When I was three and a half years old, I heard my big sister tell my mum that at school that day all the kids sat on the floor and watched The Neverending Story. Having never heard of the movie, I concluded that this was what school must be: sitting cross legged on the floor listening to a never-ending story. Page after page. The story never ended which was why school was for 12 years. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to get started.
After six years of Private Practice (which becomes nine years if you include the expanded universe of her parent show Grey’s Anatomy) I’ve come about as close to living my child’s version of school as I could hope to come. Every week while I lived in Shondaland, a fat white script would land in my trailer. Each one was another chapter unfolding the misadventures of the heros and heroines of Seaside Wellness. Even as an actor on the show there was a breathlessness about turning each page, not knowing who was going to fall into bed or fall to pieces next, or how medical history would be made this time.
My character, neurosurgeon Amelia Shepherd, wasn’t part of the original cast. I met Shonda Rhimes and appeared in the show in the third year of Private Practice.
The bizarre story of my joining the cast began when I was in college. In order to stave off insanity and tears during finals, I used to take extended coffee breaks during all night study sessions to watch marathon episodes of a new show called Grey’s Anatomy. It was about a group fumbling yet attractive interns trying to make their way in a world of high stakes and adrenaline while navigating the emotional and professional obstacle course that is post-grad. The show was like the Umami of television — salty and sweet. Simultaneously funny and devastating. Completely addictive.
Though I’d been a professional actor as a kid, after undergrad, my new favorite show on ABC inspired me to give it all up and become a doctor myself. I went to a lecture series at the medical faculty for people considering enrollment in med school. I got to the end of the six-week lecture series and had a watershed moment. I realized that I wasn’t as inspired by organ tissue and suturing techniques as I had thought. It wasn’t the ‘miracle of engineering’ that is the human body that was filling me with a mad desire to live my days and nights in a pair of scrubs. The hard truth was I did not remotely want to be a surgeon. I actually just wanted to be on Grey’s Anatomy. So I packed my bags and moved to Hollywood… and in a meta-twist of fate, I ended up playing Derek Shepherd’s hellion little sister Amelia on both Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice.
I’d now fully morphed from being a rabid fan of the show to somehow becoming my own avatar. I remained faithful, watching every episode of both shows when I got home from a long day at the studio. But when I was kitted-up as Amelia Shepherd, I got to embody the desires, triumphs and brokenness felt by an audience of which I was still a member.
The point is — I totally get the fan thing. And as an actor I want to take a few hundred words to acknowledge the debt I owe to you guys for being the reason I got to run around carving up brains and dancing on tables, falling in love and acting out, getting high, grieving and growing as Amelia Shepherd. I got to be Amelia because you guys are Amelia. You are the stuff she’s made of. All the actors on the set got to laugh and cry and make out with Taye Diggs because you guys can relate (well, maybe not to the Taye Diggs part… and yes, he is that good-looking in person). You know what it is to win and lose and to battle pride and shame and grief and acceptance, and you kept tuning in to watch us play out your drama. You unwound from your pain and celebrated your pleasure by watching your lives pumped up in neon kaleidoscopic technicolor and spoken back to you through the the doctors on our show. In fact, often there was no exaggeration necessary. I received countless letters from fans who had lived stories shockingly close to the scenarios we played out on screen.
In a wild display of nerdery I’d liken it to that scene in The Neverending Story (I finally saw it) where Atreyu looks into the Enchanted Mirror and sees his “true” reflection. Staring back at him is Bastian. His fan and co-creator. Bastian finally understands that Atreyu is merely a projection of his own exaggerated values and vulnerabilities. The are inextricably linked. Neither exist independent of the other.
As the dear friends that I’ve made while working on Private Practice scatter to the winds to find new jobs and new stories to play, I want to say thank you on behalf of the whole cast for being as beautiful and fucked-up as the characters we had the privilege to play for the last clutch of years. Without you there would have been no us. Yours were the heartbeats we were fighting for; yours were the tears we shed and the jokes we told.
As Private Practice comes to a close, I’m comforted to know that the characters we so lovingly built won’t end with the new spring television schedule. They’ll keep right on trucking out in the world as you guys go about your lives and study up at the Neverending school of life.
So from the actors on Private Practice, you made all of this possible. Thank you for watching. We are your biggest fans.