Addison Returns to ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Kate Walsh Teases ‘Twists & Turns’ With Meredith
Is there any chance Addison Montgomery’s arrival at Grey Sloan Memorial will be as intensive as her first appearance?
We know this: Kate Walsh, who sizzled as the seemingly cold-blooded but often warmhearted neonatal surgeon for Seasons 2 and 3 on Grey’s Anatomy (and parts of several more), makes her much-anticipated hospital homecoming on the October 14 episode.
But fans won’t ever forget her 2005 introduction, in the juggernaut medical drama’s first-season finale. The mysterious, impeccably dressed redhead strode over to her estranged partner, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), and his new paramour, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). Extending her hand, she crisply introduced herself to Meredith as Addison Shepherd before adding, after a pregnant pause, “and you must be the woman who’s been screwing my husband.”
Walsh laughs now at this first of her character’s many signature moments. “For that 30-second scene, I got more attention than anything I’ve done before or since,” she recalls.
The spotlight is back on Addison, whose entrance is orchestrated by Richard (James Pickens Jr.) asking her to help whip the current crop of residents into shape. But the operative question is: What new chapters can fans expect to see in the lengthy saga of her and Mer? “People will be surprised,” Walsh teases. “There’ll be twists and turns” between the two.
Addison’s history has plenty of those. She and Derek tried reconciling during Season 2 but later divorced, with Meredith finally marrying her McDream Man in Season 7. Meanwhile, Addison famously hooked up for a time with Mark “McSteamy” Sloan (Eric Dane), with whom she had dallied during her marriage. In 2007, she relocated to Los Angeles to work at a medical group on what became Grey’s spinoff Private Practice. She flourished professionally and went through several partners and failed fertility treatments before ending up content in the 2013 fade-out with an adopted baby named Henry and new husband Dr. Jake Reilly (Benjamin Bratt).
Scheduling issues had long scotched any possible Grey’s encore for the actress, most recently seen on 13 Reasons Why, The Umbrella Academy and Emily in Paris. But, says series showrunner Krista Vernoff, “We had an idea this year, and I reached out and she was game.” The Season 17 COVID storyline that brought back a beach-walking Derek in Meredith’s mind during her coma—along with Dane’s Mark, T.R. Knight’s George and Chyler Leigh’s Lexie, other characters who had passed on—may have also been a factor. Adds Vernoff: “I think [Walsh] saw the joy those returns brought fans, and she was excited to come back.”
Walsh fit right in, confirms Vernoff. Her first day on the set, “a lot of people were tearing up. It was like your favorite sister coming home after a decade overseas.”
Addison has a great deal of emotional catching up to do during this several-episode arc. “The fact is, she hasn’t been back for pretty poignant events in Grey’s history, like Derek’s funeral, Meredith’s children and [former sister-in-law] Amelia [Shepherd’s] child,” Walsh states. “You can’t help but feel like the prodigal daughter is returning.” Some harsh words may fly with long-ago romantic rival Meredith, now chief of general surgery. “There is so much water under the bridge between them,” says Vernoff, including “a history that’s been reframed by Derek’s death” after a traffic accident in Season 11. “Though there’s real respect between them, there’s also new dynamics you’ve never seen before on the show.”
Some of that involves a startling professional development for the surgeon once called the “Meryl Streep of Maternal-Fetal Medicine”: Addison’s top reason for being at Grey Sloan is to conduct a clinical trial en route “to get the first uterine transplant approved,” says Vernoff.
Meanwhile, Meredith has her own sunnier professional horizons. Having barely survived COVID, she’s been offered a post running a big-budget stem cell study to find a cure for Parkinson’s, courtesy of Dr. David Hamilton (Peter Gallagher), a friend of her late mother, Ellis (Kate Burton, who appears in Mer’s latest visions).
Addison also gets quality time in “beautiful, intimate scenes” with former Practice colleague Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), Derek’s neurosurgeon sister, says Walsh. The friends “open up to each other in ways they don’t with anyone else,” Vernoff says, with Amelia revealing why she rejected Link’s (Chris Carmack) marriage proposal at the end of Season 17.
It is the show’s intimacy—“that heightened aspect of Grey’s taking place in the hospital”—that drew Walsh back to a character she’s now played in 169 episodes over two series. “I loved Private Practice, but Grey’s is like a pressure cooker,” she says. “Personal moments sometimes come out of nowhere and it’s surprising and moving and hopefully compelling.” The star’s final prognosis for her storyline? “Like vintage Grey’s, you will laugh and then you’ll cry.”
Grey’s Anatomy, Thursdays, 9/8c, ABC
This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s latest issue. For more, pick up the issue, on newsstands Thursday, October 7.