'Grey's Anatomy' Exclusive: Mary McDonnell's Secret Revealed!

If you suspected there was a twist surrounding Mary McDonnell’s three-episode Grey’s Anatomy arc, congratulations, you were right. Turns out her character, a celebrated cardiac surgeon brought in to boost Seattle Grace’s national ranking beginning Nov. 13, is living with Asperger’s syndrome. “Shonda [Rhimes] thought it would be interesting to have an incredibly skilled surgeon who, socially, is initially misunderstood,” explains executive producer Betsy Beers of the autism-related disorder, which is characterized by eccentric behavior and a general social awkwardness. (Think Emily Deschanel’s Brennan on Bones.) Eccentric behavior and social awkwardness? Sounds like she’ll fit right in! Or will she? Only time — and my following exclusive Q&A with the fraktabulous McDonnell — will tell.

AUSIELLO: How does everyone react to your character, Dr. Virginia Dixon?
In her first surgery she works primarily with Bailey
and Karev, who are both sort of caught off guard by her difficulty in
communication. They don’t really know until the end of the episode that
she has Asperger’s. It’s challenging for them. On the one hand, you’re
introducing a dramatic and comedic dynamic that people have to react
to. On the other hand, you’re bringing on a very dignified real human
being with a disability that can be very problematic for everyone.

What’s it like playing her?
It’s been a wonderful experience. Grey’s has to do with social nuance
and behavior between people, and this is a character who can’t really
relate to any of that. She comes in and brings a little bit of a
different behavior to Seattle Grace.

How different are we talking? She’s still going to hook up with one of her colleagues, right?
[Laughs] So far, I have to tell you, I don’t see any romance. That just
makes me giggle. But she’s just coming in for three episodes so far, so
we’ll see. That’s the furthest thing from her mind.

Might your stay be extended beyond the three episodes?
There’s always a possibility. I think with this character, there’s a
great collaboration to kind of experiment with her and with her
situation and see the kind of effect it may have on the world of
Grey’s, because she’s very atypical.

Did Shonda create the role with you in mind?
I don’t know if it was created with me in mind, but I was told that
Shonda had me on her mind as soon as she started thinking about it.
She’s put a great deal of trust in me, and it’s part of why I wanted to
do it. Because when someone hands you something this compelling and
complicated and gives you good writing and also says, “I’m trusting you
to find the nuance here,” then you kind of go home and think, I’m lucky
to be alive.

To read McDonnell’s thoughts on the end of Battlestar Galactica, check out this
week’s Ask Ausiello. To weigh in on her Grey’s stint, scroll down
to the comments section and start writing.

Comments (103 total) Add your comment
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  • Hank

    Sounds like Dr. Hahn.

  • Brooke

    Hmmm… Interesting. I’m going to have to actually watch Grey’s now. :( But I’ll do it for her.

  • Michelle

    I love Mary McDonnell, really I do. I’m sure she’ll be fantastic.
    But here is my message for Shonda: STOP! Just stop introducing new characters! There isn’t enough time in a day, let alone an hour, to service them all! Small guest arcs I can handle. But it seems like almost every time Ausiello tells us someone is coming to Grey’s there’s the potential for recurring/series regular status! STOP, Shonda! Please!

  • Vicki

    This is the only thing that would ever get me excited about Grey’s short of it being cancelled. Can’t wait for November 13th!

  • Brittany

    Thank the Lord we finally get to see Mary in something! I was going through withdrawls. Now, if only she would guest on a show like 30 Rock.

  • mgm

    what the heck happened to her face?! She’s always been so classy, pretty and interesting! Did she get a new nose and botox? PLEASE, PEOPLE, STOP RUINING YOUR FACES!!

  • Jolie

    Dr. Hahn is not socially awkward she is just rude. In an awesome way though. This sounds a lot more like they ganked the character from Boston Legal.

  • Lisa M

    I have Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild form) and it’ll be interesting to see how AS is presented here.

  • NotWithoutMyTV

    Huh. Rude, communication-challenged, misunderstood and unlikeable because of it. Yeah, that’s really what’s missing on this show about rude, communication-challenged, misunderstood and unlikeable because of it doctors.

  • TVFanNYC

    I don’t see how you can be going wrong by adding this kind of quality player to a team. Agreed that the show’s roster is crowded, but if it moves the show towards MM that’s got to be a good development.

  • firstlady1408

    My step brother has Aspergers. I was excited before about seeing Mary on Greys (though I’ve never seen it before) But now I’m really excited to see how she portrays the character. Also I don’t think she has had work done to her face *mgm*, promo shots always make people look *better*. Also she lost weight for her role on BSG I think this just made her face look thinner. I’ve seen recent shots of her at functions and she looks the same she has always done to me! She just ages damn well!

  • Emily

    I think this sounds like a really interesting storyline. Mary McDonnell is great and will be awesome in this role. Definitely going to watch Grey’s again for this.

  • bostonbean

    Ahhhh stay please stay as long as possible. The addition of a real adult character can only help GA. I hope its not a disappointment. I was excited for Kevin Mckidd but I don’t much like his character, hopefully that will change.

  • Megg

    Mary McDonnell > everyone else. Though why does she always have to have some sort of medical condition? Anyways, I will resume watching GA (for the first time in years) to watch her.

  • Fran

    This is wonderful! I feared Mary would end up with just another silly Grey’s hookup of the week story. I don’t care about the cast size. I’d much prefer to see Mary in this story then Meredith whining again.

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