“Grey's Anatomy” is returning for season 20: Here's a look at the cast then and now

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Catch up with Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, and more of your favorite stars throughout the years.

<p>Nino Muñoz/ABC via Getty</p>

Nino Muñoz/ABC via Getty

Grey’s Anatomy is a show that has legions of fans, and everybody loves the series for different reasons. Some audiences, for example, are drawn to the realistic tensions and tragedies inherent to working in a hospital, while others enjoy the off-the-wall surprises and increasingly wild plot lines. One thing all viewers appreciate, however, is the show’s amazing cast and its colorful characters.

The Grey’s Anatomy cast has gone through many changes since the series debuted in 2005. Ahead of season 20, here’s a look back on all your favorite actors from Shonda Rhimes’ hit ABC medical drama, then and now.

Ellen Pompeo (Dr. Meredith Grey)

<p>Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty; Neilson Barnard/Getty </p>

Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty; Neilson Barnard/Getty

Ellen Pompeo started her television career on shows like Law & Order (1996–2000), Strangers With Candy (1999), and Friends (2004). She also demonstrated her big screen chops in the movies Moonlight Mile (2002) and Daredevil (2003), but the small screen made her a household name. That’s all thanks to Grey’s Anatomy, where she played the titular character Dr. Meredith Grey.

"I have the best relationship with pretty much all of the original cast,” Pompeo told InStyle's Ladies First podcast in 2021. “Not everybody, but I really stay in touch with a lot of them, and we just have the best time. I just love them. There's like a deep affection I have for that original cast because we went through something that only a few people can relate to."

Pompeo has been part of Grey’s Anatomy since its start in 2005. For a while, it looked like she might never cease her full-time commitment to the show. She began appearing in fewer episodes by season 19, though she still provided voiceovers. Her character will still appear in four episodes of the upcoming 20th season.

Pompeo attracted media attention in 2021 after telling Patrick Dempsey on her podcast, Tell Me with Ellen Pompeo, about a spat she had with Denzel Washington on set. Washington, who directed the season 12 episode “The Sound of Silence," allegedly took issue with Pompeo improvising certain lines, leading her to angrily reply, “'Listen, motherf‑‑‑er, is my show. This is my set. Who are you telling?” She was later met with media scrutiny over her attitude towards Washington.

Pompeo is currently working on an untitled TV miniseries about orphans, and she continues to serve as an executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy and the spinoff series Station 19.

The actor married music producer Chris Ivery in 2007. They have three children together.

Patrick Dempsey (Dr. Derek Shepherd)

<p>Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty</p>

Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty

Patrick Dempsey already had a reputation as a sexy dreamboat thanks to films like Can’t Buy me Love (1987) and Sweet Home Alabama (2002) by the time he joined Grey’s Anatomy in 2005. Neurosurgeon Derek Shepherd is affectionately dubbed “McDreamy,” and that nickname has stuck to the actor well past his official departure from the series in 2015.

Fans will always remember when his character was shockingly killed off in season 11. In a 2015 interview with EW, the actor discussed how he felt about retiring the role that catapulted him to stardom.

“I knew it would be heavy like that. I didn’t realize until we did our interview that it was really over,” he said. “It started to dawn on me that this is coming to an end, which is why I think I was so moved by it. It was the first time I really stepped back and was starting to witness and to reflect on what had happened.”

That didn't stop writers from bringing McDreamy back in flashbacks and dream sequences, though, notably appearing in Meredith's visions while on a ventilator in season 17.

Dempsey has since starred in movies like Bridget Jones's Baby (2016), Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving (2023), and Ferrari (2023). Longtime fans also enjoyed his recent turn in Disney’s Disenchanted (2022), the sequel to his magical movie Enchanted (2007).

As for his personal life, Dempsey was married to his former manager and acting coach Rochelle "Rocky" Parker from 1987 to 1994. He later married Jillian Fink in 1999, with whom he shares three children. The couple nearly divorced in 2015, but they reconciled the following year.

When he’s not in front of the camera, Dempsey is quite fond of auto racing and has competed in many series. He’s also well-known for his philanthropic work, namely founding the Patrick Dempsey Center at Central Maine Medical Center in 2008 during his now-deceased mother’s bouts with cancer.

Sandra Oh (Dr. Cristina Yang)

<p>Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty</p>

Randy Holmes/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Alberto Rodriguez/Variety via Getty

Sandra Oh had previously starred in the HBO series Arliss (1996–2002) and appeared in films like Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) and Sideways (2004). She soon became one of TV’s most familiar faces as Cristina Yang, a surgical intern whose drive and ambition eventually made her a cardiothoracic surgical fellow. Oh played the hard worker and fierce friend of Meredith Grey for 10 seasons.

Even after Oh left Grey’s Anatomy in 2014, fans still wondered if she would ever return. “It’s so funny. Every year, it’s like I hear that I’m coming back to the show,” she told EW in 2018. “But what I realize is, in a way that I’m really pleased and grateful for, is that the show is continuing on with its life, and that the show and the people who are still attached to the show are still attached to Cristina. It means a lot to me.”

Oh’s most prominent project since then is the hit spy series Killing Eve (2018–2022), where she played the titular character and served as an executive producer. The role earned her a second Golden Globe in 2015, having previously won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Grey’s Anatomy in 2005. She also racked up a whopping 11 Emmy nominations between the two shows.

She’s done substantial voice work as well, notably for Pixar’s Turning Red (2022) as well as Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018–2020) and the Amazon Prime cartoon Invincible (2021–present).

Her upcoming projects include the animated movie Tiger’s Apprentice, the miniseries adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, and the movie Stone Mattress.

Oh was previously married to director Alexander Payne (The Holdovers) from 2003 to 2006.

James Pickens Jr. (Dr. Richard Webber)

<p>Getty; Neilson Barnard/Getty</p>

Getty; Neilson Barnard/Getty

Before coming to Grey’s Anatomy in 2005, James Pickens Jr. played Chuck Mitchell on Roseanne (1990–1996) and Deputy Director Alvin Kersh on The X-Files (1998–2002). However, he’s still best known for playing Dr. Richard Webber, who begins the show as the chief of surgery at Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital.

The veteran actor has faced many creative challenges over the years, though Dr. Webber’s arc as a recovering alcoholic hit especially close to home.

“My dad struggled with alcoholism toward the end of his life, so I got to watch him struggle, and he battled it valiantly,” Pickens Jr. told EW in 2020. “I think the thing that I was most proud of was the fact that that storyline helped me to understand what that day-to-day struggle was like.”

He continued, “I had quite a few people come up to me in the past who were recovering, and they said how much that storyline really helped them to work through some things themselves, but also recognize that this is an issue that is quite common.”

The actor continues to star in Grey’s Anatomy, though he found the time to reprise his Chuck Mitchell role for the 2018 Roseanne reboot and its spinoff, The Conners.

Pickens Jr. is married to former Musique member Gina Taylor, with whom he shares two children. He was inducted into the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum in 2019 for his impressive cultural contributions to TV and film.

Chandra Wilson (Dr. Miranda Bailey)

<p>Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty; Kevin Mazur/Getty</p>

Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty; Kevin Mazur/Getty

After making an impressive stage debut in the early ‘90s, Chandra Wilson landed minor screen parts like her turn in Philadelphia (1993). But her breakout role was playing Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, beginning the show as a general surgery resident who works her way up the hospital ladder. Wilson also climbed high in the acting world, earning four Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series between 2006 and 2009.

Despite these impressive accomplishments, she would still worry about her character getting killed off and how that might impact her career. “It’s not even anxiety. It’s just the reality of what we do. I never get so comfortable that I ever forget that,” Wilson told EW in 2010. “What we do as actors is really about decisions that get made in rooms with desks. And people change their minds all the time about things… So you make the most of it and you learn as much as you can.”

Wilson continues to star in Grey’s Anatomy and the spinoff Station 19. Her character also appeared in two episodes of Private Practice in 2009.

She has three children with her longtime partner.

Wilson became the spokesperson for the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association after her daughter Sasha was diagnosed with the disease in 2010, and even directed a Grey’s Anatomy episode showcasing the condition (season 9’s "Second Opinion"). She is also an advocate for treating substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Katherine Heigl (Dr. Izzie Stevens)

<p>Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Frazer Harrison/Getty</p>

Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Frazer Harrison/Getty

Katherine Heigl had an eclectic early career, appearing in movies like Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) and Bride of Chucky (1998) before starring in Roswell (1999–2002). She joined the Grey’s Anatomy cast in 2005 as Dr. Izzie Stevens.

She spliced her tenure on the medical drama with rom-com roles in 27 Dresses (2007) and Knocked Up (2008), but Grey’s took up most of her time. That hard work paid off, however, when she won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2007.

Somewhat notoriously, the actress withdrew her name from awards consideration in 2008, explaining in a statement, “I did not feel that I was given the material [in season 4] to warrant an Emmy nomination and in an effort to maintain the integrity of the academy organization.” This led to a public perception that Heigl was a diva. She left the series shortly thereafter in season 6 and later expressed regrets about the ordeal.

“I am disappointed in myself for allowing that perception to exist,” she told EW. “There’s nothing more gross than [the idea of] somebody in my position being ungrateful… And I hope that in the coming years I can change people’s minds about that. The six years [she spent on Grey’s] were important years, and I don’t want them to be demeaned.”

After leaving Grey’s Anatomy behind, Heigl appeared in movies like One for the Money (2012) and played Samantha Wheeler in the last two seasons of Suits (2018–2019). She also starred in and produced Netflix’s Firefly Lane (2021–2023). She’ll soon star in the film That’s Amore opposite John Travolta.

Heigl married singer Josh Kelley in 2007. Two of their three children are adopted. Heigl has received awards for her activism surrounding adoption, animal welfare, and cancer awareness.

Sara Ramírez (Dr. Callie Torres)

<p>Adam Taylor/Walt Disney Television via Getty; Bryan Bedder/Variety/Penske Media via Getty</p>

Adam Taylor/Walt Disney Television via Getty; Bryan Bedder/Variety/Penske Media via Getty

Before coming to Grey’s Anatomy in 2006, Sara Ramírez was primarily known for their stage work, notably winning the 2005 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Spamalot. They followed this success with an 11-season stint as Dr. Callie Torres, an orthopedic resident turned attending surgeon.

Ramírez, who is bisexual and came out as non-binary in 2020, had pitched making her character bisexual to showrunner Shonda Rhimes. Dr. Torres thus became an early marker of queer representation on primetime television.

“Being part of the Shondaland family was one of the greatest honors of my life, one of the greatest privileges," Ramírez told PEOPLE in 2021. "It taught me so much, portraying a character that a lot of folks had not seen on TV including myself. I will always have a soft tender place in my heart for that work family and that role. It was the role of a lifetime."

After leaving Grey’s Anatomy in 2016, Ramírez played political strategist Kat Sandoval on Madam Secretary (2017–2019) and Che Díaz on And Just Like That (2021–present). They also lent their voice to Disney’s Sofia the First from 2012 to 2018.

Ramírez married Ryan DeBolt in 2012. The couple later separated in 2021.

Eric Dane (Dr. Mark Sloan)

<p>Richard Cartwright/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Jamie Schwaberow/Getty</p>

Richard Cartwright/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Jamie Schwaberow/Getty

Before coming to Grey’s Anatomy in season 2, Eric Dane was known to genre fans as Jason Dean from the witchy teen drama Charmed (2003–2004). But he soon became well-acquainted with wider audiences as Dr. Mark Sloan, a handsome plastic surgeon and frenemy of McDreamy who is likewise dubbed McSteamy.

Dane left Grey’s Anatomy in 2012 to focus on other projects, including playing Tom Chandler on TNT’s The Last Ship (2014–2018). “It was an opportunity for me to go and I was interested in something different,” he told EW in 2013. “I loved doing Grey’s Anatomy. I would have done it until the final episode, but this was something I couldn’t pass up.”

The actor has since made waves by playing the complicated and sinister Cal Jacobs on HBO’s Euphoria (2019–present). He will also appear in the upcoming films Borderline and Bad Boys 4.

Dane married actress Rebecca Gayheart in 2004. They have two children together. She later filed for divorce in 2018.

Chyler Leigh (Dr. Lexie Grey)

<p>Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Vivien Killilea/Getty </p>

Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Vivien Killilea/Getty

Chyler Leigh’s breakout film was the 2001 comedy Not Another Teen Movie followed by the ill-fated spinoff That ‘80s Show (2002). She soon stepped into more dramatic territory by joining the Grey’s Anatomy cast in season 3 as Meredith Grey’s half-sister Lexie, a surgical intern who eventually becomes a surgical resident. She also has a dizzying relationship with Eric Dane’s Mark Sloan throughout her tenure.

Leigh stayed on Grey’s Anatomy until that infamous plane crash episode in season 8, though she briefly reprised her role for one of Meredith’s dream sequences while on a ventilator due to COVID-19 in season 17.

"To be part of that was obviously very special,” Leigh told PEOPLE in 2021. “And to be able to close the chapter for Lexie, and to appear in a way where she's not eaten by wolves. Kind of bring a little life back to it... It was a special experience to be able to be part of that."

The actress’ biggest role post-Grey’s has been playing Alex Danvers on the CW drama Supergirl (2015–2021). As the titular heroine’s sister, she also appeared in other “Arrowverse” shows like Legends of Tomorrow and The Flash. She currently stars in and produces the Hallmark Channel series The Way Home.

Leigh has been married to Nathan West since 2002. They have three children together.

Justin Chambers (Dr. Alex Karev)

<p>Ron Tom/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Gilbert Flores/Variety/Penske Media via Getty</p>

Ron Tom/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Gilbert Flores/Variety/Penske Media via Getty

A former Calvin Klein and Armani model, Justin Chambers got his start onscreen through the soap opera Another World (1995) before appearing in movies like The Wedding Planner (2001) and The Musketeer (2001). But his acting career didn’t truly take off until he was cast in Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Alex Karev, who started as a surgical intern before becoming a resident and later a pediatric surgeon.

Chambers carried the role for 14 years, which is no small feat. When EW’s writer asked why he returned for season 13, the actor put it simply: “[It’s] a job. I like having a job. I like the people I work with. My boss is awesome. It’s great. Why not? I’ve got nowhere better to be. This is where I’m supposed to be, and I’m enjoying it.”

Eventually, Chambers did have somewhere better to be. After leaving Grey’s Anatomy in 2020, he portrayed Marlon Brando in the Paramount+ miniseries The Offer (2022).

He’s been married to former model agency booker Keisha Chambers since 1993. They have five children together.

T. R. Knight (Dr. George O'Malley)

<p>Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty</p>

Bob D'Amico/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty

T.R. Knight’s breakout role was playing Dr. George O’Malley on Grey’s Anatomy, and he even received an Emmy nomination for his performance in 2007. The actor walked away from the show (and a lucrative contract) after five seasons for a number of reasons. According to him, most issues boiled down to strained communication with showrunner Shonda Rhimes and uncertainty about his character’s future, in addition to coming out as gay.

"There just comes a time when it's so clear that moving on is the best decision," Knight told EW. "There are a lot of people who would like to be in my position. But in the end, I need to be fulfilled in my work."

He’s since starred in The Flight Attendant (2020–2022) alongside Kaley Cuoco.

Knight has been married to dancer Patrick B. Leahy since 2013.

Kate Walsh (Dr. Addison Montgomery)

<p>Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty; Marc Piasecki/WireImage</p>

Liliane Lathan/ABC via Getty; Marc Piasecki/WireImage

Before joining the Grey’s Anatomy cast, Kate Walsh was known for her recurring role as Nicki on The Drew Carey Show (1997–2002). She began starring in the medical drama in 2005 as neonatal surgeon Dr. Addison Montgomery. The actress soon got her own spinoff in 2007, with Private Practice following Addison after she leaves Seattle Grace Hospital for a co-op wellness clinic in Los Angeles.

That runaway success might have surprised some actors, but not Walsh. She told PEOPLE in 2021 that she had a premonition that Grey’s Anatomy was destined for greatness. “Sometimes I do feel like I get a little witchy about things," she said. "I was like, 'This is a great show.' Even before it even had an airtime…And here we are… Seven years later. It definitely changed my life."

In many ways, Addison was a character that Walsh just couldn’t quit. She stopped appearing regularly on Grey’s Anatomy after season 3, though she still returned for occasional episodes. Once Private Practice ended in 2013, she was able to focus on other projects like 13 Reasons Why (2017–2019), The Umbrella Academy (2019–2022), and Emily in Paris (2020–2022). In 2021, she officially rejoined the Grey’s cast in a guest starring role.

Walsh was married to Alex Young from 2007 to 2010. She is currently engaged to Andrew Nixon, whom she met on an exciting expedition to the Antarctic.

Kevin McKidd (Dr. Owen Hunt)

<p>Raymond Liu/ABC via Getty; Anna Webber/Variety via Getty</p>

Raymond Liu/ABC via Getty; Anna Webber/Variety via Getty

Kevin McKidd’s first major role was playing Danny in Trainspotting (1996). He then took on historical shows like the miniseries Anna Karenina (2000) and the period drama Rome (2005–2007). But Grey’s Anatomy has been his biggest project to date. He's played Dr. Owen Hunt, a trauma surgeon who suffers from PTSD after serving in Iraq, since season 5.

“We’ve worked on making sure this isn’t sort of a fluffy representation of somebody who has this problem,” he told EW in 2009. “He’s a good guy. He’s just deeply damaged right now… We didn’t know how much we were going to deal with the aftermath of being in the Iraq War situation… But we realized pretty quickly that there was a lot there.”

The Scottish actor has taken on other roles during his ongoing Grey’s Anatomy tenure, such as playing Posiden in Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2010) and voicing characters in Brave (2012) and Star Wars: Rebels.

McKidd has been married twice, first to Jane Parker from 1999 to 2017, and then to Arielle Goldrath from 2018 to 2023. He has two children from each marriage and is currently dating actress Danielle Savre.

Camilla Luddington (Dr. Josephine "Jo" Wilson)

<p>Steven Baffo/ABC via Getty; Michael Tullberg/FilmMagic</p>

Steven Baffo/ABC via Getty; Michael Tullberg/FilmMagic

Camilla Luddington’s career took off in 2012. In addition to roles on True Blood (2012) and Californication (2012), she joined the Grey’s Anatomy cast in season 9 as Dr. Josephine "Jo" Wilson. She remains on the show to this day, and it sounds like coming back each year never gets old.

“It isn't about keeping it interesting and new, because every single season it's really exciting,” Luddington told EW in 21. “The writers always have storylines that are so surprising and change everything. There's no element of, ‘Ugh, how do I keep this interesting for myself?’"

She continued, “Actually, when you sit with a character for this long, things in their life start to parallel with yours. When I started off, I was dating my now husband. Now I'm married and have children and feel more settled in my career, and Jo is excelling in her career and having kids. It's like growing with a buddy. That's the surprising part of the experience, when you sit with somebody for that long. You're so invested.”

Luddington married Matthew Alan in 2019, and as the actor noted, they are raising two children together. When not appearing in Grey’s Anatomy, Luddington has done voice work as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video games and even did motion capture for the character.

Jessica Capshaw (Dr. Arizona Robbins)

<p>John Fleenor/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Roy Rochlin/Getty</p>

John Fleenor/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty; Roy Rochlin/Getty

Jessica Capshaw had ample acting experience before Grey’s Anatomy, including a minor appearance in Minority Report (2002) and a leading role in the film The Groomsman (2006). She was also impressive in The Practice (2002–2004), but it was playing Dr. Arizona Robbins (the chief of pediatric surgery) in Grey’s Anatomy that won her millions of fans. Capshaw initially signed on for three episodes, but she stuck around for the rest of season 5 and was promoted to a main cast billing the following year.

Fans were surprised when Capshaw’s character lost a leg, as was the actor herself. “[Executive producer Shonda Rhimes] told me she was so excited about this story, and when she told me what it was, I think I felt about it like everyone did last night, which was totally shocked,” she told EW in 2012. “It was something I’d never even pondered, which is why she’s the master storyteller. It took me a while to wrap my head around.”

Her character also made an impact on the LGBTQ+ community due to her onscreen relationship with Sara Ramírez’s Callie Torres. Fans were upset when she was written off the show in 2018, but she’s fortunately set to return for season 20 in 2024.

Capshaw has also appeared in films like Holidate (2020) and Dear Zoe (2022) as well as the Hulu series Tell Me Lies (2022).

The actor married Christopher Gavigan in 2004. They have four children together. She is the stepdaughter of director Steven Spielberg.

Caterina Scorsone (Dr. Amelia Shepherd)

<p>Raymond Liu/ABC via Getty; Tom Cooper/Getty</p>

Raymond Liu/ABC via Getty; Tom Cooper/Getty

Most audiences hadn’t heard of Caterina Scorsone before Grey’s Anatomy (unless they happened to watch the Canadian shows Mr. Dressup or Power Play). She’s starred in the medical drama since 2010 as Dr. Amelia Shepherd, who also became a partner at Oceanside Wellness Group on Private Practice (2010–2013). What’s more, the character has been a fixture on the spinoff Station 19 since 2018.

Scorsone was married to Rob Giles from 2009 to 2020. They have three children together, one of whom has Down syndrome, which inspired the actor to become an advocate. “One thing that changes when you have kids is that nothing is in your control anymore,” she told PEOPLE in 2020. “You have to roll with whatever is happening and there are people that are now in your life very intimately and in your space who have distinctly different personalities from you."

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