‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Kelly McCreary Talks Filming Maggie’s Final Episodes: ‘I Felt Really Lucky’

The actress behind Meredith’s half-sister speaks with TheWrap about her decision to leave the ABC drama, and her hardest goodbye on set

Kelly McCreary in a still from "Grey's Anatomy."

Dr. Maggie Pierce treated her last patient at Grey Sloan Memorial Thursday, after nine seasons as a core member of the “Grey’s Anatomy” cast.

For Kelly McCreary, the actress behind the talented cardiothoracic surgeon and Meredith Grey’s (Ellen Pompeo) half-sister, the ABC medical drama’s two-hour farewell gave her the perfect vehicle to honor Maggie’s journey, and to close a major chapter in her own life and career.

“It meant a lot to me,” McCreary told TheWrap about the episodes. “When I spoke to Krista [Vernoff, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ showrunner and executive producer], after she agreed to let Maggie go, I said it’d be very nice to be able to have scenes that feel like closure with all of the characters that have meant something to Maggie … my homies, my family that I’ve been doing this with for such a long time.”

“I felt really lucky. [Maggie] is so valued and they treated her with such value and I thought it was lovely.”

Thursday’s two-hour special chronicled Maggie’s final case as head of cardio at Grey Sloan before heading to a new research opportunity in Chicago, and featured her and her husband, Dr. Winston Ndugu (Anthony Hill), doing yet another impressive save in the operating room. After months of turmoil in their marriage, the couple had a night of passion after the case and got close to trying to make their relationship work.

But when Maggie tried to convince Winston to move with her, he accused her of being too much like her biological mother Ellis Grey (Kate Burton) and that sent her spiraling during Part 2 of the farewell special, which featured heartwarming scenes with Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), Catherine (Debbie Allen) and Richard (James Pickens Jr.) that paid tribute to Maggie’s long journey on the show.

As for Winston, the end of the episode saw him and Maggie come to terms with the dissolution of their marriage. Maggie reflected that Ellis stayed with her husband for years while being in love with someone else, which filled her bitterness and resentment. In order to not repeat those mistakes, and similar choices by her adoptive mother Diane (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), the best thing was to let Winston stay in Seattle and separate. The episode ended with a touching moment as Maggie came face to face with visions of Ellis and Diane, as a sort of blessing on their part for her brave choice to leave and chase her ambitions.

Kelly McCreary and Anthony Hill in a still from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Ahead of the premiere of her farewell episodes, McCreary spoke with TheWrap about her decision to exit the medical drama, filming her farewell and the hardest goodbye on set. (As previously reported, the actress will return for a visit before the end of Season 19, as will Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith.)

TheWrap: Congratulations on a great run on Grey’s. You’ve been at the core of the series for nine seasons now. What made you decide to say goodbye to Maggie Pierce now?

McCreary: It wasn’t the first time the question had come up about whether it was the end of Maggie’s journey. I ask it at the end of every season, like “what’s there to do, what’s left?” And obviously, there’s a ton left. The hospital and these characters are so rich in life that they could go on and keep reinventing themselves and keep being challenged.

But I thought, you know, the way that Maggie and Winston sort of reached this question of whether they were compatible with one another at the end of last season, that just made me think like, “are they compatible, or does Maggie just not know what she wants and who she is?” She came into the hospital asking that question, and it’s been kind of hanging over her. Who is she and what does she want?

And I thought, you know, maybe this crisis in their relationship is what really makes her realize that she wants something different, someplace else.

Maggie is off to Chicago, and she got some much-needed closure with Winston and other key characters in her life before leaving. What did you think about the way the show wrapped up Maggie’s journey?

I really thought it was a beautiful tribute to the legacy of her family. And I love the way that she and Winston were able to come to an understanding of each other, so that they didn’t leave each other with wreckage behind them.

And particularly in these last couple of episodes, it was beautiful to see her have time with Winston, and even Catherine! And just leaving with wisdom and leaving feeling fortified by all the ways that they poured into her. And, you know, leaving having given the new interns some inspiration; someone having taught them something … giving them something to aspire to.

Niko Terho, Alexis Floyd and Kelly McCreary in “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Part 2 of Maggie’s farewell found her wrestling with the idea of her similarities to Ellis Grey, as she said goodbye to Grey Sloan and her Seattle family; and we got to see Ellis and Diane — Maggie’s moms — as she exited the hospital. What was it like to film that episode for you as a performer, and what was the hardest goodbye to film for you?

Shooting the episode felt so important. I was just really aware like “this is my last time on this set, or this is my last scene with Debbie Allen, this my last surgery,” it was all very poignant for me. And I really wanted every moment to count and I wanted to remember everything and I I wanted the scenes to live up on screen to how great they were on the page.

Without question the hardest scene was the one with Caterina. Caterina is a dear, dear, dear person to me. I think it just really didn’t hit us until it was over. It hit us like a ton of bricks. It was probably the one scene where I was a little less mindful, and then all of a sudden it was over. It was my last scene of the episode to shoot, and it was with her, and it was a lot.

TheWrap: Your work as Maggie has been such a delight to watch on the show, and she’s certainly a polarizing character among fans. What will you take away from your time on the series?

“Grey’s” is such a special playground. It’s such a fun hybrid of genres. We do comedy, we do the drama, sometimes there’s suspense, sometimes we have action. And so, we got to really do so many different things. Sometimes we’re really issues-driven and sometimes it’s silly and fun. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to spend the last nine years of my creative life in a place that kept challenging me and to get to dip my toe in a lot of different waters.

And that’s what I’ll keep doing moving forward just with different characters. I want to keep diving a little deeper into those waters. And move around. I have a theater background, and when you’re a theater actor, with the exception of these long running Broadway shows, you’re playing your character for just a few weeks at a time and then you move on to the next thing and the next theater family and the next group of collaborators.

And so that’s sort of in my DNA as an artist. So I’ll be getting back to that.

“Grey’s Anatomy” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

Check out ABC’s tribute to Maggie Pierce below: