Camilla Luddington Talks About The Most Traumatic Episode She Ever Filmed On 'Grey's Anatomy'
The 'Grey's Anatomy' star revealed how Jo and Alex's marriage will hit a major rough patch this season.
"All's well that ends well" according to Shakespeare, unless you're Jo Wilson of course. Happy endings are an anomaly for the brooding and deeply troubled young doctor on Grey's Anatomy. Played by Camilla Luddington with utter poise and a ferocious tenacity, Jo is the epitome of resilience. From being abandoned as a baby at a fire station to surviving domestic abuse in her first marriage, Jo's traumatic history has a way of sneaking up on her just when she gets her life together.
Six years ago, we met Dr. Jo Wilson on Grey's Anatomy and she came onscreen like a wrecking ball. Her story has unraveled slowly and steadily, and yet with each new answer, we are left with 10 more questions about what really happened to her. This season, Jo is adamant about unearthing the looming secrets of her past. In last Thursday's episode, Jo musters up enough courage to track down her birth mother. Their reunion is less than extraordinary, and it sends Jo down a disturbing emotional path which could potentially derail her marriage to Alex. But fret not, #JoLex fanatics because these love birds have survived worse.
"Silent All These Years" is a game-changing, Jo-centric extravaganza that amplifies the pertinent discussion about consent and sexual assault. We were lucky enough to chat with Luddington about what it was like filming the most difficult episode she has ever shot for Grey's Anatomy. Luddington detailed her character's complicated narrative arc and the lengths both the cast and creatives went to ensure this episode was handled in the most empathetic and respectful manner.
Over the years, we have pieced together more information about Jo's life, but what was it like to find out Jo's mom was raped and that the man who fathered Jo is dead?
Camilla Luddington: The storyline was actually going to be something totally different and things changed around the time of the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings. I had a lot of feelings about that and emailed Krista Vernoff [the showrunner and head writer on Grey's Anatomy] and said, "Maybe this is crazy, but what if we do a story about consent and have Jo be the product of rape." I didn't know what she was thinking at the time or if she'd already gone into the writers room the day before but said, "We need to do an episode about consent." Krista wrote back to me immediately and said she was onboard with the idea. So it wasn't as much about me discovering this secret about Jo, but rather an idea that was formulated by both Krista and myself. I have to say that once we started filming the episode, that's when it really sunk in. I kept wondering how Jo was going to overcome this tragedy, but the idea itself came together like it was kismet.
Can you talk about the instantaneous connection between Jo and Abby? In what ways do they reflect each other?
CL: Based on her own experiences with abuse, Jo immediately clocks in on what's going on with Abby. She reminds Jo of herself, especially when Abby says that she hit her head on the cabinet. Jo knows instantly that's not true and that someone hurt her. I think Jo can relate to the situation because she sees herself in Abby. Jo sees the fear and how Abby tries to deny what has actually happened. For Abby, Jo is the first person she runs into at the hospital who promises to be there for her. They immediately bond. I think even Jo sharing her own story, her own trauma with Abby really brings them together. It makes Abby feel less scared and alone.
The "wall of women" is a really poignant scene where all the female doctors, nurses, and workers in the hospital line the halls as Abby is pushed to the O.R. What was it like filming this scene and what message do you hope the viewers take away from it?
CL: It felt like I was part of a warrior sisterhood. We all stood in solidarity saying, "You are not alone. You are heard. You are believed." That's what that scene felt like. It was a powerful moment of strength and sisterhood. The fact that everyone wanted to be a part of that moment was really special.
What was the most difficult aspect of filming "Silent All These Years"?
CL: There really wasn't a day of filming that wasn't difficult, to be honest. Shooting scenes about the rape kits were really intense and I had no idea what happens next after you say "yes" to administering one. I also remember reading the "wall of women" scene, and I was just shaking and crying. Doing it was so emotional. One thing people don't know is that everyone on Grey's Anatomy received a script for "Silent All These Years," but this is the first time I've worked on an episode where everybody ⏤ from production to editing ⏤ wanted to be a part of a scene. So, what you see in that hallway isn't just our normal background of female actors. This scene also includes women from all different areas of our production. That's how much they believed in and wanted to be a part of this iconic moment on the show. It reflects the symbolism and solidarity of how women can support and uplift victims of sexual assault. So, that day was especially hard to shoot.
How did you prepare yourself before filming such an integral episode? What measures were taken to ensure this topic was discussed with the utmost care and sensitivity?
CL: Elisabeth Finch wrote the episode, and she visited the rape treatment center at UCLA. She spent a lot of time there to figure out how rape and sexual assault victims should be depicted. Elisabeth also spoke to Krista Vernoff in great detail to get the language right and to reign in the message we wanted to send. For example, one of the things Elisabeth incorporated into the episode was that when a sexual assault victim comes in, they are partnered up with a counselor or a practitioner who is with them from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave. It's someone they can come back to months later and still speak to. In this episode, Jo is that person for Abby. She never leaves Abby's side. They are always holding hands which symbolizes their emotional grip as well. This is where the research went it and that's how we prepared. I also had many conversations with the writers about what each scene meant and how to convey that onscreen.
Why do you think Jo reveals she had an abortion during her conversation with her mom, especially since she hasn't told anyone else in her life about it?
CL: That's interesting. I think in that moment both of them are feeling vulnerable with each other. Jo reaches for her mom's hand when she realizes her mother didn't have a choice but to give her up. At the time, this is the best decision for Jo's mom, and Jo finally understands that. In fact, Jo stays in an abusive relationship with her ex-husband for a long time and eventually gets pregnant. She never tells him. That's the decision Jo makes and lives with until she eventually flees from her abuser. So, Jo understands what it must've been like for her mom when she was a vulnerable, young, pregnant girl. I think that's why Jo brings up her own abortion. She explains why she doesn't feel any shame. It's something she dealt with privately. In that moment, I think there's a brief connection between Jo and her mother. That's why Jo reaches for her mother's hand, so it's even more heartbreaking to watch her mother pull away.
Is there a possibility Jo might see her mother or her siblings in the future?
CL: I think there's always a possibility. I haven't heard anything about it yet, but I think it would be interesting to find out what Jo would say in a second conversation with her birth mom ⏤ who just got up and left because the situation was too painful to deal with. It seems done in a very brutal way, but I don't know. It's Grey's Anatomy, so there's a chance she'll come back.
How will Jo and Alex's marriage be impacted moving forward?
CL: I don't think it's impacted in the sense that Jo's feelings for Alex disappear. It's a matter of having to disclose very painful information to the person you love the most. I can't imagine what that's like. In a sense, Jo is taking time to wrap her head around the situation, so she can process her feelings. She needs to do that for herself before she tells Alex. There's a disconnect between them with Alex wanting to know what happened, which is natural obviously because he's worried about Jo. It doesn't make their relationship unstable, but it definitely leaves them feeling detached from each other. This is something we haven't seen them experiencing in a very, very long time.
Since Jo and Alex have already talked about having kids, will this shocking news change anything for them?
CL: It derails things in the present, but I don't know about the future. Jo is not in a place to take care of children. She's emotionally crippled and can't take care of others right now because she needs to take care of herself first. They could've gotten pregnant, but things drastically change after Jo meets her mom.
Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us what's next for Jo this season? Is she going to irrevocably change after finding out about this missing piece in her life?
CL: She does. I can say that you will see another side of Jo that we haven't really seen before. She goes to a very dark place and experiences a deep depression. You will eventually see how that manifests in future episodes. I think Jo was hoping to get closure. She wanted to hear her birth mom say, "I love you. I want a relationship" and sort of go from there. I think deep down that would've been the best outcome for Jo. Not only did she not get closure, but it's opened a massive wound that Jo didn't even know existed. What you're going to see moving forward is someone who is dealing with trauma and what that immense pain looks like for Jo.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC. You can watch last week's episode on streaming services or on demand.