By Patti Greco
Mar 3, 201
Meredith's First Patient on Grey's Anatomy Shares Her Memories of Shooting the Pilot
"My agent told me, 'You have an audition' ... and it was for a pilot: The Untitled Shonda Rhimes Project."
This week's Grey's Anatomy features the return of Meredith Grey's first patient, Katie Bryce, who was 15 when she was first admitted to Seattle Grace (as it was then called) for Grand mal seizures. Intern Meredith helped figure out the cause of the seizures — an aneurysm caused by a pageant competition injury (Katie is a rhythmic gymnast) — and Derek Shepherd, who was not dead at the time, performed a life-saving surgery on the girl. Cosmopolitan.com spoke to Skyler Shaye, who first played Katie when she was 17, about her memories of shooting the pilot, her one meeting with creator Shonda Rhimes (who wasn't on set when Katie shot), and how she found herself back in Meredith's care.
How did you first hear about the role 12 years ago?
My agent told me, "You have an audition" ... and it was for a pilot: The Untitled Shonda Rhimes Project. Nobody really knew much about it then. [I knew] it was a doctor show. Once I did the audition for the casting director, she asked me to come meet the producers later that evening. The producer session was at the VA hospital that we ended up filming the pilot [in Los Angeles]. They had a production office there at the time. I go in the room and it's just Shonda Rhimes, [executive producer] Betsy Beers, and Peter Horton, he directed the episode. So I did the audition and after I did it, Peter goes to me, "Do you know how to do seizures?" And I look at him and I go, "Well, my Chihuahua had seizures. I've seen my Chihuahua have a seizure." Which is a true story. And he goes to me, "Well, if you do this, you need to research seizures. Don't worry, we'll give you tapes and everything." And I left the room and heard an hour later that I got the role.
What research did you have to do?
The next day, they sent me a few different tapes on seizures — the reasons behind seizures and what happens. I remember I popped the first tape in and I saw a kid on the couch watching TV and all of a sudden he went into a seizure. And I just turned the TV off and started crying, and I go to my mom, "Oh my goodness, this has really affected me." I watched probably three different tapes of kids and watched the mannerisms and what happens to the body, because everything just collapses, you have no control whatsoever. And then when we started filming, you go into a certain mindset. I just lost control of myself — you know, eyes rolling back. Shaking. Everything is stiff — your feet, your hands, everything. So your arms are moving not at the same time [as the rest of your body].
How particular was Peter about getting it right?
He was very particular, very specific. That was the hard part, especially that first time when Ellen [Pompeo] runs up and sees me having the seizure, and she has to start pumping me [with the paddles]. That scene, it took quite a bit to get. It was so hard because she had to pump me, and my body had to be raised at the same time that she's pumping me.
Were you frustrated?
I don't remember being frustrated, but we wanted to get that scene done. Plus, I had all that gel all over my body.
At that point, had you basically just met Ellen?
They put [us] together for like a week of prepping before we actually started filming. So we got to know each other and we bonded. And then we filmed the pilot in three weeks. I remember my last day of filming, Katie — Katherine [Heigl] — gave me a card, I still have it, saying how wonderful it was to work with me and she hopes to see me soon.
Where do you keep that?
I have a little office area, and it's my drawer of all my memorabilia of things I've worked on, things that mean something to me.
How did you find out you were being invited back?
I got a call from my manager that Grey's Anatomy wants to bring back Katie Bryce. And I went, "What?" "Yeah, they start filming in two days." I go, "Wait, what?" And that was it. Two days before I started filming, I got an offer.
When did you get a script?
They gave me the script the night before. I started reading it and I was like, "Shonda is a genius."
Set it up a little bit. Why is Katie back?
My head is hurting. Something is bothering me in my head and I don't know what it is. I come back because I want to find out what's wrong with me. Dr. Amelia Shepherd is my doctor — and I'm wondering where the other doctor Shepherd is. I'm like, "You're not Dr. Shepherd." She's like, "No, no, I am." I go, "No, Dr. Shepherd is a guy."
So you open up a wound for everyone.
Yep. Meredith in the beginning is like, "Holy shit. It's Katie Bryce, my first patient, what is she doing back?" As soon as I got in the bed and had the gown on, I look at Chandra Wilson, she directed this episode [and plays Dr. Miranda Bailey], and I started crying. And she started crying — we both had this emotional moment together.
Is Katie still a rhythmic gymnast?
You have to watch it! I'm not going to spoil it. It's actual quite genius.
So there's a twist to what she does?
Is she a doctor? Like Derek and Meredith inspired her to become one?
No. I like that though.
It's a very Grey's Anatomy guess.
That would have been cool.
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