The doctors were certainly in on Sunday, as the Grey’s Anatomy cast celebrated thirteen seasons of their show with fans at Paleyfest by premiering Ellen Pompeo’s directorial debut.

Hypable interviewed the cast on the red carpet before the event and got the chance to sit in on the Paleyfest panel as the cast and fans shared their love for each other. Here’s what we learned:

On Ellen Pompeo’s directorial debut

As a long-time Grey’s Anatomy fan, I feel confident in saying that Ellen Pompeo’s directorial debut next week will go down as one of the best and most memorable episodes of not only this season, but in the series as a whole. Similar to last week’s #JapriltheSequel episode in that it both acts as a character study bottle episode while moving along the overarching emotional threads of the season, Ellen Pompeo stated at Paleyfest that it is in her top three favorite episodes of the entire series, along with the original pilot and the shooter episode. “It’s an homage to mom’s everywhere,” she said, “And one of the most important stories we could tell.”

Ellen Pompeo told the Paleyfest audience that while she was nervous about the technical aspects of directing while stepping into the role for the first time, she was never nervous about making sure the emotional and cinematic beats worked out because she knows the show inside and out by now, and she knows that Grey’s Anatamoy has “the best cast in the world.” Ellen Pompeo credits Debbie Allen with helping to put her at ease, and as the one who initially encouraged her to direct, Debbie Allen remained Ellen’s mentor every step of the way through the directing process.

So, after thirteen seasons living in her skin, where does Ellen want to see Meredith’s character arc go? When pressed about the future of her character, Elle frankly told the audience that she’s been able to play Meredith for so long because she tries to not have expectations for where her character arc will go. She believes that in both acting and in life it’s important not to look too far down the road because one ends up missing out on the present moment.

On what makes Maggie so special

Speaking of twisted Grey sisters, Ellen Pompeo’s directorial debut episode centers on Maggie, Meredith’s sunshine of a sister who for so much of her tenure on the show has been defined by her ingenue-like brilliance and optimism.

Kelly McCreary got emotional talking about Maggie’s earnest goodness saying, “She believes in everybody.” And despite their differences as sisters, Kelly had no hesitation in revealing that Meredith and Maggie friendship is her favorite on the show.

On whether April and Jackson are each other’s person

Speaking of epic friendships, the best friends turned runaway lovers that are fan favorite couple #Japril have certainly been on a rollercoaster of a romantic ride through the years, but throughout all of their ups and downs, the popularity of the pairing on the internet hasn’t died down. Jesse Williams addressed Japril’s popularity on social media by talking about the joy of getting to engage with fans on a weekly basis and watch their reactions to the work he and Sarah do on screen, whether Jackson and April get an entire episode to themselves or are only in a single scene. “You guys are an important part of this process,” Jesse told Paleyfest fans when talking about whether the fans’ love for the couple had any influence on the show, “We take stock of what resonates with fans and what doesn’t.”

So, do the stars of the show believe that are April and Jackson are built to last? Sarah Drew certainly seemed adamant about declaring herself a #Japril shipper. When the moderator asked her about April meeting a potential new love interest, Sarah quickly responded, “No, I don’t want one!” Does she have hope that April and Jackson will eventually be able to work out their issues, then? Sarah Drew earned the biggest fangirl squeal of the night when she earnestly responded, “We know these two will always be okay and be each other’s person.”

Jesse Williams followed up by saying that above all else, April is Jackson’s best friend, and as last week’s episode showed, she is ultimately both the person who knows him best and his greatest support system. He also said that despite Japril’s turbulent relationship, he and Sarah have had a much more stable relationship as friends on set that their characters do most of the time on screen, and the warmth and comfort of their off-screen friendship was evident on stage as the two leaned in to share jokes with each other in between questions.

On filming Japril the Sequel

Kevin McKidd, who directed last week’s Montana-centric episode, shared that his intention with Japril the Sequel was to make it “feel like a high-end independent movie.” He added that he was “so proud of Jesse and Sarah and the work that they did,” as the three of them took some time off from the Grey’s Anatomy set during the middle of the season to shoot the episode separately with the crew from Scandal.

Sarah Drew credited much of the episode’s brilliance to Kevin McKidd’s directing style, as he told the actors to allow themselves the room to take in the silence. “So much happened in the silence in that episode which we don’t have the luxury of doing on a weekly basis when we’re servicing so many stories.”

The reveal of Jackson’s dad was one that Grey’s Anatomy fans had been anticipating for years, and the slow-burn reveal made it all the more special. Debbie Allen added that much of this thirteenth season was going to work in a similar way, and when the cast was asked if Jackson’s dad would ever make a return to Grey’s Anatomy in the future, perhaps to at some point interact with Catherine, Debbie Allen said that they’d worked to plant a lot of story seeds this season, and that Jackson’s dad was definitely one of these that they would circle back to later.

On whether Meredith and Alex will ever take the romantic plunge

On the topic of besties turned potential romances, fan support for Meredith and Alex was in full force at the Dolby Theater on Sunday. So how does Justin Chambers feel about the future possibility of Meredith and Alex as a couple?

“Anything is possible on Grey’s Anatomy,” he told to the Paleyfest audience, but when pressed on whether he’d choose Meredith or Jo for his onscreen self, Justin Chambers admitted that if he had to choose, he’d like to follow through and see how the writers flesh out his relationship with Jo.

On where Riggs fits into the story

“What do you wish people knew about Riggs?” the moderator asked Martin Henderson who plays the at times loved but more often times hated character. “Who he is,” Henderson stated bluntly, eliciting a huge laugh from the audience.

All jokes aside, Henderson would like for the audience to get a chance to see who Nathan is aside from the second-hand impression that other people’s opinions have put on him. Martin Henderson told Hypable that, “I’m hoping that the relationship between Meredith and Nathan can start because I think that through the lens of that relationship we’ll actually learn a little more about the real internal aspects of Nathan. Up to this point the audience has only really learned about him from other people’s opinions, and I’m looking forward as an actor for that to happen so I can explore who Nathan is because he still does remain quite an enigma and a polarizing character, so I’m hopeful that more will be revealed through an actual intimate relationship.”

On creating Stephanie’s backstory, and moving forward towards the end

One of the fun facts we found out during the Paleyfest panel was that Jerrika Hinton had a huge hand in helping to inform Stephanie’s backstory, pitching the idea for her character’s history with Sickle-Cell Disease due to her own cousin’s experience with the disease.

As for how Stephanie will move forward this season following her surgical setbacks, Jerrika Hinton told Hypable that, “I think the rest of this season is definitely connected to that setback. I don’t think it’s a personal level of crisis of confidence— I think the journey you’ll see her go on is a broader question, kind of more existential: what are we doing, and why are we doing what we’re doing? And so I think that’s the journey of the rest of her arc for the season.” An interesting question to ponder as we consider that this may be Stephanie’s final season on the show…

On DeLuca finally admitting his feelings for Jo

Giacomo Gianniotti spoke to Hypable saying, “I think he’s finally going to come out and tell Jo how he feels. He’s been tiptoeing around it and so I think we’re going to see him confront her and take that really big risk and leap of faith and see if that works out for him.”

In terms of his career and finding his footing as a surgeon at Grey-Sloan, Gianniotti told Hypable that “Certainly, definitely Andrew’s grown since being on the show. I think he’s finding his specialty in pediatrics — he’s a natural at that and he’s done a lot of pediatric cases but its become difficult because now he has to work with Alex, someone who beat him up, so its stressful to go to work and know that your boss is someone who… you know… beat you up.”

On what still makes ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ so special, 13 seasons later

So why has Grey’s Anatomy remained a fan-favorite after so many years? What inherent in the show’s DNA makes it so special?

Debbie Allen has an idea. “It’s about characters and people that are real,” she said. “The actors are invested in their characters, and Grey’s Anatomy is saving lives every week,” she said, before delving into a story about how her friend discovered she had cancer after learning about the specific symptoms through a Grey’s Anatomy episode. And while Debbie Allen’s example of how Grey’s Anatomy has saved lives was very literal, the energy in the room made it evident that over the past thirteen years this show has shaped and changed lives for the better, lifting spirits and pulling people closer together as we’ve grown with our favorite Seattle-Grace-Mercy-West-Grey-Sloan friends.

What do you love most about ‘Grey’s Anatomy’?

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