ABC's Grey's Anatomy returned for its first PaleyFest panel since 2006 with a Sunday afternoon event that offered attendees an early look at the March 30 episode - "Be Still, My Soul" - which is leading lady Ellen Pompeo's directorial debut. The fan-focused event offered a glimpse at what's to come for a lot of the show's central couples as Pompeo opened up about stepping behind the camera for the first time.
The actress noted that the opportunity came after Grey's Anatomy executive producer (and recurring star) Debbie Allen repeatedly asked her to direct and join co-stars Kevin McKidd and Chandra Wilson as actors on the show who have become regular helmers of the Shondaland medical drama. "This force of nature wouldn't take no for an answer," Pompeo said of Allen. "I'm forever grateful for that spirit of generosity - which not a lot of women have."
Pompeo, who has played Meredith Grey for all 13-plus seasons of the drama, revealed that she was more nervous about the technical aspects that came with directing and less worried about the emotional scenes that came with the episode. Without spoiling what happens, the hour features the return of Maggie's mother and features a mixture of deeply emotional moments and humor reminiscent of the show's early seasons.
"I've been doing this show for 13 seasons, I wasn't nervous about any of the scenes. I was more nervous about the technical aspects of directing. With regard to emotion, I have the best cast in the world. … I really wasn't afraid," said Pompeo. "I was lucky to have Debbie Allen with me every step of the way and when I was tired or confused, she was there to jump right in."
As for how it felt to direct herself in the episode, Pompeo deadpanned, "That's not fun."
Here are a few other highlights from the cast:
• Sarah Drew remained hopeful that April and Jackson's (Jesse Williams) latest romantic step would open the door for something more forward-looking, though she cautioned that the relationship either way would be OK. "The main take-away from their experience in Montana is that these two people, there's so much love and respect there, and whether it moves toward romance or stays platonic, we know these two are going to be OK and they will always be one another's 'person,'" she said with a nod to the show's lingo. " … And it could lead to romance!" Williams was optimistic about whether Eric Roberts would return to play Jackson's father. "I really hope so, I think there's a lot left to do there." Added Allen: "We've planted a lot of seeds and that's one of them that could resonate in a lot of ways - but there's more coming."
• Kevin McKidd opened up about Owen and Amelia's (Caterina Scorsone) marital issues and confessed that "Owen is really struggling." The actor continued: "He's a very tortured guy and he thinks the thing that is going to fix him is a beautiful family with this woman [Amelia], but she doesn't want to right now. He's waiting and he loves her and he's tortured, and we'll see what happens." McKidd later had one of the most amusing anecdotes of the hourlong panel when, after being asked who he wishes he had more scenes with, he responded, "Any of the men! They dole us out around the episode, so when I'm [in a scene] with a guy, it's like, 'Oh my God!'"
Read more: 'Grey's Anatomy's' Famous Departures
• Justin Chambers was asked to pick which romantic pairing he'd like to see for Alex: longtime friend Meredith or Jo (Camilla Luddington). "Anything is possible, especially on Grey's Anatomy. He might even be with Catherine!" He later noted that he'd like to see what becomes of Alex and Jo's troubled relationship, noting that Alex still wants to marry Jo. Chambers later was asked which Grey's character he would bring back from the grave: "McDreamy [Patrick Dempsey], McSteamy [Eric Dane] … I love them all and I miss them all!" he said between screams from the audience as he and the cast debated which characters exited or were killed off.
• Jessica Capshaw (Arizona) was asked to pick her favorite "shipper" name and gave diehard fans in attendance something to scream about when she went with "Calzona," in a nod to the gone-but-not-forgotten Callie (Sara Ramirez). The fan favorite reflected on Arizona's journey post-Callie and said that while she loved the opportunity to be part of an important and influential couple like Callie and Arizona, Ramirez's exit offered an opportunity to create something new. In a bid to capture that, Capshaw went back and rewatched the Grey's pilot as well as her first episode of the series. "At the end of last season, there was a really nice point where you could happily permit both to be happy without each other," she said of Callie and Arizona going their separate ways. "It created a nice springboard for this season. … Now, almost eight years later, I'm in a position where I have to create new relationships. … I find myself at a point where there's something exciting happening for Arizona and a newness happening for her. This season is the beginning of creating something new, and it's optimistic and fun." As for whether Eliza Minnick (Marika Dominczyk) is "the one" for Arizona, Capshaw stressed that the duo have a "real light and energy," but that she has "no idea if she's the one."
• Martin Henderson offered a glimpse at what may be to come for Meredith and Nathan's touchy relationship. "I'm looking forward to seeing Nathan in a relationship - whether it's platonic or romantic," he said. Asked by a fan about where she thinks Meredith is going, Pompeo pointed to a personal philosophy that she applies to her character: "I've been able to do this show for so long because I try to not have expectations. I do the same thing in my life. I try not to look down the road too far, because we'll miss what happens here, today. … Life will tell me where it's going. I don't want to think about where I'm going."
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. For full coverage, head to THR.com/GreysAnatomy.