Kelly McCreary Explains Maggie’s Powerful Full Circle Moment on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

After nine seasons, fans are saying goodbye to Kelly McCreary and Maggie Pierce on Grey’s Anatomy. This interview will contain spoilers for episodes 19×14 and 19×15, “Shadow of Your Love/Mama Who Bore Me.”

Recipient of the 2007 Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Television Series and nominated for multiple Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, Grey’s Anatomy is considered one of the great television shows of our time. The high-intensity medical drama, now in its 19th season, follows Meredith Grey and the team of doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial who are faced with life-or-death decisions daily. They seek comfort from one another, and, at times, more than just friendship. Together they discover that neither medicine nor relationships can be defined in black and white.

I had the opportunity to speak with the actress over Zoom about which of her final scenes was the most emotional to film, realizing how her character has impacted fans, why this isn’t an ending but rather a full circle moment, and more. Keep reading for our discussion.

ABC/Nino Muñoz

Maggie has had such a journey. What has it been like for you to portray one character for so long? I feel like it can be such a treat since it is so rare. A lot of the time, you never know if there’s going to be a next season or if going to get to continue with this character.
Kelly McCreary: Nine years playing one character is something that, like you said, it’s incredibly rare. When I started out, as an actor, my dreams were pretty humble initially, just to do great plays, and you do great plays and regional theater, and you play those roles for like a matter of weeks at a time, and then you move on to the next thing. When you sort of imagine your life, as a journeywoman actress, playing lots of different careers and lots of different venues, the idea of sitting with one role for nine years is really so far out of imagination and it’s honestly a totally different kind of artistic experience. I mean, creating a character over time, one that doesn’t necessarily have a beginning, middle, and end in the way that it might in a play or a film is a totally different approach to the craft.

I mean, ultimately, it still just comes down to character, but what’s different is just the nature of the collaboration with a writer, with a director, with a crew and I think that the incredible thing about doing this for nine years — I mean, there have been several but one is the community that you build. For nine years, it’s your friends, it’s your family, it’s your creative confidants. You feed each other, you fuel each other, and then to be on a show that is so culturally significant, so iconic, like you said, we kind of always knew at least early, not for sure, you never know for sure, but we knew we would get a pickup, we knew we’d be back next season, we knew we could keep building on this thing, keep building out the world, keep building on these characters and you develop relationships and a relationship to your character in a way that is just sort of — it is, it’s incredibly rare, I guess. So it’s been incredibly impactful on my life, on my creative life, and then I also met my husband there, had a baby there. My whole world has expanded in the space of this nine years and while I was at Grey’s Anatomy, so it really is the end of an era.

ABC/Liliane Lathan

This show has a special place in my heart because my mom had watched it since the beginning and then passed it down to me. Now, we watch it every week together. What is it like to see that Grey’s Anatomy continues to be passed down from generation to generation? What has it meant to see the impact that Maggie has on fans? Is there a moment that truly made you realize how powerful your work is?
Wow. Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of different ways. So, I spent a decent amount of time in the hospital around my pregnancy and when my baby was first born, and I was really touched and floored by the number of medical professionals, nurses and doctors, who similar to you had been raised in a way on Grey’s Anatomy and it was the spark that started their passion for a career in medicine. That was pretty mind-blowing. I mean, the very people who are caring for me and my child were there to some degree because of Grey’s Anatomy. That’s pretty mind-blowing.

Then there are the everyday interactions with my peers, with Black women, who are my age or around my age, who similarly watch the show, and then when Maggie came on, they were like, “Ohhh, a young, Black, professional nerd, perfectionist, kind of weirdo!” It was thrilling for them and they’ve rocked with me and rode with me through Maggie’s ups and downs, triumphs, questionable choices, and lessons learned along the way and that’s really meaningful to feel like week in and week out, the heart of this character touches other people’s hearts. Her just being there means a lot to people.

ABC/Liliane Lathan

You managed to perfectly sum up my outlet name with that description of Maggie.
Yeah. I mean, that’s one of the things I loved most about her when I discovered this character. I was like, “Oh my God, she’s so brilliant and she has so much to learn, so many challenges to overcome. This is going to be a really great journey.”

Did you get to take anything with you from set when you wrapped?
Maggie Pierce, you know, one of the fun ways that we got to — I wonder how noticeable this was, I imagine it must have been somewhat noticeable to the audience, but one of the fun ways that I sort of was able to explore the inner life of Maggie was through her wardrobe. I sort of worked with Roemehl Hawkins, who is the costume designer, and we sort of grew Maggie from like, the little girl that she arrived as, and even though she had been a leader in her previous job, she was still very much like a scrappy, young upstart, but then she arrived at Grey Sloan and she stepped into a kind of leadership, a kind of womanhood that she had not taken on before. And we watched her clothing choices sort of mature and elevate, she chose more power colors, she chose more tailored looks, she chose sometimes a more bold fashion, and so there are a few pieces of hers that I took that were iconic to me. Maybe not as noticeable but they were big moments of like, “Oh, this is the first time we’re seeing Maggie in a red suit,” so I wanted that jacket. So I took some of her clothes with me.

ABC/Liliane Lathan

These two episodes made me emotional. You gave such beautiful work. What was a moment that made you get emotional while filming?
You know, I think it was actually while I was shooting my last O.R. scene. It happened a lot during these episodes where I was flashing back to the first times I was ever on those sets and these are memories I haven’t accessed in nine years, but that O.R. set was crazy because the smell, like I could smell it again, that first time cauterizing the jelly and chicken meat or whatever it was. That memory flashback to me and I kind of zoomed out, and I looked around the room and I saw a lot of faces who were there with me that first day. I saw new faces and I thought about how my role in the room had changed from being just like this new kid on the block, who didn’t really know anything, to someone who was helping the person beside me, and in a way, very much taking on the role of the teacher and the trainer that Maggie is on this show and that really landed pretty hard on me.

There have been so many amazing storylines with Maggie but I felt like I really went on a special journey in these last episodes with her. What was your reaction to her — I don’t want to say ending because the door’s always open, you can always pop back in, but what was your reaction to closing the chapter with this?
Yeah, you know, I agree. I don’t think it’s really the ending, I do think it’s the closing of the circle for this moment, right? Because I do think of it as kind of a full circle moment and that’s kind of my response to your question, which is that I was really lucky when I went to the writers’ room and to Krista and suggested that this might be the end for Maggie, they invited me to make requests and sort of collaborate on what I wanted to do. I largely left it in their hands, but I did say one thing that has always been important to me, a question that I’ve asked at the beginning of every season is, “Has Maggie found what she’s looking for here at this place?” Because that’s what we do in life, right? That’s what we do in our relationships and in our jobs. It’s like, have we gotten what we need? Have we given everything that we have to give to this place? And if so, then what is the next evolution?

I did think Maggie came here wanting to know more about who she was and how she was made up, and how the nature versus nurture had worked out on her and so, I just sort of loved the — it very much felt like a full circle moment to have her, in the end, being like, “Okay, I know who I am. I know what I got from these incredible women that got me here, that moved me forward. I know what I want to take with me to the next place to build on what they gave me, to do better in this generation, to do even more,” right? That’s what you always want to do, is do better than your parents did with what they gave you, with everything that they poured into you.