‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Why Katherine Heigl Regrets the ‘Heightened Drama’ She Felt When She Left the Show

It’s been over a decade since Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl (Izzie Stevens) left the show. Now, the actor is speaking up about the drama surrounding her exit — here’s what she said.

Katherine Heigl joined the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ cast as Izzie Stevens

'Grey's Anatomy' cast members Patrick Dempsey (Derek Shepherd), Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey), Sandra Oh (Cristina Yang), Justin Chambers (Alex Karev), T.R. Knight (George O'Malley), and Katherine Heigl (Izzie Stevens)
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ cast members Patrick Dempsey (Derek Shepherd), Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey), Sandra Oh (Cristina Yang), Justin Chambers (Alex Karev), T.R. Knight (George O’Malley), and Katherine Heigl (Izzie Stevens) | Frank Ockenfels/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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There’s no denying Heigl’s presence in the Grey’s Anatomy cast. The actor played Izzie for the first few seasons, and many fans were blown away by the character’s drive. But after marrying Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) and nearly dying of cancer, Izzie was fired during the Seattle Grace Mercy West merger in season 6. 

At first, Izzie thought her termination was Alex’s fault. So she ghosted him. But once she realized her husband wasn’t responsible, Izzie returned and wanted to get back together. Even so, Alex knew he deserved better. So in the end, Alex and Izzie got divorced.

That said, Grey’s Anatomy Season 6 wasn’t the last time fans saw Izzie. During the Shondaland drama’s 16th season, Alex left his wife, Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington), for Izzie. Alex and Izzie reconnected during Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) medical license hearing. And as it turned out, Izzie gave birth to Alex’s twin babies after using the embryos they made when she had cancer. So now, they live on a farm in Kansas.

Why did Katherine Heigl leave ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and will she ever return?

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When Heigl left Grey’s Anatomy, the actor revealed her family impacted her decision to leave. 

“My life changed so dramatically in the last six years. I started a family, and it changed everything for me. It changed my desire to work full-time,” Heigl told Entertainment Weekly in 2010. “At the end of the day, there wasn’t a great way to compromise the work schedule that didn’t negatively affect the crew or the cast. It wasn’t feeling fair to them or the show to ask them to bend around my needs.”

Meanwhile, Heigl’s exit from Grey’s Anatomy was surrounded by drama. Two years before the actor’s departure, she pulled her name from Emmy consideration because she didn’t think she was “given the material this season to warrant” a nomination. As a result, Heigl was labeled “difficult.”

Now, many Grey’s Anatomy fans are still hoping to see Heigl come back as Izzie. But in an interview with Access from February 2021, the actor hinted that her return is unlikely.

“I would never say never,” Heigl said of returning to Grey’s Anatomy. “Though, I don’t want to get people’s hopes up. I really… it’s unlikely. So, I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Katherine Heigl opened up about handling the drama while leaving ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ 

Katherine Heigl as Izzie Stevens on 'Grey's Anatomy' smiling
Katherine Heigl as Izzie Stevens on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ | Scott Garfield/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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In an interview with People from February 2021, Heigl opened up about leaving Grey’s Anatomy. At first, the actor admitted she could have dealt with the exit with “more grace.” But ultimately, she doesn’t regret departing the ABC medical drama because of her family. 

“I don’t think you get through life without any regrets,” Heigl said. “But you can create some purpose from it. I know there’s a better way to deal with those things than I did. I could have handled it with more grace.”

She continued, “I don’t actually regret leaving Grey’s Anatomy — I did the right thing for me and for my family.”

Meanwhile, Heigl did regret the “heightened drama” she felt when she left Grey’s Anatomy, acknowledging the toll it had on her mental health. She said:

I do regret the heightened drama I was feeling at that time. If I’d known anything about meditation then, or had been talking to a therapist or someone to help me through some of the fear that I was steeped in, I think I would have been more calm in how I approached what boundaries I needed to create to thrive.

I certainly regret not learning earlier how to manage my anxiety better. Living at that heightened level of anxiety … created a defensiveness in me and wariness and assuming that people were against me. I let my mind run rampant without the tools to properly manage that.

Now, it seems Heigl has put in the work to better her mental health. “The last five years has been really about learning how to manage that anxiety and to control my own thoughts,” she said. “I learned that not managing stress leads to not dealing with negativity or frustration or disappointment in the proper way.”

Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 is expected to return on March 11, 2021.