"Grey's Anatomy" has been on the air for a record 17 seasons — it's the longest running primetime medical drama in TV history — following its 2005 debut. And it's gearing up to launch season 18 in the fall of 2021. The crazy lives of the surgical interns, residents and attendings at fictional Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital have captured the attention of millions for 380 episodes on which a countless number of actors have appeared throughout the show's lengthy run. Led by star and producer Ellen Pompeo, who's played titular character Dr. Meredith Grey since the series' stars, many members of the expansive ensemble have become so synonymous with the ABC hit that fans are unfamiliar with their lives before they joined Seattle's most eventful medical staff. Jesse Williams announced in May 2021 that he was leaving the series after 12 seasons, but in honor of his 40th birthday on Aug. 5, 2021, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at some of the cast's lives before they donned scrubs…
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We were first introduced to Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey, the show's titular character, in the first episode back in March 2005. Meredith began as a surgical intern, moving up to the position of surgical resident, then an attending and eventually, she became the chief of general surgery. The daughter of world-renowned surgeon Ellis Grey struggled with life in a competitive profession, maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend-turned-husband, Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd, her friendships with her colleagues and eventual motherhood. Ellen's performance on the long-running series has earned her a Golden Globe nomination and a Screen Actors Guild Award and in 2018, she was ranked third on the list of highest paid TV actresses by Forbes, with earnings of $23.6 million. In addition to her acting career, she's been a producer on the show since 2017 and has directed two episodes of "Grey's." She also founded the production company Calamity Jane. Ellen has been married to music producer Chris Ivery since 2007. They have three children.
Ellen Pompeo was born in Everett, Massachusetts, and has five older siblings. Sadly, her mother passed away when the future star was only 4, from an accidental painkiller overdose, so Ellen was raised by her father and stepmother. She spoke about experiencing such a huge loss in an interview with Allure in 2006, saying, "I think having my mother die at such a very young age — when she was 39 — [made me] appreciate life so much." Ellen was working in Miami as a bartender in the mid-'90s when she followed her then-boyfriend to New York City, where was approached by a casting director to appear in ads for Citibank and L'Oreal. She soon did a few short films before making her screen debut on an episode of "Law & Order" in 1996. She made her first feature film appearance with a small role in 1999's "Coming Soon" and made a second guest-starring turn on "Law & Order" the following year. Ellen was next seen in guest parts on shows like "Strangers with Candy," "Strong Medicine" and "Friends" before she headed to Los Angeles to participate in the indie film "Mambo Café." After a few years on the West Coast, Ellen — seen here in 2002 — experienced a solid run of supporting parts in large-scale big-screen productions such as 2002's "Moonlight Mile" and "Catch Me If You Can" and 2003's "Old School" and "Daredevil." The next year, she nabbed her first lead role — Meredith on "Grey's Anatomy."
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Jesse Williams joined the show for season 6 in 2009 as recurring character Jackson Avery, a surgical resident at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. He became a main character during season 7 and remained until season 17 in 2021. Jackson specialized in plastic surgery and eventually became chief of the department, proving he could achieve success on his own instead of riding on the coattails of his surgeon grandfather's glowing reputation. "Grey's Anatomy" gave Jesse his first major break and led to roles in feature films like 2012's "The Cabin in the Woods," 2013's "The Butler," 2016's "Money," 2017's "Band Aid" and a trio of films in 2019: "Selah and the Spades," "Jacob's Ladder" and "Random Acts of Violence." He's also appeared on the hit Hulu limited series "Little Fires Everywhere" and in music videos for Demi Lovato's "Tell Me You Love Me" and JAY-Z's "Legacy." He has two kids with Aryn Drake-Lee, from whom he split in 2017 after four years of marriage.
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Jesse Williams (seen here in 2007) was born in Chicago to a teacher and a professional potter and has two younger brothers. He grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and went to Temple University in Philadelphia. He graduated with a double major in African American studies and film and media arts then followed in his father's footsteps by teaching American studies, African studies and English at a high school in the Philadelphia public school system for six years. But in 2005, Jesse took a sharp left turn with his career when he began studying acting and was chosen to participate in the New York Actors Showcase presented by ABC Television. He was one of 14 actors chosen from more than 800 individuals who auditioned for the program. He made his screen debut on a 2006 episode of "Law & Order," which he followed with recurring parts on teen dramas "Beyond the Break" and "Greek." His first job in a feature film came shortly after with a part in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" in 2008. Jesse next had a role in the crime-drama "Brooklyn's Finest" before landing the "Grey's Anatomy" gig that would make him a major star.
Chandra Wilson stars as Miranda Bailey, who made her first appearance on the show's first episode. We met Miranda when she was a resident in general surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital (which became Grey Sloan Memorial later in the series) who was tasked with overseeing the five surgical interns — including Meredith — who were the original focus of the series. She worked her way up to the attending physician level and was eventually named chief of surgery. Chandra, who's been a main cast member for the entire run of the series, received four consecutive Emmy Award nominations and two Screen Actors Guild Awards for her work on the series. She made her directorial debut on the show in 2009 and has gone on to helm 20 episodes. Chandra has also directed episodes of hit shows like "Scandal," "The Fosters" and "Good Trouble." Since starting her lengthy stay on "Grey's," she's also made numerous guest appearances on "General Hospital" and starred in the 2008 television movie "Accidental Friendship," which scored her an additional Emmy nod. Chandra took a brief hiatus from the show in 2009 to star as Mama Morton in a revival of "Chicago" on Broadway.
Chandra Wilson (seen here in 2006) was born and raised in Houston. "Starting at age 4, my mom decided that she was not going to have an idle child in the house," she told Broadway.com in 2009. "So I started taking dance lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then I was in acting classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I was also modeling on Saturdays. And that was my childhood." Chandra began performing as part of a local theater company as a toddler, eventually attending Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, graduating with a drama degree in 1991. Shortly after, she spent four years studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute while also racking up professional theater credits. Her New York City stage debut came in a 1991 production of "The Good Times Are Killing Me." She then moved on to off-Broadway productions of "Paper Moon: The Musical" and "Little Shop of Horrors." She eventually nabbed roles in musicals like "On the Town," "Avenue Q" and "Caroline, or Change." Chandra balanced these with a slew of television guest appearances on projects such as "The Cosby Show," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Third Watch," "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos." She also worked as a temp at Deutsche Bank — she was there when she auditioned for "Grey's Anatomy" for a character who was initially envisioned as a blonde white woman. She impressed the producers so much that the description was thrown right out the window, and the rest is history. Chandra met her boyfriend, with whom she has three children, in the late '80s. They've been together for more than three decades but reportedly have never wed.
Justin Chambers starred as Alex Karev, who was introduced as a surgical intern at Seattle Grace Hospital on the show's very first episode. Alex went on to become a resident before eventually becoming a pediatric surgeon. He was initially disliked by his fellow interns and was often accused of being brusque and dismissive with his patients and co-workers. After a few years, he demonstrated his profound skill for pediatric surgery, displayed more empathy for patients and revealed a gift for connecting with young children. After 16 seasons with the show, Justin announced his departure in early 2020. The series remains his biggest credit to date though he's also appeared in films like 2008's "Lakeview Terrace" and 2013's "Broken City" and voiced The Flash in the direct-to-DVD animated film "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox."
Justin Chambers was born in Springfield, Ohio, to two deputy sheriffs. He has a fraternal twin brother as well as an older brother and two older sisters. Justin and his twin were frequently hospitalized as children due to persistent bouts of pneumonia. While he originally dreamed of being a dentist, he headed to New York City after finishing high school to study acting for four years at the HB Studio and Ron Stetson Studios. It wasn't long before he was discovered by a modelling scout on a train in Paris and soon starred in ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. His first major acting role came in the Dave Matthews Band's 1995 music video for "Ants Marching," which he followed with appearances on television shows like "Another World," "New York Undercover," "Swift Justice" and "Four Corners" (seen here in 1998). Justin also appeared in several TV movies such as "Harvest of Fire," "Rose Hill" and "Seasons of Love." He then made the move into features, including in 1999's "Liberty Heights," 2001's "The Wedding Planner" and "The Musketeer" and 2005's "Southern Belles" and "The Zodiac." In 2003, Justin was cast as one of the leads on the CBS crime-drama "Cold Case," but he left after only appearing on the show's first three episodes. Luckily, "Grey's Anatomy" arrived just over a year later, changing his life forever. In 1993, he married Keisha Chambers, a former model agency booker. The couple have five children together.
James Pickens Jr. rounds out the remaining original cast members of "Grey's Anatomy" — he's appeared since the show's first episode. At the beginning of the series, he was the longtime chief of surgery at Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital. After several resignations, he eventually went back to being a general surgery attending physician, although the staff still calls him "Chief" because of his history. Later, Richard became the head of the resident mentoring program. Since joining "Grey's," James has also appeared in films like 2008's "Ball Don't Lie," 2010's "Just Wright" and 2013's "42." And while his fictional medical duties have been his focus since 2005, he's also appeared on multiple episodes of "The Conners," reprising a role he originated on "Roseanne" in the early '90s.
James Pickens Jr. (seen here in 2006) was born in Cleveland and began acting while studying at Bowling Green State University, where he earned a fine arts degree in 1976. His first acting role was in a campus production of the play "Matters of Choice" and, following college, James started his professional acting career at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, playing Walter Lee in a production of "A Raisin in the Sun." He remained focused on a career in theater, even performing in the Negro Ensemble Company's production of "A Soldier's Play" alongside Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson in 1981. In the mid-'80s, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue more on-screen roles, starting by playing Zack Edwards on the soap opera "Another World" from 1986 to 1990. James went on to have recurring parts on hit shows like "The X-Files," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The West Wing," "Roseanne," "Beverly Hills, 90210," "JAG" and "Six Feet Under." He also nabbed smaller roles in numerous feature films such as 1993's "Menace II Society," 1995's "Dead Presidents" and "Nixon," 1998's "Bulworth" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," 2000's "Traffic" and 2002's "Red Dragon." James married Gina Taylor, a former member of music group Musique, in 1984. The couple have two children who've both followed in their dad's footsteps by pursuing careers in the entertainment industry.
Kevin McKidd stars as Owen Hunt, who was introduced on season 5 of the series as a U.S. Army trauma surgeon who'd served in war-torn Iraq. He joined Seattle Grace Hospital to teach medicine as a surgical attending, head of trauma surgery and eventual chief of surgery. Owen developed a reputation for his unorthodox methods and unstable personality, which were a result of suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. However, his struggles began to smooth out as he developed a relationship with original cast member Sandra Oh's Cristina Yang. Since joining "Grey's Anatomy" in 2008, Kevin has also appeared in films like 2010's "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," 2015's "Home Sweet Hell" and 2017's "T2 Trainspotting." Kevin's also built a solid voicework resume, lending his talents to 2012's "Brave" and the direct-to-DVD film "Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox," as well the TV special "Toy Story That Time Forgot" and series "Star Wars Rebels." Fans can also hear him in two "Call of Duty" video games. Kevin also spends a lot of time behind the camera: He's directed nearly 30 episodes of "Grey's" to date.
Kevin McKidd (seen here in 1999) was born in Elgin, Moray, Scotland, to a secretary and a plumber. He worked for a scotch distillery and a coppersmith as a teen while also taking part in a local amateur dramatic group. Kevin originally studied engineering at the University of Edinburgh but he later enrolled at Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University to study drama. He joined a student theater company's improvisational comedy troupe. Kevin had a big year in 1996 as he made his screen debut in the films "Trainspotting" and "Small Faces" and appeared on the British sitcom "Father Ted." The actor has remained busy ever since, starring in films like 1998's "Hideous Kinky," 1999's "Topsy-Turvy," 2002's "Nicholas Nickleby," 2004's "De-Lovely," 2005's "Kingdom of Heaven," 2007's "Hannibal Rising" and 2008's "Made of Honor." He also appeared in a number of British miniseries including "Anna Karenina," "Gunpowder, Treason & Plot" and "The Virgin Queen." In 2005, Kevin had a major breakthrough with the lead role on HBO's historical epic series "Rome," which led to a starring part on the short-lived NBC sci-fi series "Journeyman" in 2007. Shortly after the show's cancellation, he snagged a short arc on "Grey's Anatomy" that received such a warm reception, it's become his job for more than 13 years. The star was married to Jane Parker, with whom he has two children, from 1999 to 2017. In 2018, Kevin wed Arielle Goldrath. They now have two kids.
Kim Raver stars as Teddy Altman, who was introduced as a recurring character on season 6 but was soon upgraded to series regular after original star Katherine Heigl's departure. Teddy was an attending cardiothoracic surgeon who initially created a dramatic love triangle with Owen and Cristina. Kim left the series at the end of season 8 but returned in season 14 as a main character who eventually got engaged to Owen and had two children with him. After returning to "Grey's Anatomy," she spent a season balancing it with a role on the ABC drama series "Designated Survivor." Even during her break from the show, she wasn't far from television screens as she appeared on programs like "Revolution," "24: Live Another Day," "Full Circle" and "Ray Donovan."
Kim Raver (seen here in 2000) was born and raised in New York City by her mom and stepdad alongside her sister, three half-sisters and two half-brothers. She attended a boarding school in Massachusetts before studying at Boston University, where she received drama degree. Kim got her start as a child actress on "Sesame Street" at 6 and remained on the show for three years. She also appeared in a series of commercials before scoring her first major role in the 1995 Broadway play "Holiday" alongside Laura Linney and Tony Goldwyn. Kim then moved to television with guest parts on hit shows like "Law & Order," "The Practice" and "Spin City." In 1999, she was cast as a lead on the NBC drama series "Third Watch," which ran for six seasons and served as a massive breakthrough for the actress. When that was finished, she quickly moved on to parts in "Night at the Museum" and "24" as well as lead roles on the short-lived programs "The Nine" and "Lipstick Jungle." Lucky for her, she landed her part on "Grey's" just a few months after the cancellation of "Lipstick Jungle." Kim married director and writer Manuel Boyer in 2000; the couple have two sons.
Camilla Luddington plays Jo Wilson, who was introduced on the ninth season as a surgical intern at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. Jo quickly became a love interest for Alex Karev after the two bonded over their similarly troubled childhoods. Their relationship eventually blossomed into a marriage, which was a sign of growth for Jo, who was later revealed to be a domestic abuse survivor and a product of rape. Viewers eventually learned that she ran away to Seattle to start a new life far from her estranged abusive husband. Since joining "Grey's" in 2012, Camilla has also become well-known for her voice and motion capture work as Lara Croft in multiple video games — as well as a TV film — for the "Tomb Raider" franchise. Her voice has also been heard in two "Justice League Dark" direct-to-DVD animated films and as Supergirl in the "Infinite Crisis" video game. In 2017, she had her first baby with actor Matthew Alan. The pair got married in 2019 and welcomed their second child in 2020.
Camilla Luddington (seen here in 2011) was born in Ascot, Berkshire, England, and began studying at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London at 11. Growing up, she went back and forth between the U.S. and England before eventually enrolling at the New York Film Academy as part of its one-year acting program. When she graduated, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting professionally, quickly nabbing small parts in a number of indie and short films. She then made guest appearances on shows like "Big Time Rush," "CSI" and "Days of Our Lives." In 2011, she experienced a breakthrough when she played Kate Middleton in the 2011 Lifetime TV movie "William & Kate: The Movie." Shortly after, she had arcs on hit TV series like "Californication" and "True Blood." The next year, she got her first lengthy job with her role on "Grey's Anatomy."
Caterina Scorsone has been playing Amelia Shepherd since she first appeared on the spinoff series "Private Practice" in 2010. She remained on that show for four seasons, until it was canceled in 2013. She'd made a few guest appearances on "Grey's Anatomy" during that time and became a full-time cast member during season 11 in 2014. Amelia is the youngest sibling of Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd — and a recovering drug addict. She's often seen struggling with sobriety, recklessness and ambition as a neurosurgeon. Caterina has remained entirely focused on her work as Amelia since first donning scrubs more than a decade ago, but she also appeared in the 2014 action thriller "The November Man."
Caterina Scorsone (seen here in 2004) was born in Toronto to a social worker and a social anthropologist. The middle child of five attended the Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts in Toronto and then went to Trinity College at the University of Toronto, majoring in literary studies and minoring in philosophy. Her first on-screen appearances were regular guest spots on the Canadian children's TV show "Mr. Dressup" starting at 8. As a teen, she apeared on small-screen programs such as "Ready or Not," "Flash Forward," "Goosebumps" and "Power Play." Caterina had her breakthrough after landing the lead role on the Lifetime drama series "Missing," which ran for three seasons from 2003 to 2006. She then appeared on shows like "Crash" and "Castle" as well as the 2010 action-thriller "Edge of Darkness" before landing an audition for Amelia Shepherd on "Private Practice." The actress married musician Rob Giles in 2009 and they welcomed three daughters while she worked on "Private Practice" and "Grey's Anatomy." The pair split in 2020 after 10 years of marriage.