‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Why Ellen Pompeo Had a ‘Knock-Down, Drag-Out Fight’ With the Director of This Episode
ABC recently announced that Grey’s Anatomy has begun filming for season 17. Starring as Dr. Meredith Grey since the medical drama debuted in 2005, Ellen Pompeo has headlined many of the show’s most famous episodes.
One involves the second installment of a two-parter that aired following Super Bowl XL in 2006, where Meredith has to dismantle a bomb inside a man’s chest. Featuring Kyle Chandler as bomb expert Dylan Young, the landmark episode instigated a major difference of opinion between Pompeo and director Peter Horton.
An explosive ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
The episode entitled “As We Know It” aired on February 12, 2006 and became a groundbreaker for the rookie series. Ending with the bomb going off as Young carries it out of the operating room, show creator Shonda Rhimes made sure network execs were on board with the storyline.
“I remember having to talk it through with [then ABC Entertainment Group president] Stephen McPherson,” Rhimes told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “It was a big deal that we were doing the Super Bowl episode, so I wanted to make sure it was something they wanted to do. He seemed fine with it.”
Horton recalled the set up required to make the final scene as realistic as possible.
“It was a very ambitious proposition,” the Grey’s director said. “There were a number of long days because of that. When that explosion scene came up, the only way you get through it is with a tremendous amount of prep. We worked on how we wanted to do it, what walls we wanted to collapse, what lights we wanted to fall.”
Ellen Pompeo’s stunt double takes a hit
In the scene where the bomb explodes, the camera shows Meredith in slow motion getting thrown to the ground due to the force of the blast. Pompeo was relieved that a stunt double would stand in for her during the physical portion of the shot.
“It was very late at night when we filmed it,” Pompeo explained. “I had been working something like 17 hours. I was exhausted, so I was excited that I didn’t have to do the stunt. They had this amazing stunt girl who was going to do it for me. They strapped her to a cable so they could pull her back when Kyle blows up.”
Unfortunately, the stunt person got a little more than she bargained for after attempting the scene.
“The stunt double was fairly young,” Horton said. “She wasn’t quite prepared for when she got yanked, having landed on her back and getting her head snapped back. And boy, did it. You could hear it. … she had to go through concussion protocol. We’d only had one take of this thing, and I needed to have a couple of things adjusted from that one take, so I had Ellen do it.”
Meredith Grey takes the fall
When Pompeo got wind of Horton wanting her to do the stunt herself, she was quite vocal about her opposition to the idea.
“We had a knock-down, drag-out fight because he insisted I do the stunt,” Pompeo revealed. “I said, ‘A f*cking professional stuntwoman just gave herself a concussion doing it. I’ve been working 18 hours. I can barely see straight. Now you want me to try it?’ He was adamant. I was adamant. We were screaming at each other.”
Some creative editing helped keep Pompeo safe when she finally relented to do the scene.
“If you look in the episode, you will see the stunt girl hit her head,” Horton said. “We left that in. It had been very effective. But we used part of Ellen’s take, which is the part she never remembers. We never would have put her in jeopardy. We pulled her much slower than we pulled the stunt double.”
Fortunately, Pompeo came out of the scene unscathed and the episode is still considered one of the medical drama’s best.
“It was the highlight of Grey’s Anatomy,” Horton commented. “It was a special moment when it all came together in just the right way.”