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9 Quick Questions for Chandra Wilson

Actress returns as Dr. Miranda Bailey on the 20th season of ABC’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

spinner image chandra wilson against purple ombre background
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Nino Muñoz/ABC)

Actress Chandra Wilson, 54, has played hard-nosed surgeon Dr. Miranda Bailey on the long-running ABC medical drama Grey’s Anatomy since the show debuted in 2005. The series returns March 14 for its 20th season, and Wilson shares which guest star brought her to tears, the actors who inspired her and whether she plans to stick with Grey’s Anatomy until the final scene.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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How are you similar or different from your Grey’s Anatomy character?

Miranda Bailey is very much not me. She only shows up between the “action” and “cut.” But that doesn’t mean that people’s perception of me isn’t that. I learned that early on when I would just be at Target or be at the grocery store. People were hesitant in their approach because they thought they were going to encounter Miranda.

What do people say to you when they do approach you?

“I watch you” or “I watch with my friends.” Or in the beginning it was, “We watch at the dorms.” It was just to say, “We really love this show,” and now it’s, “We love it. Can I have a selfie?” The people just really want to say hi and that they like what you do. And that’s really cool. What other reason are we doing what we’re doing if people don’t like and enjoy it? So it’s a huge compliment after all these years that people just want to stop for a second and say, “I still watch.”

So many celebrities have guest starred on the show over the years. Do you have a favorite?

The guest star that I probably made the biggest fool of myself in front of was Natalie Cole. I didn’t realize that she had been cast in a role, [and when I saw her] I just turned into a hydrant of tears. I was like, “What a terrible first impression to make, but you just don’t understand that you are Natalie Cole.”

Who were your acting role models or inspirations?

I looked at people like Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad because of their Broadway experience, because that was my initial desire — to work on Broadway. I came from musical theater. So, having the opportunity to work with both of those women over the years ... it feels really full circle.

Did you watch medical shows prior to landing this role?

I still to this day watch General Hospital every single day. I watched ER, I watched Chicago Hope, I watched St. Elsewhere.

You were in your 30s when Grey’s Anatomy began, and now you’re in your 50s. What’s changed the most for you as you prepare for each episode?

We have lots and lots of dialogue. Miranda Bailey has lots of long speeches that she likes to give [to] people. They used to flow real easily. You memorized. Now you have to work on that a little while longer. Everyone has a different style for how they memorize. Now it’s less about just piling stuff into the brain than it is about being able to form relationships with words and why you’re saying what you’re saying, and sometimes you have to play little tricks with yourself. And the vision. There was a time when we all used to read our scripts just carefree, and then slowly but surely [reading glasses] started coming in. It’s been interesting to watch those natural evolutions.

spinner image harry shum junior, chandra wilson and juliet mills in a still from grey's anatomy
Wilson continues her run as Dr. Miranda Bailey on the 20th season of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Liliane Lathan/ABC

What are you doing to keep mentally sharp?

I have one of those apps — [the game] June’s Journey — where you have to find [objects] over and over again to gain points. I do that one a lot. Then I add in a little ginkgo biloba [supplement to my diet] when I can and stay on a good vitamin regimen.

Does playing a medical professional change how you approach your own health and wellness?

The first thing that I was able to learn and appreciate is that your medical professional — whether it’s your personal physician or a surgeon — they’re just human beings. They are not the gods. They do not have the answer. They go off into a room after they talk to you and they look things up online. So that’s the first thing to know — that it’s a team effort, and that’s OK. Everything is kind of trial and error. We just lose patience as human beings, because we just want the answers so we can figure out the thing to do. We just have to be patient and we have to give ourselves some grace.

You’ve said you plan to stay on Grey’s Anatomy until the show officially ends. Is that still how you feel?

I do still feel committed. It’s funny, it’s different when you’re talking about it when you’re in season 4, and then maybe even season 10, and then who would have thought that there would be 10 more seasons with that? But I do like the full circle commitment of having started a thing and then being there to finish a thing. There’s something that gives me a real sense of pride to have been able to do that.

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