Chandra Wilson plays the beloved character of Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning of time. She has been a part of the show ever since Meredith, played by Ellen Pompeo, and her fellow interns learned to be afraid of a woman people called the “nazi”.
In an interview for Good Morning America for new Black History month, Chandra and executive producer, Zoanne Clark opened up about the audition process. They revealed that initially Bailey was a “tiny blonde with curls who was underestimated”.
The character was actually the only one with a specified ethnicity in the script, however, we know that Chandra won over the role. She shared that it was “ingenue” and she didn’t have whatever that look was. The actress revealed that casting always likes to give you a type.
She shared, “I was always the thing that they called ‘non-traditional casting,’ so I would just go in for anything and just say, ‘I know that the role says this, but let me show you how I would do this,’ and see if that’s OK.”
Chandra further revealed that she never fit in because of which she never cared. She said she was like, ‘I know you’re looking for her, but here, how about this?’ Meanwhile, Kelly McCreary had a different experience.
She shared that both of her parents are black but on the show, she plays the biological daughter of Ellis Grey who is a white woman played by Kate Burton. In the show, her father is Richard Webber, a black man who is portrayed by James Pickens Jr.
“..we hadn’t had a national acknowledgment of the losses that have been occurring…”
“So I’m a Black woman and, because of my complexion, I was mostly going in to play mixed girls,” McCreary shared in the GMA interview. “These are roles that I wouldn’t have been able to audition for and book, possibly, if my complexion had been darker. That’s my light-skinned privilege.”
In the current season, both Chandra and Kelly were able to share a scene together which was written by Clack. The actresses discussed openly about the pandemic’s effect on the Black community. Bailey’s mother had contracted the Covid-19 virus and also had Alzheimers as well. However, she lost her mother and the hospital was full of other like her mother.
“We hadn’t had a national day of mourning yet; we hadn’t had a national acknowledgment of the losses that have been occurring during the pandemic,” Clack said. “So I understood the need to facilitate that and to be able to give a conversation to our audiences that maybe they aren’t having, that they don’t know. That as Black women, as Black children, as Black physicians these are conversations that we have.”
Kelly also considered it as an important moment for the relationship between Maggie, a young black prodigy in her field and Bailey, the Black female chief of surgery. The actress explained that for a long time, her character, Maggie thought of herself as the only one. But then there was finally somebody else here sharing the space who is also a Black woman and has achieved a lot.
“Hopefully Grey’s Anatomy is, by addressing our humanity…”
The actress explained, “For maybe for a long time in her life, Maggie thought of herself as the only; she was, maybe, in a lot of those spaces; and finally there’s somebody else here sharing the space who is also a Black woman; who has achieved a lot and has probably faced a lot of the same struggles.”
She further said that they finally have this chance to get to know the ways in which their journeys may have been similar or different. However, at the end of the day, Clack wanted the show to be aspirational for whoever may be watching.
She hoped that their show is giving people hope and that Grey’s Anatomy is addressing our humanity and acknowledging them. Clack said, “Hopefully Grey’s Anatomy is, by addressing our humanity; and acknowledging us in our experiences and living our lives as Black women and Black people; somehow giving some inspiration to the young people, ’cause there are some young people who watch.”
“Over and over again, by the way,” Chandra added, and she’s definitely not wrong. Grey’s Anatomy returns, along with Station 19, March 11 on ABC.