With tonight’s “This Is How We Do It” episode of Grey’s Anatomy (the musical episode is next week, fyi), there is the planning of a baby shower (Callie’s), more health complications for Henry (Scott Foley, who should just be made a full-timer on the show) and more competition for the plum Chief Resident spot. Also, a familiar face turns up at the hospital in tonight’s episode – Marina Sirtis, who some may remember from the film Crash or her acclaimed stint as Lt. Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation and some of franchise feature films.
In tonight’s episode, Sirtis plays Sonya, a woman who is working with Derek (Patrick Dempsey) and Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) in the Alzheimer’s story that has been on-going this year. To find out more about her story and how it felt to step into the still-popular long-running ABC drama, I rang up Sirtis earlier this week.
Jim Halterman: I wasn’t able to see tonight’s episode beforehand but can you tell me how you landed the part on the show?
Marina Sirtis: After I was in “Crash” playing the Iranian lady, I had a spate of doing a lot of Iranian roles and I got to the point where I said to my people that I had kind of done this now and I didn’t want to be ‘that actress’ who plays the Iranian chicks when Shohreh [Aghdashloo] isn’t available. Then, this part came along and it’s a woman who has early-onset Alzheimer’s and she’s in the study that Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo’s characters are doing and it’s a through-line recently on the show. When I read it, I really liked it and I thought I really can’t say ‘I’m not going to play Iranians’ because sometimes they’re good parts and I should just look at the part and if it’s a part I want to play it doesn’t matter what nationality it is. I do every accent under the sun anyway because I have to because of the way I look. If it’s something that’s in my arsenal though I have to say I’m the one British accent who cannot do an Indian accent. It’s amazing! I’ve heard it all my life but I still can’t do it. I’m sure if I studied for awhile with a voice coach I could probably get it but with every other accent I can listen and I get it but with that one I don’t. So this part came along and I really liked it. No, they didn’t offer it to me and I had to go in and read which, to be honest, everyone has to do now. The people that I run into at auditions…my mouth just falls open when I see these women that I respect and admire who are having to read. It’s just the way the business is now. It’s changed a lot in 20 years and you either have to get on board or not work. It’s just the way it is. I went in and read and I got it.
JH: What was it about the part that drew you in?
MS: The parts that I’m drawn to are about relationships and dynamics in relationships and something meaningful and something that says something. This woman has a 28-year old [Tarik, played by Pej Vahdat] who is gay and it’s not acceptable to be gay in the Persian community in general – I’m not going to say that every Persian parent is like that – but that, to me, was interesting in the relationship I have with the guy playing my son.
JH: Is this a coming-out story in some regard, then?
MS: No, he has a longtime partner in England and I have basically had to leave my whole life behind to be with my son. My husband has remarried and the whole family has disowned us and I go into this study and my son leaves his life in England to come to be with me; he has to be with me for 2 years for me to be in this study. It’s about the decision making process that we ultimately get to.
JH: Safe to say, then, that we’ll need some Kleenex for some of your scenes?
MS: Oh yes. Again, that’s why I wanted to play this part. I want to play parts that touch my heart or touch someone else’s heart and, to be honest, that’s what I’m good at. I’m not good at just chatting about the weather. [laughs] I’m either good at being really funny or really dramatic. I don’t have that gray area in the middle.
JH: How was it working on such an established set? Is it hard to go into the well-oiled machine like Grey’s Anatomy?
MS: I worked basically with Ellen and Patrick and it is hard to go in as a guest star into an established show. When I was on a series as a regular character [on Star Trek: TNG], we always tried to make the guest stars feel at home but it’s hard. You’re nervous, of course, and you don’t want to screw up. They were fantastic and they really welcomed me with open arms. I suppose it helped that they knew who I was and some of them were fans but it was fantastic. Patrick is such a cut-up. I said to him, ‘I’m going to give you the biggest compliment I could give to another actor.’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘You’d fit right in with our show!’ We had a blast those seven years and he would have fit right in. We had a nice camaraderie going.
JH: And Patrick has the best hair in the business!
MS: You know, he has more hair in the inch of his head than I have in my whole head. It’s really depressing. [laughs]
JH: You touched on it a little bit but talk to me about being a part of the Star Trek legacy even today. Was that something to get used to?
MS: Apart from LeVar Burton, we were unknowns and we got this great gig. We were all thrilled and so happy and we all got along famously from the first minute. I think the testament to the show is that we started in 1987 and it’s now 2011 and we’re all still best friends. How many other shows can you say that in this town that 25 years later they’re still best friends? So, it was a wonderful time and people often ask me this about being typecast from being on Star Trek and my response is always no matter what series you do, you’re typecast if it’s a success. You can’t single out Star Trek for that. Any series – a sitcom or an hour episodic – most of the cast has a little of downtime after the series so people get to know them doing something else. It just comes with the territory of being on a successful show.
JH: Besides Grey’s Anatomy, where else can we see you on TV or film?
MS: I have to fess up and say I’m one of those over-40 actresses so, as we know in this business, the work gets a little leaner as you get older. I’m actually working right now with Michael Dorn [who played Worf on TNG] and we’re writing and trying to produce our own projects. We’re still best friends and we always try to get things off the ground. We have a couple movies that look promising and they’re going forward quite nicely. We’re being more proactive than waiting for the phone to ring.
Grey’s Anatomy airs tonight at 9/8c on ABC.