BY DONNA FREYDKIN
The only thing certain when you're a citizen of Shondaland is that your survival is tenuous. At best. Just look at widow Meredith Grey, the doctor at the heart of Thursday's "Grey's Anatomy," which returns after its midseason break. Grey (Ellen Pompeo) has been attacked by a patient and her injuries go way above and beyond bumps and bruises, in the long-running series by powerhouse showrunner Shonda Rhimes. The midseason premiere of "Scandal" -- another show shrouded in secrecy -- airs after "Grey's (see our interview with Gladiator Katie Lowes above).
Bottom line is, nothing is forever. Just look at Meredith's husband Derek (Patrick Dempsey), who was killed off in season 11. Which is why, says new cast regular Giacomo Gianniotti, "I'm excited to stick around for a while."
Here's what we can expect from Thursday's high-wattage, deeply emotional episode. At least, here's what Gianniotti can tell us.
"You see Meredith's character – she's been beaten, been attacked by a patient, quite brutally. If you get sick, or in an accident, it's a big testament to who actually matters in your life. It's whoever shows up in the hospital. In this episode, it covers a lot of time," says Gianniotti. "This is months of her recovery. With the passage of time, there's a lot of change. Some big changes. We're playing out months of her recovery. By the end of it, it's a very different hospital."
Not that he has any insights into upcoming episodes or story arcs. for himself or his many costars. When it comes to the top-secret scripts, "We read them cold on the day of the table read and the next day we start shooting that episode. You have 24 hours to prepare and think about all the weird things you have to say."
He and fellow newbie Jason George, who plays another doctor, are "Grey's" fresh faces. "It's been a big learning process. Justin Chambers was one of the first people I made a connection with. He took me under his wing. He gave me a lot of great acting advice in terms of the show," he says.
Some actors who play doctors get hit up for medical advice on real life. Not so Gianniotti, even though he and George both recently donned scrubs and went to an operating room.
"I'm the last person you want to be asking. I have to look it up and see the thing and understand what it is and watch videos. All for the purposes of being authentic. I witnessed a real open heart surgery. They kept us right at the head of the patient. I became very fascinated and interested. We were enthralled," he says.
One thing we do know about the second part of season 12: Denzel Washington directs an episode. Yes, it was intimidating. "It was scary. He's totally a one-name person. He's such a legend. He definitely has a presence that he commands when he steps on set. They told us at the table read that he was going to direct. We didn't know. The actors are kept in the complete dark," says Gianniotti. "He was about the work. He's very efficient. He did everything that needed to be done and that's it."