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Sara Ramirez on Grey’s Anatomy’s Seventh Season and Backstage Drama

Sara Ramirez has played Grey's Anatomy's resident orthopedic surgeon Callie Torres since the long-running doctor drama's second season. In that time, Callie's fallen in love, gotten married, been cheated on, gotten divorced, been promoted, been demoted, had her ex-husband die, become a lesbian, and in last season's finale, witnessed a mass killing at the hospital. At the beginning of Grey's seventh season, we spoke with Ramirez about the show, how it's recovered from last season's backstage drama, how much she likes blood and guys, and if the Tony-award-winning actress still finds time to sing.

Grey's ended last season on an upswing, and two episodes into the seventh season it's better than it has been in a long while. Does it feel like things are going well?
We came off of a real high from last season’s finale. It was intense. People were really affected and were on the edge of their seat from the feedback I got, and I think everybody walked away proud from that episode. I was curious to see how this new season would start and, of course, we premiered and we premiered very well, I’m happy to say. And that’s thrilling in your seventh season.

Do you guys pay a lot of attention to the ratings?
Well, I won’t speak for everybody, but I know I’m aware and I know some other actors are aware, and writers. There’s an awareness, because you care and you want the show to do well. We care about our jobs and about the longevity. I know I do. I love my gig, and I want it to be around for a long time.

After all of the backstage drama last year, does it feel like things have calmed down?
Honestly, I’ve personally been on my own page for the last couple of years, grieving for my best friend. He was diagnosed with liver cancer when he was 45 and he died six weeks later. So I was navigating the various processes of getting out of bed and going to work, and I really couldn’t take on more than that. All I can say is that personally, this season, something shifted for me during the hiatus after season sic and my grief is in a new place, so I myself feel lighter this year. I myself am showing up to work feeling different. And yes, time has gone by and we have new cast members and there’s been a big shift over at Seattle Grace-Mercy West, so you feel that. You take that in, and it’s energy that revitalizes and energizes the show.

What's Callie going to be doing this season?
She's going to start doing more surgeries. There are some more surgeries coming up that I was so psyched to be a part of, because I am totally into, like, medical bloody, bloody, blood and guts operations. I’m, like, so not nauseated by that stuff at all. My father was an oceanographer. I saw specimens in jars in a laboratory all the time growing up — like, it doesn’t faze me. The only thing that fazes me is when animals are hurt; that’s when I get freaked out. That’s what I can’t handle, but a big cut-open dead body? I’m good to go.

How realistic are the bodies you operate on on the show?
The stuff looks so real, down to the hairs on the arms. We all just kind of admire the amazing jobs the prosthetic team does. But I’m totally not grossed out. I want to pick it apart and look at it.

Do you have much input into what Callie’s arc is?
TV is a writers’ medium. I’m not gonna lie. At the same time, our writers are always open to conversation about characters. There’s a lot of open communication, which feels really good and I think that has developed over time. It’s always kind of been there, but when Grey’s was going through some rough times, it was like okay, nobody really knew where the boundaries were. Now it feels a lot more open.

Do you think that if Callie and Arizona broke up, that at this point Callie would stay a lesbian?
I don’t know. I feel like Callie is sort of wrapped up in her current relationship. I think that if something were to go wrong, I guess she would have to reassess why that happened, like many of us do. You reassess why that happened and you would I guess come back to yourself, right? But I don’t think with Callie that it matters whether it’s a guy or a girl. It’s more about the essence of the person or the spirit of a person. But people are really invested in Callie and Arizona. I get like, “Oh my God, Callie, you and Arizona, you guys like have to have babies. You have to get married, oh my God.” There’s a lot of people out there that feel represented by Callie’s journey and people that feel represented by Arizona’s journey. There’s a lot of like women out there that have written to me and said, “Thank you. I was able to come out to my parents and my boyfriend” or whatever.

You have this musical-theater background, but you don't sing on Grey's, obviously. Do you find other ways to perform?
I'm actually performing at this benefit in New York on Monday with a bunch of great people for the friend that I mentioned earlier, so I've been rehearsing for that. I’ve had to sing a little bit lately for some other things, which is good because you’ve got to get the muscles working again. You don’t want to hurt yourself.

Do you miss New York when you're not here?
I do. I was just talking with someone the other day, and I was finally admitting that I live in L.A. and that I’m a West Coaster right now. I lived in New York for fourteen years, and when I moved out here it took several years to get grounded, and then my best friend passed and since then it’s been hard to go back to New York, and I don’t really get out there more than once or twice a year. It’s really tough. But I have a house here, a car, my new friends, and my new life, but I do miss New York. Everybody there is so real, you know? And people in New York, it’s not all about the industry. It’s so refreshing when people can talk about other things. You’re standing on the same subway platform as the person with the Prada shoes. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have, you’re all going to ride the same subway, and there’s something about that I just love.

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images