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James Pickens Jr. May Not Officially Be The Chief Of Grey's Anatomy Anymore...But He Still Totally Is

And if he says we shouldn't worry about the election, we won't. Maybe.

Our Players

Hello, I'm Previously.TV Contributor Liane Bonin Starr.
Hello, I'm TV person James Pickens Jr..

The Talk

Dr. Webber hasn't really been in the center of the action lately. Any chance you'll get a scandalous storyline this season?

You never know with Shonda, but I think obviously there will be a little more concentration on the four remaining core members on the show -- myself, Chandra, Justin, and Ellen, so it will be fun to see what direction I go in with that. Obviously, now that I have a new grandchild, it will be interesting to see the dynamic with that and how it changes my relationship with Catherine [Avery, Webber's wife].

Dr. Webber is really the voice of reason, even though he's not the chief anymore -- which sucks, honestly.

I'll always be the chief. I'm de facto chief.

On the set, are you also the chief? Is everyone coming to you for advice?

Not really. I think just on camera. Behind the camera, we try to be on a level playing field as far as that's concerned. If that gravitates toward me I guess I should feel flattered by it, you know. But I think more than anything else there's such a mutual respect for everybody, and I like it that way.

After Patrick Dempsey left the show last season, a lot of people freaked out, but I think the exit of McDreamy was incredibly helpful in giving Meredith a storyline. How do you feel the last season went?

I think it's been great. And obviously the show was, at least in my thinking, always an ensemble piece. Obviously Ellen's character and Patrick's character were at the forefront, but it was always an ensemble piece. And I think it's a testament to the writing and the direction Shonda saw the show going into, the fact that we found a whole new audience. There's a whole new generation that follows us on Netflix. Almost every day I run into a young person who tells me, "I love the show, I'm up to Season 3" or "Season 4 on Netflix."

They have a lot of TV to watch if they're only on Season 3 or 4.

They're going to be watching for a long time. So this is a whole new audience who's now getting acquainted with the Grey's landscape. But I think, as far as last season, it's a real testament to the writing that in spite of the fact we lost a favorite character in Patrick, it showed intended forward motion, and the development of the ancillary characters was really buoyed by the storylines they had, and it was a testament that the show, after twelve seasons, is still incredible for a show that age. It's been a blast. You have to attribute it to Shonda Rhimes and her storytelling.

After so many seasons, do people on the street think they recognize you because you must be a real doctor? Has anyone asked you to check their mole?

Please don't, please don't! I do get it, but kind of half-heartedly.

I know some actors get itchy after a show goes on for many seasons. Is it all routine to you after this long?

It's been such a blast and such a blessing to be part of something that's become iconic. You can't help looking forward to coming in every day. The challenge is more for the writers to keep it fresh by bringing in new characters or taking a plot twist or taking a character that had a relationship here and then aligning him with somebody else. That's what makes good TV now and keeps the fans coming back and watching, so to be a part of that -- I enjoy coming back every day for that, and I enjoy the adventures, and now this journey is going to continue.

Shonda has changed the landscape in that we see so much more diversity than we did when Grey's first premiered. What does it feel like to be part of a show that has made such a big difference?

I think when the show started thirteen seasons ago, that was a novel notion in TV. TV had some catching up to do in terms of the cultural landscape. And I think Shonda, whether it was orchestrated or not, wanted audiences to see us as people. She wanted to create a platform and a palette that was all-inclusive. The stories are, at the end of the day, the same, with maybe a little different flavor. I think when the show aired and the first two or three seasons when it was off the charts, the powers that be had to look at that and say, "We have to rethink how we look at television, how we produce TV." It forced them to say, "We have to pull in everybody," because everybody wants these stories and we want voices that sound like their voices and faces that we can relate to and identify with and struggles and triumphs and victories, and all of those things that are inherent in the human condition, Shonda's trying to show, but she's trying to show it in a way that it wasn't just one hue. And I think she more than accomplished that: obviously the rest of the television community said, "We have to recognize this and act accordingly to how we cast television, how we write for it," and she did a lot to usher that in.

Jesse Williams wrote an incredible speech for the B.E.T. Awards, but people were still calling for him to be fired because of it. Was it disappointing at all that people reacted that way?

I was very proud of him. I was not surprised by that speech: it's in his DNA. I also was not surprised at the pushback considering the atmosphere right now politically and culturally. If he hadn't gotten any pushback, I would have been surprised. But I was not surprised at all by his passion, his commitment. He's a true entertainer-as-activist in the same vein as Harry Belafonte was fifty years ago or Sidney Poitier was or [jazz singer] Abbey Lincoln. Just because they were entertainers didn't mean they didn't have a voice with things to say that were fueled by what they saw in the culture at the time. And he's just reflecting on what he sees as the changes we have to make. And yes, this country has to take a hard look at where we are right now. I'd like to think I'm not pessimistic. I think there's a lot of work to be done, but there are a lot of people out there who are willing to get in the front lines that share the same sentiment that Jesse did, and as long as we have those I think there's a chance that this country might come together. I don't know when, but I think there are folks out there who want to make that happen.

I'm starting to worry that won't happen in time for November.

Don't be worried. It's gonna be all right. It's gonna be all right.

I know you can't give anything away, but maybe a really vague, broad hint?

We just started our first episode, so we're just going through that. I can just say I can't wait to find out what's going on either!

Does Shonda give you broad strokes as to where your character is going, or is it really just week-to-week discovery?

We'll do a table read and that's pretty much it. I guess if you ask and go to her she'll give you tidbits and stuff, but I kind of like to be surprised.

So, I have to ask about Beverly Hills 90210...

I was on it for two seasons. I did two seasons, they had a whole summer season where Jason Priestley's character worked at a beach club, and I was his boss. Henry was my character's name, and he had a thing about soap operas. He loved to watch soap operas.

Do you still get recognized from that?


Sure, sure I do. On Throwback Thursdays, I'll look on my Instagram and there's me on the beach.

Any reunion on the horizon you might be a part of?


Let's hope not!

So you wouldn't do it?

I don't know. I never say never to anything. It's got its place in TV history as well. We had a good time.

Discussion

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