This post discusses details of the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy, “Helplessly Hoping.”
For a season of Grey’s Anatomy set in the COVID era, it shouldn’t come as a shock that doctors would die. But it was not Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey or Greg Germann’s Tom Koracik—both currently hospitalized at Grey Sloan Memorial with COVID—who flatlined on Thursday’s episode of the ABC medical drama. Instead, Giacomo Gianniotti’s Andrew Deluca was brought in with a stab wound inflicted during his mission to stop a child trafficking ring, which had played out on the Station 19 episode earlier in the evening. The episode ended with a rarity for Grey’s: A celebratory death scene for a beloved series regular.
In fact, DeLuca is just the fifth series regular whose character has died on the series over the 16-and-a-half seasons. (The other four are T.R. Knight’s George, Patrick Dempsey’s Derek, Eric Dane’s Mark, and Chyler Leigh’s Lexie.) But that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of DeLuca...
Gianniotti spoke with The A.V. Club on Friday morning about being told that, after seven seasons, his character would meet his end; why it was important that his character’s goodbye be peaceful; and why Thursday’s episode was not the end of his time on the Grey’s set.
The A.V. Club: While it was sad to see DeLuca go, it was nice that it was a crossover week and the audience got to spend so much time with him during the Station 19 hour before the Grey’s episode.
Giacomo Gianniotti: Thank you. Yeah, there was much story to tell, so it was great to have this amazing other show, Station 19, where we didn’t have to rush all the storytelling and condense it into 45 minutes on Grey’s Anatomy—that we could use Station 19 to give DeLucca the time he deserved. I thought that was great, because I can’t imagine having told that entire story within the Grey’s Anatomy space.
AVC: When showrunner Krista Vernoff and executive producer Debbie Allen told you that DeLuca was going to die, what was your initial reaction? Was there anything you felt was important for the character to do before he left?
GG: When it was first kind of broken down to me, that DeLuca would meet his demise, I immediately panicked—not because I’d be leaving the show, but because we had just finished telling a very important mental health storyline with DeLuca’s bipolar disorder. I was worried that there was a scenario where the story would be that, in a moment of instability, maybe there were some thoughts of taking his life. I never, ever, ever could imagine the story going in that way. I thought that would be a huge disservice to the mental health community, and to DeLuca. So once I found out that that’s not how he was meeting his demise, that it would be in a very tragic but noble way, then I was immediately reassured. I took a deep breath and I was like, “Okay. This this sounds like a story worth telling.”
AVC: After getting to see your character kind of starring in his own action/suspense film on Station 19, most of your Grey’s acting this week took place on the “beach” where Meredith, when not conscious due to COVID complications, has been visited by her deceased loved ones like George and Derek this season. It’s a completely different feel for the show. What was filming there like?
GG: It was great. I think there’s a lot of duality between what DeLuca was going through and what Giacomo, the actor, was going through. They were, essentially, both saying goodbye. And so it was very easy to access all of those emotions. I felt very connected to DeLuca’s wrapping up and saying goodbye and closing all these loose ends. It was just a great opportunity for me to spend a lot of time with Ellen, who I’ve just grown so fond of. We’ve become such great friends, and close, over the years. It was so nice to just have hours and hours and hours together on the beach when we weren’t shooting, to just talk about how much of a great time we’ve had making a show together, and how our relationship has changed over the years, and how much her friendship and mentorship to me as an actor has meant to me, and all the advice that she gave me about what’s next, and all that kind of stuff. You know, to trust yourself, to trust your process, to know your work, and all these things. And it was nice to to really spend some time together before having to depart.
AVC: We’ve had a lot of dramatic deaths and goodbyes on Grey’s over the seasons, with dramatic music and tears. But here there was such a sense of calm in the moment as he gives his goodbye speech to Meredith and goes off with his mom. It was celebratory.
GG: Well, it really warms my heart to hear that, because it’s definitely what we were going for. We all agree that, of course, it was heartbreaking to say goodbye to this character—but we found it was bittersweet. It was beautiful. It was noble. And what a way to go out, if you’re going to go out. DeLuca’s mother is a character that’s often mentioned on the show by DeLuca or [his sister, Carina, played by Stefania Spampinato,] but she’s a person we’d never seen or met—she’s sort of been this very ethereal character. So for the fans to actually see her, and see how much she means to DeLuca through how its face changes when he sees her, I think with such a beautiful storytelling moment.
AVC: What kind of direction were you given when filming those final moments, with your speech to Meredith?
GG: I had with a conversation with [showrunner Krista Vernoff] and I said, “What is the beach?” You know, “What is this place? Because I’m just finding it hard to act. Am I a dream? Am I really DeLuca? Am I a figment of [Meredith’s] imagination? I’m finding it hard to to ground it.” And she said, “It’s a place where everyone is happy, there is no stress, there is no pain, and any pain and demons that you have in your life are removed.” That just opened the whole Pandora’s box for me, because it was sort of an indication that in this world, DeLuca doesn’t suffer from bipolar. All of his brain chemicals are balanced, and he’s free. And so, I really wanted to make sure that DeLuca looked and felt relaxed—looked and felt rested, looked and felt at peace. I hope that that translated. That was sort of our goal in seeing DeLuca in this way. He was known to be kind of frenetic and running in fifth gear, always very fast-paced. But on the beach, he’s just breathing slowly and relaxed and taking his time, thinking about what he’s going to say. This was a new look for the guy, and that was one that was a joy to play and explore on the day.
AVC: You mentioned this being a goodbye for both you and DeLuca, but you’re not done. You directed an episode that will air in April.
GG: Yeah, you know, all of this wasn’t planned this way. I was offered this job to direct last year, long before we knew that I was leaving the show. As far as I knew, at that time, I was going to have to juggle acting and directing at the same time. So, in a way, I feel like I got lucky because for my first time, I was able to just focus as the director, which was a relief and an honor. And so, my last moments on set as an actor, there wasn’t this big weeping sadness because every actor and person on set knew that I was sure to be returning to direct. We knew we would really spend time together—that I would get to really spend significant time face to face with every actor on the show, every department head. And so, for me, it was a little emotional because I knew this was the last time acting. But for everybody else, my last scene directing, that was more like the goodbye. That felt more like “this is the last time we’re going to see each other for a while.”
AVC: You’ve teased that we haven’t seen the last of DeLuca on Grey’s. I know you can’t go more into that so I’ll actually phrase my question this way: “Have you been told that you’ve filmed your last scenes as DeLuca already?”
GG: I can’t directly answer that question. [laughs] What I can tell you that you will see DeLuca again in other forms. You know, a large part of this episode that we saw last night was the loss of DeLuca. There are many stages of grief, and at the moment, especially because only half of the characters know he’s died, it’s just shock. The first stage is absolute shock. We haven’t even got to mourning, haven’t gotten to grief. Those are all things we’re going to explore in the next episode, and the next one, and the next one to come. So, you know, as often times when you lose someone, you reminisce, you think back on old times, and you look at old photographs. These are these are sort of some of these storytelling devices that I’m sure we will be using to to continue to see what we’ve got as we remember him.
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.