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‘SYTYCD’ Winner Jeanine Mason on How ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Went From High School Ritual to Day Job

The former ”So You Think You Can Dance“ winner talks dancing on the ”Grey’s“ set and the character she misses most

When”Grey’s Anatomy” executive producer and showrunner Krista Vernoff approached Jeanine Mason about being one of the new interns brought on to Grey Sloan Memorial in Season 14, the “So You Think You Can Dance” star turned up-and-coming actress “was like, honestly Krista, whatever you need. If it’s, like, Patient Number 4, I will be there.” 

Mason plays Dr. Sam Bello, a new intern who has a romantic, if not tumultuous, past with Dr. Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti). She said one of the writers described their relationship as that between Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” 

“Sam is a brilliant, promising intern and she is trying to thrive professionally alongside her addiction, which is Andrew DeLuca,” she told TheWrap. “The writers have given us so much delicious stuff playing into the temptation and [for Sam] to represent herself well in this hospital and do good work.”

“It gets fun because…. We find out more about exactly what kind of relationship they had back in the day,” Mason said, careful not to give up too much in way of spoilers. “And that complicates how much they’re actively trying to separate each other when they are very clear about what a delicious thing it is. And yeah, he doesn’t make it easy for her, and she’s trying to stay strong, but I don’t know how long that can last.”

Mason has been working towards a career as an actress for years — her childhood dream was to be on Broadway — and was encouraged by her mother to study dance along with acting as she grew up in Miami with three siblings. She had plans to attend UCLA to continue to hone her dramatic chops, but was convinced by her family to audition for “SYTYCD” Season 5, which was conveniently holding auditions in LA when she was planning to head to the college.

I never thought I’d make it onto the show and I never thought that I would win,” Mason told TheWrap in a recent interview. “But now when I look at it I’m so grateful I did that because I really had nothing out here in terms of connections to begin in this industry.” 

Mason is still with the same manager and publicist that came to her as a result of “SYTYCD.”

I was so set up [with] a quality, loving team, that just had my back this whole time, and that’s not the experience many people have when they come here,” she said. 

You might remember a few of Mason’s appearances on shows like “Bunheads” and “Of Kings and Prophets.” Despite several opportunities after her “SYTYCD” win, Mason was cautious with what she said “yes” to, including “tantalizing” offers to stay in the dance world.

When you’re just starting out and you have this paycheck going like, ‘Hey, come do this show for this long for this contract’ and you’re like ‘No, I think five years from now I’ll be happy I said no to this offer.’ And I’m very much right now appreciating that,” Mason said. 

Her caution has paid off with a fresh storyline on a show that recently celebrated its 300th episode, and which Mason was a fan of long before she ever moved to Hollywood.

I watched the show with my sister all through high school,” Mason said. “It was part of our, like, weekly ritual to sit on her bed with a box of tissues and cry our face off watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ — I’m still not over Denny [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] being dead,” she added, referencing one of the show’s most heart-wrenching love stories from early on in the series. 

But, if Mason could bring back any of the characters on the show, it would be the snarky, brilliant Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) — “I honestly would lose my mind,” Mason said if Oh made a reappearance.

“Even if she just visited the set. I’m such a fan,” she said. “And also Jerrika Hinton [who played Dr. Stephanie Edwards], she’s such a good actor. I had girl crushes on both of them. I think they’re such badass actors that I would just love to have them back, even if it’s just for a minute just so I can watch them work.”  

But there are plenty of inspirations still on the show to work with, including Ellen Pompeo — “I’ve been a great admirer of hers… I’m so in awe of her because I don’t think people quite honestly understand how hard of a job it is to lead a show, let alone for 14 seasons” — and Debbie Allen, an acclaimed dancer herself, and not only stars in the show as Dr. Catherine Avery, but has directed several episodes and is an executive on the show as well.

“This set is different to me in the sense that you feel Debbie Allen’s energy in every set up,” Mason said.

“And she is just dancing, she will breakout into dance, if someone plays anything, she will like ‘uh, let’s go, okay!’ And Ellen is such a dancer too,” Mason said. “That has been so lovely for me. I think everyone appreciates and loves it, but for me in particular I feel like I’m at the dance studio when I’m here. I feel comfortable to a degree that I’ve never felt on a set before [on a set].”