Last season was pretty heavy, right?
Ellen Pompeo: Well I think it’s a really hard job for the writers. Season after season they have to come up with new things. I guess what they came up with last year just took them into a dark place. But I think the benefit is that it gave them a vehicle for season four, which is to get to a happier place. So I guess it worked. And then, season four will feel different from season three, hopefully.
Eric, do you feel the villain of the show?
Eric Dane: No. I mean a little bit last year. I thought the character was used in that regard, but I don’t feel like the villain.
Ellen, would you like your relation-ship with Shepherd to have a happy ending?
Ellen Pompeo: I’m sure it will. I think the fans will probably storm ABC if it doesn’t at some point. But I under-stand why they can’t bring us together. I think Patrick and I have always said, ‘Why can’t you bring us together and just have us deal with the normal problems that couples deal with?’ They [the studio] feel differently, so we’re at their mercy.
In the past you’ve talked to us about the long hours you have to work and the demands of the job. Have you found a way of balancing this routine as the years have gone by?
James Pickens Jnr: It’s still a tedious show to shoot, because it is so story-driven. And then you layer the technical aspect on top of that. So there’s no real way of getting around it. We hoped, going into fourth season, that they learned how to be a little more efficient. We literally shoot a mini movie every episode – that’s really what it is.
What time do you usually start work?
Patrick Dempsey: Usually it’s about 6am. And then, as the hours tend to extend over the course of the week, we’ll probably start about 10am and go until quite late. It depends on who’s directing and what the storylines are. It gets to about 15 or 16 hours.
Ellen, you’ve said before that you were concerned that the show was taking a soap direction rather than drama. How do you feel about that?
Ellen Pompeo: I won’t lie, I still feel the same. There’s always going to be a struggle, I think, between actors and balancing art and commerce. Some of us, me in particular, are always going to want to do deep, meaningful work. And when it takes the route of a more commercial, poppy, soapy thing, sometimes I get frustrated.
At the same time that makes it have mass appeal and the show successful. So, you know, artists always struggle with what they do and I will continue to struggle with everything in my life because that’s an actor’s brain. But it’s OK, you know. There are worse problems in life to have.
How do you feel being in such a popular show?
Patrick Dempsey: It’s good. I think to get back to the [last point] it’s a soap opera, and I think that’s OK. I think it’s entertaining people in the world that we’re in right now that is just absolutely devastating if you look at the realities.
You know, we’re entertainers at the end of the day. There are very few shows that have broken through and have touched people on that level, and I think that’s something we always have to keep in mind and be grateful for.
How much of an input does the cast have on how the show progresses?
Patrick Dempsey: Not much really. You can have a dialogue with Shonda [Rhimes, creator and executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy] and the writers. You can say, ‘Hey, here’s what I’m feeling.’ But at the end of the day, we’re really here to execute their vision.
Grey’s Anatomy season four is screened on MBC4 every Wednesday at 12 midnight and repeated on Fridays at 7pm and Saturdays at 6pm