SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about the March 11 episodes of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19.
The dramatic crossover midseason premiere of Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy culminated with the death of a beloved doctor, Andrew DeLuca, played by Giacomo Gianniotti for the past six years. He joined other Grey Sloan doctors who died heroes while saving strangers’ lives, including Derek Shepherd and George O’Malley.
Along by his sister Carina, played by Grey’s alumna Stefania Spampinato, who now is a series regular on Station 19. DeLuca rushed to follow suspected kidnapping kingpin Opal. He was able to track her long enough for police to arrest her, but he was stabbed in the process, and while Owen and Teddy initially were able to stabilize him, DeLuca eventually died of his wounds. (You can read Deadline’s recap and an interview with Grey’s and Station 19 showrunner Krista Vernoff, in which she explains the decision to kill off DeLuca, here.)
DeLuca was first introduced at the end of Season 11 as a medical intern. He didn’t always see eye to eye with all of his colleagues but gradually won them over. He also went through a string of romantic relationships at Grey Sloan, most recently with Meredith Grey.
In an interview with Deadline, Gianniotti reflects on his six-year Grey’s Anatomy journey and DeLuca’s death. He addresses how he felt about the manner in which DeLuca was killed off, shares the emotions of filming his last scenes and then returning as a director on the show. He also reveals what he will miss the most about his character, why Grey’s Anatomy is a lot more than a TV show and whether he would be back.
DEADLINE: How and when did you find out that DeLuca would die this season?
GIACOMO GIANNIOTTI: It was about after the first couple of episodes. I was approached by our executive producers, showrunner Krista Vernoff and director Debbie Allen. They said, “Hey, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it, and we feel there’s an opportunity to tell a really, really beautiful story that is going to help a lot of people.” The story is that this human trafficking storyline that we had last season was so well viewed, and everyone really connected with that storyline because human trafficking is just such a huge problem globally, but also in the United States, and I think California is No. 1, where I live right now. It’s a very big issue, so I’m not surprised that the episode that centered on it was very important and received as it was by the fans.
Because we had to shut down due to Covid, we didn’t get to finish telling that storyline. So, when we came back on June 17, they thought it would be great to bring back that storyline and close it out. What if we could catch that woman that trafficked that young girl, and what if DeLuca was to save the day but to lose his life in the process, to die a hero saving all these people and all these children who potentially could’ve been trafficked, but now will not be because the traffickers were stopped? And I just thought it was a beautiful storyline, I thought it was a beautiful way for the character to exit as a hero.
We got together quickly, working on exactly what it would look like and what episode, when it would be, but I said “absolutely.” I’ve been on the show for six years, seven seasons. It’s definitely been a long time, and I’m a young guy. So, I think this was a good time to depart, and I’m happy that Krista and Debbie and all the writers did such a great job with telling the story. I think it’s going to do justice to a lot of people and help a lot of people.
DEADLINE: How was it filming this season leading to tonight’s crossover? Was it getting more emotional with every episode?
GIANNIOTTI: Definitely, yeah. In the beginning, it was strange. I felt like I had this dirty little secret, because none of my cast members — or really anyone on set — knew about this. It was very, very internal between Krista and Debbie Allen and I and some of the key producers and writers, but as we got closer to the date, then the rest of the cast was informed, and yeah, then it was emotional, because then I felt that the secret was out.
Everybody knew, and everybody was, of course, very sad. I’ve been working with all of these people for seven seasons now, sometimes we joke about how we spend more time with each other than we do our families. Before Covid, we used to do 12 hours a day before 10. We spent a lot of time with each other, and so, although it’s a beautiful experience and I’m happy to be leaving in this way, and the story we get to tell is so beautiful, and I think it’s going to help a lot of people, I’m obviously sad to leave all my great, dear friends.
DEADLINE: What were your favorite — and most challenging — moment in the crossover episodes? You got to do several scenes with Ellen Pompeo on the beach.
GIANNIOTTI: Between the Station 19 episode and the Grey’s Anatomy episode, it was a crossover we told. That was another thing that Krista said, “We’d like to have it be a crossover.” Then instead of only having 45 minutes to tell the story, you double that. We can tell a way longer story and not have to rush it.
So we can tell the whole story of how DeLuca is in hot pursuit with Carina, his sister, all the way to the moment of being stabbed and trying to get this woman and get her arrested. We can tell all that story with all the time that it takes to tell that and keep people on the edge of their seat. It kind of feels like an action movie, and it’s something that I never really got to play on Grey’s Anatomy. So, it kind of felt like we were shooting a little action film, Allison Liddi-Brown directed that episode on Station 19, she did a fantastic job, and I’m really excited for people to see that.
And then on Grey’s Anatomy, for the second hour, we get to see the whole medical side of it and how our doctors treat him and the stress, the pressure that they’re under. They do it every day, but when you have one of your own on the table, it’s a whole different experience, and it’s a whole different pressure for our doctors.
The action movie part of it in the Station 19 episode was really cool to shoot, and I love, love, love, love the time we spent with Spampinato, who plays my sister on the show. We got to spend a lot of time together working together, which we don’t usually get, especially since she’s left to Station 19. That was a real treat. Since this season started, Ellen Pompeo’s character Meredith Grey has been battling Covid, she’s been largely unconscious, and so, I haven’t really got to work and spend a lot of time with her, and our romance on the show has been put on pause due to a lot of stuff that happened last season and now with her being sick.
So we got to spend a couple days out on the beach together, just me and her, and it was so beautiful, just as friends and as actors, to share in those moments together. It felt like it was a full-circle experience to have started as an intern on the show and largely far away from Meredith Grey, and then getting to where I end on the show, and I’m about as close as I could ever be to her, both as an actor and as a character.
It was just so nice because, when the cameras are rolling, we’re obviously doing the scene, but in between takes, Ellen and I were just there for hours talking about arcs, being though the emotion over the years and how much fun times we’ve had working together, the friendship that we built over time and how she’s been such an incredible mentor and friend to me over the years. So it was sad to end that day, because I knew that that was the last time that we were going to work together. It was bittersweet, for sure.
DEADLINE: After you filmed DeLuca’s big finale, you came back and you directed an episode, correct?
GIANNIOTTI: Correct. Yeah.
DEADLINE: How was it interacting with your cast members in that capacity and being back on the set, but as a director?
GIANNIOTTI: It was great. I’ve been working towards a career in directing for a very long time, and I approached Debbie Allen, our executive producer, about four years ago, telling her that I wanted to direct and I wanted to carve out a path for that in my career. She gave me a whole laundry list of tasks I was to complete, a lot of shadowing and mentorships that I completed over the years.
And then this year happened to be the year where there was an opening, and luckily, Debbie Allen has been such a great friend and mentor and trusted me with an episode. So even though my work as an actor finished, I was still able to stick around and direct an episode, and it was an amazingly positive experience for me to communicate with my crew on a different level and the actors, as well, meeting them on a very different plane, having to direct them and hear their insights. I have a great relationship with all the actors on the show, and so, when I came to direct, all the actors were such a joy to work with because they were all so generous. They all knew that it was my first time directing, and they just went above and beyond to make the experience so easy for me. So I’m really excited for my episode, 17.11, this season, and for everybody to see it.
DEADLINE: In an IG post about wrapping the episode as a director, you wrote, “Now back to being DeLuca.” Was this just so that you don’t ruin the surprise for fans? When I asked Krista, she said that DeLuca will come back in some shape or form later in the season. What can you tell us about that?
GIANNIOTTI: Without telling too much, over the course of these 17 seasons, we’ve had a lot of characters leave, whether their character exited for some reason or whether they died on the show, and we continue to see those people. We’ve continued to see those people in flashbacks, in dreams, in all kinds of different scenarios, and so, just because DeLuca has died, it doesn’t mean that there’s not other ways for us to see clips and other manifestations of DeLuca in the future. I definitely think there’s a possibility to see DeLuca in the rest of the season, but I don’t know exactly how and can’t comment on how.
DEADLINE: Looking back at your six years on the show, what would you miss the most about Grey’s?
GIANNIOTTI: It’s really the people, and that goes for the cast, the writers, the producers, all of the crew, the cameramen, the grips, the electrics, everybody, all the heads of all the departments behind the scenes.Over these seven seasons, I’ve worked with these people for so long and spent so much time with them, I know their partners’ names, their dogs’ names, their kids’ names, they know mine. We are all incredibly close, and before Covid, I would spend time outside of set with a lot of my fellow crew and cast members and people from the show. It really is a family. I know a lot of people say that, and it sounds cheesy, but when you spend that much time with people, it really does become that, and I’m really going to miss the people.
I’m also going to miss the stories. Grey’s Anatomy is such an incredible show, and I talk a lot about the fact that I wasn’t necessarily an avid watcher. I didn’t tune in to the show before I joined it. Since I joined, I became hooked. I did a deep dive and watched the show and realized how incredible it was. It’s so multifaceted, but the thing that is at the core of Grey’s Anatomy is it’s shedding light on important issues.
And that’s why the show can go on for as long as it wants to, because there’s no shortage of issues that need to be talked about. There’s no shortage of medical conditions that people need to be educated on. There’s no shortage of political issues that we need to be educated on. There’s such a great way that Grey’s Anatomy does that, and I’ve received a lot of messages and DMs over the years about “this episode saved my life,” “this episode saved my baby’s life,” “we found out about a surgery that could be done, and now my baby’s alive and well through Grey’s Anatomy.” We’ve done episodes about domestic violence with a hotline posted in the episode that a lot of women had called into seeking help, that saved lives and got them out of bad situations that they were in and gave them the courage to do that.
Grey’s Anatomy is so much more than a television show, it has a really big global impact. So that’s what I’m also going to be missing, being a part of that, being a small part of how many people’s lives are changed because of the show. The other part is that so many people, especially now because the show has been on for 17 seasons, the amount of people that have told me that they started in the medical profession because of Grey’s Anatomy is tremendous.
DEADLINE: What are you going to miss about DeLuca and how did you feel about portraying his struggles with mental illness?
GIANNIOTTI: Ever since last season, towards the end when DeLuca had his big meltdown, which ended in an intervention from his friends and fellow co-workers where he finally admitted to seeking treatment and getting help, I think that was a big episode for mental health and a big PSA for mental health. It was an honor to be a part of telling a story where I got to interpret a character who was struggling with those battles. So many people wrote me that they were touched by that, that they are bipolar, either 1 or 2, and/or they have a family member that is bipolar or had someone in my life who was struggling from a different kind of mental illness.
It made them feel seen, and that meant the world to me, that something that we did made people feel seen. Maybe helped start a conversation between them and a mental health professional. So, it was an enormous sense of responsibility I felt like I had with that character, and I’m sad I won’t be able to continue that storyline, but I know Grey’s Anatomy will do a fantastic job continuing that mental health story in some way, keeping DeLuca’s story alive and other people talking about it on the show.
DEADLINE: Is there anything else you’ll miss about playing DeLuca?
GIANNIOTTI: Anything else I’ll miss about DeLuca? It was just a great time. He was so focused and career-driven but was so troubled at the same time due to his mental health issues that he was dealing with. So he was just so brave to me, I always thought he was so brave. Everything that he took on, despite what he was battling inside, just made him such a brave soul, and I’ll never forget him. I love the guy. I’m sad to not play him anymore.
See below a gallery of Gianniotti as DeLuca through his six years on Grey’s Anatomy:
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