SPOILER ALERT: The story includes details about tonight’s Season 18 premiere of Grey’s Anatomy.
EXCLUSIVE: For a second consecutive year, the season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy delivered a bombshell, with a fan favorite making a surprising return. Last year, it was former star Patrick Dempsey, this time it was former guest star Scott Speedman. As Deadline revealed exclusively earlier tonight, Speedman has joined Grey’s Anatomy as a series regular for Season 18, reprising his role as transplant surgeon Nick Marsh which he originally played as a guest star in a Season 14 episode. Nick was revealed as the mystery person from the “someone from Meredith’s past comes back” promo teasing the premiere.
In an exclusive interview with Deadline, which you can read below, Speedman and Vernoff reveal how he was brought back as a series regular for the upcoming Season 18, which could be the mega hit series’ last. (No decision has been made whether Grey’s would end this season, but ABC hopes to keep it going.) The duo, who share a Felicity connection, also address the length of Speedman’s tenure, how they managed to keep his arrival secret, who was behind the idea for Meredith and Nick’s “meet cute,” what is next for the new couple, and could they get into a love triangle with Cormac Hayes. Vernoff also touches on a couple of other major developments in the Season 18 opener, including Link and Amelia’s future, and the decision to set the new season in a post-pandemic world.
Before we get into that, here is a brief recap of the premiere.
Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) bumped into Nick during a trip to Minnesota, invited by neurosurgeon David Hamilton (played by new recurring guest star Peter Gallagher) to attend the dedication of a research library to her mother. During a dinner with Hamilton as part of his charm offensive trying to recruit Meredith to run a lab for experimental Parkinson’s surgery, Meredith locked eyes with Nick as he was leaving the restaurant with a date. She later found him waiting for her at her hotel and the two had a chat at the bar. (You can watch a video of their second encounter below the Q&A.)
After initially saying that she has a boyfriend, Meredith corrected herself, saying, “No I’m not seeing someone” hours after a sweet video phone call with Cormac Hayes. She also shared her near-death experience with Covid, prompting Nick, a liver transplant recipient whose life Meredith saved three years ago, to say, “It’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it, being a miracle. It’s what are you going to do with it,” to which Meredith responded, “That very question haunts my dreams.” (She was quite literal here, as the episode opened with Meredith’s mother Ellis appearing to her in a dream, badgering her on that very subject, “You survived the unthinkable, and what do you have to show for it?”)
Kate Burton as Meredith’s dead mother Ellis was one of three Grey’s Anatomy alums whose return this season already had been announced, along with Abigail Spencer as Owen’s sister Megan and Kate Walsh as Addison. Two of them, Burton and Spencer, made appearances in the season premiere, which kicked off with a title card announcing that, after Grey’s Anatomy tackled the pandemic head-on the entire last season, the show’s Season 18 will be set in a fictional post-pandemic world.
Megan attended Owen and Teddy’s park wedding, which was interrupted when tandem cyclists ran over the priest officiating the ceremony just before he was to pronounce them husband and wife. Taken to Grey Sloan, the priest ultimately died of his injuries but, in part honoring him since weddings were his favorite thing, Teddy and Owen finished the ceremony at a club later that evening with their co-workers present and Megan officiating.
Things continued to be rocky for Link and Amelia as he proposed to her again and was rejected, again. Meanwhile, Bailey and Richard conducted interviews with candidates for the multiple open surgeon positions. None of the applicants impressed them until a plucky Dr. Lin made her case to replace Avery as Head of Plastics and was summoned to help with a patient, a test she aced before rejecting the hospital’s offer over the level of preparedness of its residents.
DEADLINE: Scott, your 2018 guest appearance on Grey’s Anatomy felt like the beginning of a great love story for Meredith, which fans immediately sparked to, but it didn’t move forward at the time. What was the original plan? Was it supposed to take three years before you came back?
SPEEDMAN: No, I just had gotten off of a show (Animal Kingdom). I knew Ellen personally, and she contacted me and sent me the script. I was sitting around and read the script. It was a one-off episode, the dialogue was great, and I thought it’d be really fun to go do with her. That’s basically how it came about, and everybody was like, oh, no, this is just a one-off, it’s just a guest star, it’s just this. So, I thought it’d be fun just to sneak on and do an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, this great show that’s been on for so long. I guess maybe I was slightly naïve about people’s reaction to it or what they thought it might be, but I thought that was kind of fun, too, just to play with an audience that way. That’s how it was told to me, and now, here we are.
DEADLINE: How many times were you asked by fans when are you coming back to Grey’s over the last three years?
SPEEDMAN: A few times. What you don’t know, so inside the business down here in Los Angeles, is how beloved the show is, the fervor from the fans of this show and how deeply they care about these characters and how deeply they care about that character, specifically, and what they want for Meredith — they want something great for her. You realize very quickly that you’ve stepped into something that is important. So, yeah, they asked me a little bit, but I very politely say, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
DEADLINE: Krista, what was your initial reaction when you saw Scott and Ellen’s onscreen chemistry in the Season 14 episode and when did you start trying to make Scott’s stay longer than one episode?
VERNOFF: I will say that it was planned as one episode, and that’s how we got Scott to come do it. That season, if you’ll recall, Season 14, Ellen had come off a string of romances, and when I came in to run the show, she asked for a break from romance, and I thought that was a well-earned break. But I wanted to hint at the possibilities of her heart reopening in the future, and so we conceived of this one-off episode and this character who would make her feel, I think she says in the end of that episode, I felt the way I felt with Derek, I felt things I haven’t felt in a really long time. It was really designed for that purpose, to say she’s capable of feeling, and then I started to see the dailies, and I think I started calling Scott’s team, going, ‘But what if he came back, when might he come back?’ I called several times, but he was making movies and doing things.
DEADLINE: When did things start to move in that direction? Did you plan the season with Nick in it or was the character inserted once Scott got on board over the summer?
VERNOFF: We reached out to Scott as I was envisioning the show. Actually toward the end of last season, I started saying to Ellen, I’m having this thought, and she was like, ‘Again?’, because I had made that phone call a few times. But this time, we got lucky, he said yes, and we planned the season accordingly.
DEADLINE: Is Scott here to stay more than one season, if Grey’s goes on, or is it one season at a time?
VERNOFF: He’s here for this season, and that’s what we know right now and what we’re saying.
SPEEDMAN: That’s all I know.
DEADLINE: Scott, what convinced you to do another show as a series regular and join Grey’s now?
SPEEDMAN: Well, it’s twofold, really. It is timing. To be totally honest, the last time wasn’t the right time. I haven’t done a show since the last show I did. I think a lot of people love that schedule, and I really do, too, but I was wanting to do other things. But you always know, you put something in the back of your mind when you do have chemistry with somebody, and you do enjoy the work experience, because that’s rare, actually. So, when this opportunity came around, I was trying to think of why not to do it, and I couldn’t come up with any reasons. It was a great show, really fun people, and it just felt the right timing for me. I wanted to jump in, and then, when I heard what the storyline could be, that was exciting to me.
DEADLINE: With that segue, what can you tease about the storyline that was excited to you?
SPEEDMAN: I don’t know what I can say and what I can’t about where they…
VERNOFF:.. Not much. He can’t say much…
SPEEDMAN: I’ll just say that I think the romantic comedy aspect of things was interesting to me. I knew Ellen could handle that, and I knew I could do that, and that was fun for me. I used to do a show, way back. It kind of reminded me of that, a little bit, and that’s a really nice suit to put back on, in a way, you know? So, I was excited about that.
DEADLINE: You are talking about Felicity, right?
SPEEDMAN: Yeah. That’s what I mean, not just the chemistry. I’ve been on shows that I’ve enjoyed and shows that I don’t, and it’s a rare thing to have something like this, and it just feels good being here more than anything.
VERNOFF: I said to Scott, I was a huge Felicity fan, and the very first hour of TV I ever wrote was a spec of Felicity. I wrote it for free. It was one of my writing samples that made my career happen. I was a huge fan, and I’ve been a fan of Scott’s, and in recent years, he’s been doing a lot of very heavy, very serious stuff, and I was like, here’s an opportunity to lighten up, all that charm and all that humor that we haven’t seen. He’s been doing action movies and dark things, and this was an opportunity to come play, I thought.
SPEEDMAN: Totally. Totally.
DEADLINE: So you wrote for Scott’s character on Felicity in that first script, Krista, right?
VERNOFF: It was season 1 of Felicity. Yeah.
SPEEDMAN: Oh, really? Wow.
DEADLINE: Meredith and Nick’s “meet cute” chance encounter in the restaurant and follow-up sit-down hint at their potential of becoming the next beloved Grey’s couple. How did you decide on how the two characters will reconnect?
VERNOFF: The first encounter was actually pitched to me by Ellen. I said, he said yes, and we’re trying to figure it out, and she just had this very specific imagining that was perfect.
SPEEDMAN: Yeah. It felt really good. In terms of the “meet cute” stuff, actually I learned that phrase after the first episode I did, I’d never heard that before until that episode, but yeah, I thought this was a really cool way to do it that felt grounded and adult and fun, too. I’d been pitched what it was going to be, but when I read the scenes, I got really excited.
VERNOFF: It feels like an old-school romantic comedy, and that’s what Ellen said. She said I just want something that feels different and adult, and I loved it, I thought it was very elegant. He’s on a date with another woman. He cannot approach her in that restaurant, and yet he finds another way to make his approach. I loved it.
DEADLINE: Meredith and Nick meet in Minnesota, and she is being wooed to run a lab there. So, will the two of them remain in Minnesota or will they move their romance to Seattle?
VERNOFF: You have to tune in to see. I think it’s not without its obstacles. He works full-time in Minnesota, but we’ve established he’s a traveling surgeon, as well. He’s a traveling transplant surgeon. He goes to pick up organs, and things, and he’s got his whole life, and she’s got her whole life, and we’ll see what happens.
SPEEDMAN: We’ll see what happens. I don’t know.
DEADLINE: During their chat at the bar, Meredith tells Nick originally that she is in a relationship before correcting herself and saying that she is not seeing anyone. Does that mean that this will grow into a full-blown romance or do we have the makings of a classic Grey’s triangle with Hayes?
VERNOFF: I think there is complexity. I think that she and Hayes had begun to connect, clearly, toward the end of last season. He’s a father first, and he’s a widow, he’s a far more recent widow, and I think there is beautiful complexity to be had in Meredith, once again, having two men for whom she has feelings. I think that it’s all in the timing, and more will be revealed.
SPEEDMAN: Wait, who’s Hayes? I don’t know. I don’t know him. Who’s this guy?
DEADLINE: Scott, you have a rival. I’m sorry that you didn’t know, you’ll have to fight for Meredith.
SPEEDMAN: I didn’t know. All right. That’s good.
DEADLINE: We went through this with Patrick Dempsey, but can you describe the extent to which you went to keep Scott’s joining the show a secret?
VERNOFF: I went to the same extent that I went to keep Patrick’s return a secret, which is torture for everybody, fake character names, fake scenes at table reads, dailies not released, cuts with omitted scenes. We wanted to give fans the thrill of surprise one more time. I knew that I would have to let them advertise Kate Walsh. When the studio network are paying a lot of money for people to come and do big appearances, they want to advertise it, and I always want surprises. I’m like a child. So, this one, it felt important to let the fans gasp at their television one more time.
DEADLINE: Scott, was it hard to keep the secret? What did you tell your friends, your parents about what you were doing?
SPEEDMAN: Oh, my friends have no idea. At home, my girlfriend knows, obviously. I wouldn’t be able to get away with that. But no, my friends have no clue. You know, this is pretty on par with my behavior. They’ll see it tomorrow night and say, yeah, that makes sense, he totally lied to us, but yeah. No, I’m excited for them to be thrown off and excited, too.
DEADLINE: We will be seeing a lot of Scott throughout the season, right? Is he in every episode pretty much, Krista?
VERNOFF: Pretty much. You’ll see a lot of him.
DEADLINE: That makes keeping Scott’s arrival a secret an ever bigger feat. Hiding Patrick is one thing because he had a couple of lines on a beach in a handful of episodes, but how do you do it with someone who is a series regular?
VERNOFF: I will say, too, that I really, really wanted to make this work with Scott. He was shooting a movie. So, in one way, that actually benefitted us because we had to save his scenes for multiple episodes and shoot them in the last week, basically, and plug them in. We’re shooting some scenes today [Wednesday] that are in the episode that airs next week. So, we made this work, but it actually really helped protect the surprise.
SPEEDMAN: Oh, no, poor editors.
VERNOFF: Yeah. The poor editors. I’m going to send some flowers.
DEADLINE: Three series regulars left Grey’s last season. Are you going to be bringing other new series regulars this season besides Scott?
VERNOFF: No. Just Scott. You know, Nellie, I don’t always plan things very far in advance, so that might change next week, but right now, it’s just Scott.
DEADLINE: Scott, how much do you know about Grey’s? Clearly you don’t know who Hayes is…
SPEEDMAN: I don’t know a ton, and that’s kind of fun for me. I don’t watch a lot of television, but I obviously know the broad strokes. My girlfriend is obsessed with the show, so I’ve been watching over her shoulder, a little bit, of the first seasons, and it really is a great show. So, I don’t know a ton, and that’s kind of a nice place to be, especially being a bit of an outsider and coming in, it’s kind of nice, both character-wise and just coming into the show. It kind of works for me.
DEADLINE: Can you tell us a little bit more about your character Nick?
SPEEDMAN: Well, I think when you’re coming onto a show, especially one that’s been around for this long, we’re all feeling it out, that character develops and kind of shifts and moves, too, so you have to be sort of malleable that way. But, as Krista was saying, he’s very charming, and light, and fun, and nice, but he’s an adult, which is really nice, too, and I think that matches really well with Ellen, and I think he’s a good match in that way, kind of does something to her that’s interesting.
VERNOFF: Elisabeth Finch wrote the 14-17, which is the episode that Scott was in, in Season 14, and she’s such a powerful writer, and there were so many layers of character development in those scenes. We learned so much about him and his life that I think it gave Scott a real foundation.
SPEEDMAN: Yes. It did, and that’s rare, I think. We were doing a 5-, 6-page scene, which was really fun. I mean she’s from theater, obviously.
VERNOFF: Yes, she’s a playwright, originally.
SPEEDMAN: I went back and read those scenes a couple of times in prep, and yes, there’s a lot in there, there’s a lot to learn from.
VERNOFF: She talks about his hobbies. She talks about his family. She talks about his mom, his health. So, it was well-developed work to begin with.
DEADLINE: Scott, what was the experience of stepping onto that set and doing the first two scenes with Ellen?
SPEEDMAN: It was easy, and I mean that in the best way. Again, it’s not always easy, and again, when you go back to the Season 14 thing that I did, you mark that, oh, that works on all levels. So, you step onto a set, especially a beloved set like this, and you just have to get out of your head and just jump in. [EP] Debbie [Allen] was there, and everybody was there, and Ellen, we just went for it, and it felt great. So, it was a really fun first day, and it just felt very nice to be here. I’m genuinely happy to be on set and to be working with these great people.
VERNOFF: It’s really great that Ellen and Scott are friends in real life, it makes it easy. It’s fun.
DEADLINE: A couple of quick questions about other developments in the premiere. Krista, as a new couple emerges with Meredith and Nick, another one, Link and Amelia, is teetering on the brink as she rejected yet another proposal. What is next for them?
VERNOFF: That is a messy, painful, beautiful, grounded story about two adults who love each other a lot and want different things, and the question is can they find a middle ground that will work for both of them. Chris Carmack and Caterina Scorsone are so strong and so strong together, and, as a fan, I’m rooting for them to make it. As a human, I’ve rooted for a lot of people to make it who didn’t. So, we’ll see because these stories tell themselves, and the truth is that we don’t know where that one lands, this season. They evolve.
DEADLINE: Link moved in with Jo in Avery’s apartment at the end of the Season 17 finale. Will they remain roommates , and Is there a romance in the cards for them?
VERNOFF: Well, Jo is his friend and has been his friend for a really long time. So, he went to his friend’s house and said, can I crash after Amelia rejected his proposal. But if that’s a romance, it wasn’t my intention to hint at it last season. Who knows where things might go? I don’t know. They are sharing what used to be Jackson Avery’s apartment, this season, yes.
DEADLINE: Dr. Lin (Lynn Chen), a candidate for Avery’s post as Head of Plastic Surgery, made an impression in the premiere. Is this a character that we’ll see more of?
VERNOFF: She is a character you’ll see more of, yes. I’m glad she made an impression. She is part of what is a major story for this season and a major reality in the world, which is, post-Covid, there’s a physician shortage, and she was created partly to articulate what everyone is up against, right now.
DEADLINE: Krista, let’s talk about the creative decision to set the new season in a post-Covid world. You address it in the card that opens the premiere.
VERNOFF: Last season we went full bore into the pandemic. Some shows did one or two episodes, and we did the season, and it felt powerful, and it felt important. It felt authentic, and it felt reverent of what was going on with the medical community and real life. We wanted to tell these stories and also be reflecting reality in a way that might be of service in terms of witnessing the medical community and supporting them. This season, it felt important to not be in the pandemic, and I think what we ran into is when we started talking about the season, we were all in this vaccine frenzy of, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over, and then it wasn’t over. Delta came in, and it was like, okay, this might be like a new normal, but we wanted to get back to something more classic, and so, we put the card on the top of the show to say, we are existing in a fictional post-pandemic world. In real life, the pandemic is still ravaging healthcare workers, here’s a link to click on for vaccine information. And then we went into a fictional world.
So, there were a lot of conversations of, but wait, in real hospitals, for example, everybody’s still in masks. Well, we wanted to see their faces again. I think it’s actually a little bit jarring because of how deep we went and how fictional it is now, and yet, after a moment, it’s like, oh, okay, give me my popcorn, I’m watching this other thing now. It represents our hopes for the future. I hope we get there. I hope for all of us. I hope for my daughter.
SPEEDMAN: But I guess you guys are held to a higher standard, because you’re a medical show, right? Is that what you mean?
VERNOFF: We’re held to a different standard because we’re a medical show. And because we spent a whole season deep in PPE and pandemic. But we ended last season on the high of everybody getting vaccines. So, everybody, get your vaccine so we can get to that post-pandemic world!
SPEEDMAN: Get them!
DEADLINE: Speaking of ramping up the light, hopeful storytelling, Grey’s had two weddings in the last two episodes, and a now rom-com storyline with Meredith and Nick. Will that continue throughout the season?
VERNOFF: One of the things I had spoken with the studio and the network about at the end of last season was coming back strong with joy, that people want hope and joy and relief that the world feels frightening, right now, and they want their joy and romance back.
SPEEDMAN: You can see it, out there, in what people are watching. Even from the Ted Lassos, people are really, really, really needing that.
VERNOFF: Yeah, and the character of Nick Marsh and the actor Scott Speedman are going a long way to bring that this season.
SPEEDMAN: I hope so.
DEADLINE: Krista, anything else you can tease about the season and any other relationships that we should keep an eye on?
VERNOFF: I would keep an eye on everyone, Nellie. Grey’s Anatomy, we’re back.