Have your tears dried yet, Grey’s Anatomy fans? Because ours sure haven’t.
On tonight’s Maggie-centric episode of the ABC drama, the young thoracic surgeon was faced with the grim realization that her mother Diane (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) was sicker than anyone thought. And in the process, Kelly McCreary stepped into the spotlight in an episode helmed by none other than her co-star Ellen Pompeo, making her directorial debut.
It was a beautiful hour of television that chronicled Diane’s entire course of treatment right up until its tragic end. To break down what sort of effect the loss will have on Maggie moving forward, what it was like to say goodbye to the phenomenal Richardson Jackson so soon, and how Pompeo shaped up as a director, E! News got McCreary on the phone. What follows is our full Q&A, complete with a chilling tease about the season 13 finale.
E! News: This was such a huge arc for Maggie. What was your reaction when Shonda told you this was coming your way?
McCreary: My reaction was: “Maggie’s mom is coming?! Maggie’s mom is dying?!” [Laughs] I was so excited to meet Maggie’s mom, and then when LaTanya came, I was like, “Oh my god, this is so much fun!” Because, of course, I’m sure everyone had some idea of what Maggie’s mom looked and sounded like and behaved like, and LaTanya was none of the things that I had in mind, but so much better. When we got the script where she was dying, I was like, “Is there any way she could survive? How do we keep LaTanya on the show? How do we keep this great relationship between Maggie and her mom?” But there was no going back.
Talk to me a little bit about working with LaTayna and developing that relationship in the short amount of time you had. I feel like we were robbed with how quickly she was taken away!
You know, listen. Unless LaTanya was just in character the whole time, she’s an incredibly nurturing and open and caring person in the first place, so it wasn’t hard to want to cultivate a closeness with her. She’s always telling stories and she wants to show you photos. So, we just naturally spent a lot of time together off-camera while we were at work. And I think that added to the already great chemistry that was written in for Maggie and Diane by our brilliant Meg Marinis. But yeah, it was a very playful dynamic from the beginning for me and LaTanya, so I think that’s what people are seeing when they watch it.
Ellen really made some beautiful and interesting choices with the directing. What was it like having her at the helm for this particular episode? It was really a family affair.
It was great. I knew that the story would be treated with a great deal of care because Ellen cares about the show and she knows more about these character than anybody probably besides Shonda. And she has a personal connection to losing a parent. So, it was great news to know that she would be the one I would be collaborating with on the story.
What was she like as a first-time director?
Well, yeah, it was a new experience for her. She was like a very eager student, and yet she also came prepared with a lot of really great ideas for how to visually enhance the story and add extra layers of symbolism, in addition to just really cool looking shots. They’re cool looking for a reason. She made very deliberate choices about how she was telling the story, like any great director does. So she had a sort of natural ability in the first place. And yet, there was a lot that she didn’t know. So, she had the support of Debbie Allen and Herb Davis, who is our D.P., and they really steered her to help realize her very clear and specific and beautiful vision.
What does the loss of her mom do to Maggie moving forward?
I think that losing her mom really softens her in a lot of ways. I think that Maggie is very naturally optimistic and naturally very determined, and I think that going forward, we see her finding herself feeling more vulnerable more often.
So, she took the advice and guidance from Diane to heart.
Yeah, maybe a little. Not quite the thing about the lipstick, although she’s getting there. I hope she does. [Laughs] In her stubbornness to get her mother treatment, she kind of hardened to her sisters and to Richard and her colleagues, and I think the re-opening is also part of what her mother wanted to do. And she fully commits to that.
She shares a really lovely moment with Riggs, where he comforts her. I think he’s the first person to hug her in the episode. What does that do for her crush moving forward?
I don’t honestly think that it affects her crush. I don’t think that’s really what’s on her mind in that moment after her fight with her sister and then finding out that her mom was done with treatment, that’s not really relevant. [Laughs] The crush isn’t. But I do think there’s always been a lot of mutual admiration and respect between Maggie and Nathan and that affirms that for her.
Speaking about the softening towards her sisters and Richard after she hardens towards them during this ordeal, I wanted to ask specifically about her relationship with Richard. After what he does to bring her father there, what does that relationship look like moving out of this?
You know, honestly, I don’t know. I think it goes back to the good that it was before. We don’t really see a noticeable shift there. Whatever moment of rejection Richard experienced, I don’t think it stays with him too long. It’s not like there’s any repair to do there. It just sort of goes back to the way it was before. There’s a lot of affection, there’s a lot of love between Maggie and Richard. And fun. I love them together. They so silly and adorable. So that is restored.
We’re obviously moving ever closer to the end of the season. How would you say we should be preparing for the finale? Grey’s always does something huge towards the end. Are we on trend this season?
Yeah, we’re on trend. [Laughs] I’ll just say it this way: Everyone is in danger. Let’s say that.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.