Former All My Children star and all-around TV legend Jennifer Bassey is coming to Grey's Anatomy! She has a three-episode arc that begins with tonight's Season 9, Episode 21: "Sleeping Monster," and from the sound of things, she'll play an important role on the upcoming drama.
Wetpaint Entertainment had a chance to speak with Jennifer, who opened up about how she got the role, what her character's like, and why working on Grey's was such a great experience. While she wouldn't actually reveal who she's play beyond a "grandma," we have a feeling she's going to be connected to the Ethan-Owen (Kevin McKidd) story. Read on to see if you agree.
Wetpaint Entertainment: How did the Grey’s Anatomy arc come about?
Jennifer Bassey: I did a short film two years ago, which has just been accepted into the Milan Film Festival, about a woman dying of cancer, and I told my manager, “I’m going in with no makeup.” He says, “You really are?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m going with no makeup, no eyebrows, no nothing, no makeup.” I said, “This woman wouldn’t wear makeup.” Anyway, so I did that. We got a still photo out of that shoot because all my other pictures are of rich, upscale women. And so he submitted my brain cancer photo from the movie with no makeup to Grey’s Anatomy, and they called me in. And I wore no makeup for the audition, absolutely no makeup, just a tiny bit of base but that’s it. And when I got the job I arrived on the set, and there was a woman who used to do makeup on All My Children for the last few shows that I did. And I said, “Oh my God, Terry, how are you?” She said, “I’m great. I’m going to get to make you up.” I said, “No, no, no. I don’t think they want me in makeup.” And so she called and they said they wanted nothing. “Don’t put anything on her, nothing.” So I have my gray hair kind of flattened down, and I wear no makeup. I look very, very dowdy. Midwest grandma.
How would you describe your character?
She’s a grandma. I can tell you that, very earthy grandma. I can’t tell you much about her character because that will affect what you’re going to see also. So I can just tell you she’s caring. She’s loving. She loves her family passionately. She’s a very simple woman from the Midwest. She’s a Midwest grandma.
Are you a patient?
Oh no, no. My family has been in a car crash, my grandson, my son, and my daughter-in-law. And my son, when I arrive at the hospital is in a coma and my daughter-in-law is awake and OK. My emotions are totally out of control. I’m very upset that my little grandson has been present for all the medical talks about the discussions about what’s wrong with both his mother and his dad. And it’s making me very anxious, and so I’m not controlling my emotions very well when I finally see my son in a coma. And I have a lot of scenes with Kevin McKidd who plays Owen, and he really should be packaged and sold on a mass scale. He’s adorable.
And this is a longer arc, right?
It’s three episodes.
Can you say why this arc warrants three episodes?
No, I can’t. I can’t tell you. That will all be unfolding.
How was the experience?
Oh, darling. It’s like I died and went to heaven. It starts at the top. I mean, it was like they took nice pills because I’ve never been treated so well in my entire life, top to bottom. You know, star trailer, I worked with almost every star except the leading lady who plays Meredith [Ellen Pompeo]. But I’ve worked with everybody else, and I couldn’t have had a better time. Except the early calls were horrible. Getting up at the crack of dawn. The sparrows aren’t even up at that hour.
Did it feel slow because you’re used to the pace of a soap?
Oh, no, they’re very fast. And my manager kept saying, "I don’t believe it. I mean, you’re home already?" I said, "When they call you in, usually you work immediately." When you arrive, I did not wait. I did nine days. I worked nine days on the three weeks, and I never had to wait. I arrived. I went in. And they kind of combed my hair, and they said, "OK, we’re ready to rehearse." And then after rehearsal you got dressed in your clothes and “We’re ready to shoot” and then shot and that was it. Not long days at all, very short, very short.
They know what they’re doing.
They have it really down. They have great camera people. They have a steadicam guy that’s adorable who I talked with. They’re all extremely professional. They have a huge, huge lot. It’s got hospitals and houses and restaurants and bars, this huge amount of sets. But the hospital itself, the set, is quite large. I’d get lost all the time. They have to have someone say, “Turn left, Jennifer, otherwise you’re going to be on the other set.” And they’re doing two shows at once simultaneously often. So you could go into the wrong set.
There’s a lot going on. It’s a really busy show. Somebody said, “Why do you think it’s so successful?” They’ve got a great team of writers. Then the writer of the episode is on the set all day long. And if you have a problem, like one day this wonderful writer came up to me and said, “That line is impossible to say, isn’t it?” I said, “It’s pretty difficult.” But I said, “But, I’ll make it work.” He said, “You don’t have to make it work. I’ve written a new line. I’m going to come to your trailer and give you some new dialogue.” Of course then I had to learn that, put that into my mental sphere. But it was such a gift to have the writers right there. You could go over to the writer and say, “What does this mean? I don’t understand. Oh, I see.” And I know that without a writer you cannot have a hit show. You can’t. So I think they have put together a brilliant team of writers. They’ve got wonderful actors, and they’re giving them great story lines. What fun.
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Catch the next new episode of Grey’s Anatomy on Thursday, April 25, 2013, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.