Jessica Capshaw on the new and improved Arizona on this season of “Grey’s Anatomy”
Last season Calzona fans were heartbroken to see Grey’s Anatomy‘s resident lesbian couple go through growing pains that ultimately ended in Arizona’s infidelity. When the show returns for its tenth season tomorrow night on ABC, the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital will be dealing with the same problems they were when we last saw them, which means Callie (Sara Ramirez) is still reeling from being cheated on, and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) is desperate to put their relationship back together.
We talked with Jessica Capshaw about what else Arizona is up to this year and why she loves that Calzona is treated like every other couple on the show.
AfterEllen.com: What’s your anticipated fan reaction about where Callie and Arizona are when the show returns?
Jessica Capshaw: We pick up kind of where we left off. The shit’s hit the fan!
AE: So there’s no resolution to where we left off with you then.
JC: No, there’s definitely no resolution. I think that it’s really about the aftermath of an incredibly profound deception and a betrayal and what comes next. Because we start with still being in the moment of shock. I think these characters kind of can’t believe this has happened. And then obviously then that kind of has to go on for a little bit. It’s just so horrible.
AE: Hilarie Burton isn’t on this season so she doesn’t have to deal with the consequences. It’s literally all on Arizona.
JC: It is all on Arizona. I was saying earlier we started filming this season in mid-July and it was still summertime and everyone was having these wonderful breaks and time off and everyone was so happy, and I’m such a fortunate girl and I’ve been married to my husband for 10 years and I have these beautiful kids—generally speaking, I live an incredible life and am very happy. And then I go to work and am in the scenes playing this constantly just beaten down girl having made this whole – but rightfully so! I couldn’t even play that I hadn’t done anything wrong because I knew that what my character did was horrible! It was kind of like I walked around like a beaten dog for a couple months.
AE: But is that fun for you as an actor to go from being someone happy in life to playing someone who is more conflicted?
JC: Yes of course it is, of course it is. It’s 100 percent why as actors we get incentives to be outside of ourselves and bring experiences that we’ve had in life, on different spectrums, and bring them into work in an imagined environment and circumstance. So it, of course, was. But it did get a little demoralizing. You go from being like “La di dah di dah”—oh right, I’m Arizona now.
AE: What’s it like on set in between takes with Sara? Do you feel like you can switch it on and off? Are you able to be nice to her? [Laughs]
JC: Oh yeah, of course! Arizona definitely is trying everything to be nice. But it’s funny because I think whenever we’re shooting the happy scenes with any of our characters there’s a little more messing around in between takes and we talk and we share stories and we share this and we share that and there’s a lot of laughter, we definitely laugh a lot. When we do have a scene, again with any of the characters, that are serious or sad or provocative or whatever, it does, I think everybody, takes a downshift into a moment of feeling—we have to be—you can’t go from one polar opposite to the next, which we definitely weren’t used to. Because definitely we all kind of joke around and to not be joking around a much is definitely a change.
AE: One thing I really appreciate about [series creator] Shonda Rhimes is that the lesbian relationship is handled the same as any other relationship on the show. It’s just like the straight relationships on the show where there are ups, there are downs, there are crappy things they do to each other, there are awesome things they for each other. Is that something that you appreciate about the writing?
JC: I do, I really really do. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about Shondaland—nothing is ever pointed out: “This person’s black, this person’s white, this person’s gay, this person’s straight.” The people just are. They’re never explaining themselves through the lens of stereotype or presupposing stereotypes put upon them. And I think that is where everyone should—I think—that’s where everyone should be headed. We don’t need to talk about it because it just is. And I think that it’s interesting because i know the relationship has really meant something to the LGBT community and having this relationship has been really important.
I remember being shocked by it that someone at the very beginning told me that—I guess five years ago—I was playing the only openly gay character on primetime television that was a series regular. And I couldn’t believe that. Now it’s just not that way and I kind of —I think that, again, the furthering of it has been just being and not caring what people say or think or do and telling the story. So I actually thought it was really exciting when Shonda came to us with the infidelity because that is what happens in life. This couple wasn’t held up high as being precious or un-interruptable or impervious to life as it exists and the challenges that couples go through and I thought that was really cool. And so playing all of that has been very interesting and yet I understand—I get it. They’re not just having this issue to then go be different than who they are. They’re having this issue and they’re going to have to deal with it within their relationship.
AE: And that’s what makes good TV, too. If you were always so perfect and happy and in love, that would be so boring.
JC: I know, for the people on Twitter who were so upset, I kind of ended up leaning into it and making it—the big joke was, “Listen, you’re watching TV for drama and thrills, you’re not watching to be bored and have a monotonous experience. You’re going for the drama and going for the thrills. Just go for it!”
AE: What else is happening with Arizona outside of her relationship with Callie? Is she still dealing with the PTSD and fallout from the amputation?
JC: I think that’s where it’s headed. I think this season is about understanding herself separate from her relationship and figuring out sort of how to get to a pure version of herself that isn’t about being defined as the person who survived the plane crash or the car crash or the trip to Africa. It’s now “Who is she and who does she want to be?” And what does this character that people first met five seasons ago, can she—not can she get back to that but can she be the new and improved version of it? I’m hoping she’ll get back to a little bit of her joy.
AE: I was going to ask: Do you get to have any lighthearted moments this season?
JC: Yes, she had a bit of a moment with Karev where it’s like, “Listen, people live through this every single day. You have to stop beating yourself up. That cannot be fun.”
AE: Grey’s is so widely watched I’m sure you have fans of the show approaching you but do you ever have fans that recognize you specifically from The L Word at all?
JC: No, I think I hear—on Twitter I will see that sometimes, you know? I feel like there was such a huge following of The L Word. But I mean I played—listen, when I did it, no one was talking about it and if they were saying anything, honestly I remember it being kind of negative. My character came in and I was the person that got in between people. So people didn’t like it, is my memory of it.
You know what’s really funny is my son is in school with—he was in preschool and now he’s in kindergarten—but in preschool one of his best friends had two moms. And so his life has just been, that’s completely been part of his world and his community. And now in kindergarten they have this thing where they take out books on Fridays and he checked out a book and we were sitting there reading it. He’d read it with my husband a couple times and he was reading it with me for the first time and it was about was Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart and how they were friends and this cool story about them together. On one of the pages it had a picture of them together, their faces together. And he said, “I don’t remember what happens—wait, are they married?” And it was the sweetest most pure nothing moment, which was what made it so awesome. Because in his world that was as simple as anything. It will never—he’ll never have a moment where he thinks that’s out of the norm or not what other people do or whatever. And I thought, “Gosh that’s saying a lot as far as where we are in the world.” I’m not sure that that’s everywhere, and at some point it will be, but right now, right here, that was happening. And I just thought, “That’s great.” I wanted to say yes! But I could not be dishonest. He can’t be the kid when he gets older that thinks Amelia Earhart was married to Eleanor Roosevelt.