when the tide was coming in was pretty heartbreaking.
Yeah, there's a very strong metaphor there with the tide coming in, as time itself was running out. It was a very, very real moment for me also. I think as a viewer, you're still in that moment being like, "Oh God, it's not happening, is it? Come on, he could wake up. He could still make it." Doing those scenes, there was some off time between action and cut that I got to spend with Ellen, reminiscing about all the seasons we've spent working together and all the things we've accomplished along the way, the heartaches of other people we've lost along the way, and just talking about our future and how great it was that we got Patrick Dempsey to come back on this season. It added so much, he gave so much to the fans. We had a lot of times to reminisce. In the end, there's nothing really I would've changed or wanted more of. I think that the sad and tragic thing truly is that we saw DeLuca get a real grasp on his illness, and it's very sad to not be able to see him reach his true potential.
What will you miss most about playing DeLuca?
I just think he was such a beautifully complicated guy. I loved how strong and powerful he was, but also how unbelievably tormented he was as well, privately. Playing those things together was a real joy. I mean, the most satisfying part of it at all is the amount of messages I received last season when DeLuca had his breakdown and had an intervention with his friends and co-workers. I've never received so many messages and people writing to me for a scene or something that I've done on television. People really connected with that, and certainly people with bipolar specifically reached out to me, thanking me for making them feel seen. There's no greater honor for the writers and creators of the show and the actors who get to tell the stories — that's what we live for. That's what we do. It's all for those little moments.
Is there any hope we might see DeLuca again at some point? In a dream sequence or on the beach again or anything?
I think there's some little opportunities throughout the season where we might see DeLuca again in another form, if you will. I can't really comment on that, but if you're a true Grey's Anatomy fan, you know that over the years we've certainly shown characters in different ways who have left. There's that very Grey's Anatomy showing of a lost character.