Oprah: I just love writers! It's amazing how an idea that began in your head is now a character on TV every week. Did you have any sense of what it would take to build a great cast?
Shonda: The script was written with no character descriptions, no clue as to what anyone should look like—except for [resident doctor] Miranda Bailey. I pictured her as a tiny blonde with curls. I thought it would be unexpected to have this sweet-looking person open her mouth and say tough things. But then Chandra Wilson [an African-American actress] auditioned, and she opened her mouth and said those same things. I thought, "That's exactly who Miranda is."
Oprah: So you really had no idea about which characters should be black, white, Asian?
Shonda: No. We read every color actor for every single part. My goal was simply to cast the best actors. I was lucky because the network said, "Go for it." If they had hesitated, I don't know if I would have wanted to do the show. But it was difficult to write the pilot because it's easier to imagine people in terms of color.
Oprah: True. It's amazing that the hospital is run by black people.
Shonda: That wasn't planned, either. And you know what? No one has ever said anything about the fact that the head of the hospital is black. I would have been horrified if someone had suggested it was a problem.
Oprah: This is a new day! I was so moved by the episode where Bonnie and Tom, a black man and a white woman, are stuck together on a metal pole after a train wreck.
Shonda: That's the perfect example of two great actors who just happen to be different races being cast in those parts.
Oprah: I've heard that Miranda Bailey is based on your mother. Is she?
Shonda: A little bit. She's very no-nonsense. Dr. Bailey says stuff like "These people are nasty—all they think about is sex while we're trying to save lives here." My mother is definitely that kind of realist.
Oprah: And I've read that Meredith is more like you than any other character.
Shonda: I'm like both Meredith and Cristina. There's a side to Meredith that keeps everything together at work. I do that. And like Cristina, I sometimes open my mouth and say things I just shouldn't say. I do that less now. I'm learning.
Oprah: Do you already know how the series will end?
Shonda: I do.
Oprah: I'm sure you're not going to give away the ending—and I don't want you to....
Shonda: I know what each of the characters' last moments are.
Oprah: Can you just tell me if anybody dies? Never mind. Don't tell me.
Shonda: I want to tell you, but I can't.
Oprah: Another thing you should never do is one of those behind-the-scenes shows. Don't let your audience see how you really do things. I want to believe there's a human being on the operating table, not a rubber dummy.
Shonda: That's exactly why I don't spend much time on the stages during filming. I want to remain a fan.