It’s not easy being a home wrecker. Luckily, Lauren Stamile, who has been the wedge between McDreamy and Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy and Jeff and Britta on Community, is so charming and lovable that it’s impossible to stay mad at her for keeping these great television couples apart.
We recently talked to Stamile about the medical accuracy of Grey’s Anatomy, the philosophical underpinnings of Community‘s finale and the fact that, deep down, she is really an 88-year-old grandmother.
How did you get into acting? When did you decide it’s what you wanted to do for a living?
I am the middle of five children, so I think that probably had something to do with it. It’s hard to be heard when you have that many brothers and sisters, especially when you’re in the middle. I would always find myself making little scenarios as a kid that were not real. I was kind of introverted as a kid and when I started to explore it gave me a chance to have a voice, I suppose.
Then, and now, it gives me the opportunity to learn about people that are different and I feel much more interesting and probably a lot cooler than I am in real life. I think too there is something really cool about the idea of a shared experience. There’s a lot of that in acting. You share an experience with the character, you share an experience with the audience, with the other actors. I don’t know, I think sometimes when you start to think about life and think, “Oh geez, we’re all here alone,” when you start to share experiences, you realize no we’re not, we’re surrounded by lots of people.
What was the process of becoming an actor like for you? Did you go to school for it?
Maybe the first play I did in school I was like four. I just started getting very involved in school and then some city things – I’m from Oklahoma. Very different from here, but it was kind of nice. My parents, when they started to realize, “Wow, she really likes to do this and she seems like she’s really enjoying it,” they said, “Alright, you can do it on one condition and we’ll support this, but you’ve got to go to college.”
So I said, “I’m in. I’m totally up for that.” I knew I had no idea what I was doing, so I thought that was a good idea. So I went to Northwestern, in Evanston, Illinois, which has a great theatre program. It was quickly evident to me how I really had no idea what I was doing. Then, when I graduated, I felt like, “Wow, I’ve learned a whole lot, but I still don’t know what I’m doing.” And I still feel like that today.
But yeah, the process was I went to school for four years, I moved to New York, I studied there for a little while and then started working right away and then I came out here, did some more studying, I started teaching acting – I don’t do that anymore. It’s kind of an ever-evolving process, like any job there’s always more to learn.
Have you been able to make a living as an actor all along or have you had to get other jobs along the way to support yourself?
I told it just like it was a piece of cake. (Laughs.) That was the big picture way of talking about it. I think when you look at it in the big picture, you think, “Wow, I worked a whole lot. I’m pretty consistent.” But I think if you magnify any part of that picture, there are large stretches of zero acting work and other much less glamorous jobs.
When I got out of school, I moved to New York and I was a hostess because I’m so lacking in coordination that waitressing was a disaster. But I can smile and talk, so I was a hostess. I was a temp, but I had zero skills so I just really answered phones.
I started working pretty quickly – maybe like a couple of months after I got out of school I got an acting job. But between jobs, I did that kind of stuff. Then, when I came out to L.A., I was an assistant, I worked in a store, I cleaned houses, I edited pictures for an online magazine, I taught acting.
There was a period of time when I first came out to L.A. which was great. I moved out to Los Angeles because I got a series, which at 23 is tough because then you think, “Oh my god, piece of cake. This is easy, you just move to L.A. and just get a big job.” Little did I know that the winter was coming. After that job ended, that’s when I started teaching full-time. I had just been an actor and I had to go back to not just being an actor for several years. And then in the last three or so years, yes – knock on wood – I’ve just been acting, which is great. And writing, which is great too. But that’s not making me any money yet. (Laughs.)
You’ve had guest spots on a number of shows, including CSI: Miami, The West Wing, Cold Case and Boston Legal. Are you someone who enjoys getting to go on a variety of different shows playing different characters or was taking these guest spots a way to make a living?
I think probably both. I love the challenge of working on a new character, meeting new people and kind of entering a new world. That is thrilling and hopefully I’ll continue to do that. However, it would be super awesome I think now to have a little more consistency.
It’s great to be a guest star. It’s also frightening, it’s like being the new kid at a new school and you have a week to fit in. Usually, you go in to these very established machines like West Wing or Boston Legal, some of the ones that you said, and that’s awesome because I get the opportunity to learn from the best of the best in every area – the crew, the cast, the directors, the producers – and it’s pretty great. But it also sometimes makes me feel like I don’t quite have a home as far as my job is concerned. I’d love to have a more regular gig. In the last couple of years it’s been great because I’ve been doing some recurring roles, which kind of give you that sense.
Also, in a week, it’s hard to fully get to know a character or a show, whereas if you get to work on it for a period of time, it becomes more rewarding and my work probably gets better given the time.
On Scrubs, you played a terminally ill patient who wants to take her own life. The episode ends with you driving away as Elliot decides not to warn your at-home nurse that you are suicidal. We are left guessing at your character’s fate. So, please tell us Shannon miraculously recovers and is off living a happy life somewhere.
(Laughs.) Oh god. I don’t know if I can give you that reassurance.
That was such an interesting role to do because talk about dealing with a big issue. There’s nothing bigger, really. It’s interesting, when you approach a character the one thing I learned is you never judge that character. You kind of have to leave judgment out. “What would I do in that situation?” or “I would never do that,” well, this person would do this.
I think that is so interesting because here this character is diagnosed with a disease that basically you suffocate to death; everything stops working. I kept thinking to myself, “My god, what if I was in that position?” I think those are the decisions you hope you never have to make in life because it’s frightening. I thought it was great to have that show do something like that.
It was always good at having those moments. It was a comedic show, but it was always able to switch that gear and do drama believably.
Absolutely. And at the end of the day I think the best shows are the dramas that have comedy in them and the comedies that have drama in them. Like life, it’s a mixed bag. They were very good at doing that.
On Grey’s Anatomy, your character Nurse Rose was McDreamy’s rebound after breaking up with Meredith. What was it like going into a show built around two characters being together and being the wedge between them? Obviously, with such a loyal fan base, their reaction to your character was probably not the most positive one in the world.
Well, I’m sure there were a lot of haters. It was tough and intimidating, that whole idea. It was interesting because prior to my being on the show, I was watching and they were kind of hinting at that. In one episode before I started working, McDreamy says to Meredith, “I will wait for you, but if someone comes along, I can’t promise you anything.” As a viewers, I was like, “Whoever that is just needs to stay away. I’ll kill her.” Then, I was like, “Oh my god, that is what people are going to be thinking.”
It was tough. It was intimidating. It was also frightening going into this cultural craze. Everyone was very welcoming and great, which made it a lot easier. Again, it was learning how does a show that is a hit work and how do these people work. I think I learned a lot from that experience.
The writers’ strike happened when I was in the middle of doing that job, so I had filmed maybe four episodes and then we had a good several months off. I made the mistake of a lifetime, which will never be made again. I had too much time on my hands and I decided to go to a blog, like, “What are people saying? I should look at what people are saying.” Oh my god, I will never do that again. We live in a great country and everybody gets to have their opinion and that’s awesome but I don’t need to read them.
People’s reactions are not really an actor’s business. Your business is to do your job, do it well and then go home. That was hard because I realized, “My god, this is having an enormous impact on people, at least fans. They want them back together.” And that was pretty clear. So they did it and they got them back together.
Your father is a physician and your mother a registered nurse. When you were on Grey’s Anatomy, were they giving you feedback on your nursing?
You know, it’s interesting. When your parents are in the medical world, it’s amazing how much time we would spend in the hospital just going on rounds with my dad. And just the way my parents talk is all very medical, all the time. So in a weird way, I was very excited. I was like, “This is great. This is like home.”
I would ask them certain things. A lot of times, there would be things that I would be saying and I was like, “I don’t know what this is” and I’d talk to my mom and dad about it. I used to work in my dad’s office with my mom, I’ve seen my dad do surgery, so I’ve always had a lot of curiosity about what they do. I thought for a little while I was maybe going to go back to school to be a doctor.
They did tell me, “You know Lauren, there’s one thing about the show that is not quite real.”
I said, “Well, what’s that?”
They said, “I just don’t feel a lot of doctors are rushing off into the closet to make out. Everybody would be dead.”
I said, “Yeah, I think there’s probably a little bit of imagination in there.”
But they loved it. They were really excited.
Last season, you played Professor Michelle Slater on Community, which turned out to be a big hit for NBC. What was it like being on that show and how did it come about?
Fantastic. They are some of the coolest people I have ever been around. Ever. I think what those actors and writers exhibit in talent on that show is as cool as they are as people, which is just a pleasure. Also, it’s a new show, which also makes it a lot less scary to come into because everybody’s kind of just meeting each other.
That came about, funnily enough, it was just a normal audition. It was a guest star thing, possibly recurring – but then no, just a guest star. I went in to audition for it and didn’t hear anything for about three weeks. Then out of the blue on a holiday weekend I got a call that was like, “Lauren’s got this job. She starts work in a day. Here’s everything.”
It was like, “What? Okay, great.” I did that and it just kind of ended up turning into recurring. I’ve got a feeling that it may continue in the next season. I’m not quite sure.
In the season finale, you were once again the wedge splitting up a TV couple, this time Jeff and Britta, but the writers pulled a swerve and had Jeff end up making out with Annie at the end of the episode. Obviously, you don’t know what will happen, but have you given any thought to where you would like to see things head with your character?
Oh my god, absolutely. Again, like I was saying, anything to get me back on that set. I’ll pay them.
Don’t tell them that.
Yeah, I shouldn’t say that. It would be so little money, they would not be impressed.
It was so interesting. At the end of that episode, I thought it was really cool. There was the conversation before Annie and Jeff kiss and she’s asking, “Who are you going to choose?”
He says, “Slater makes me be the man I want to be, the person that you are going to be after your New Year’s Resolutions. She makes me want to evolve. Whereas Britta lets me be the person that I am.” It got very philosophical there for a second because that is an interesting choice I think people are always making in life – the choice to evolve or the choice to accept where you are. I would love to see where that goes. I think it’s really interesting.
So was kissing Annie a choice to be someone else?
No. You know what I think he did? I think he didn’t make a choice. Annie is beautiful and she is right there and they were kind of toying with the idea throughout the season that there’s definitely a chemistry [between the two of them]. I don’t think that he could ever be with Annie. I think they’re in two different places. I have no idea what’s going to happen. This is just my suspicion – not even suspicion, it’s my opinion and it could be completely wrong. I feel like he’s just putting it off and he’s just like, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m not going to decide. I’m going to be in the moment.” And they’re in front of each other and they just go with that.
A few months ago, there was a campaign on Twitter to get Donald Glover cast as Spider-man in Marc Webb’s reboot. Ultimately, they decided to cast Andrew Garfield in the role, but having worked with Glover, do you think he would have made a good Spider-man?
Donald Glover can do anything. He could be any superhero; he could really be anything at all. That guy is so full of talent; I don’t even know where he puts it all. He’s an incredible writer and he’s an incredible actor and he’s just one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. But not just funny. So absolutely. I think that would be an incredible decision.
But, you know what, I’m not on Twitter. I don’t even know how to do it. I’m not on Facebook. I’m a grandma. I can use the computer for the email and that’s about it.
The fact that you called it “the email” too …
(Laughs.) I know. There you go. That tells you – “the Google,” “the email” – totally 88-years-old.
What other projects are on the horizon for you?
There are a couple of things percolating, but I can’t ever speak until I’m actually there doing it because I never believe any of it. But my fingers are crossed to possibly continue working on Community. That would be a true pleasure. And we’ll see what’s happening with these other things.
Have you given any thought into the direction you would like to see your career head? What types of roles would you like to play and would you like to eventually do more film work or would you like to stick with television?
I have to say the medium isn’t as important to me as the material and the people. I started out in theatre, which is extraordinary and I’d love to do again. And I have done quite a bit of television and commercials and some film, but much less. And every experience kind of informs the others and teaches you something. So whatever is great.
I think that what is happening on television right now is very exciting. I think that there are some very interesting shows. And I think what’s great about that is that if you get on a television show, you are constantly learning about that character and that world. Kind of like what I was saying in that conversation with Jeff and Annie on Community, it’s like you are evolving. I’m very interested in that.
I’m also interested, I think, in the consistency. In the last, since I’ve been out of school, so almost 12 years, there’s so much up and down in this career. So I’d like a little more stability. That interests me. As far as types of characters, anything – bring it on. It’s especially thrilling to get something, read it and think, “Oh my god, this scares me to death. There’s no way I’m going to be able to pull that off.” Then you know you’ve got something really good. So we’ll see. I’m excited to kind of find out.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into acting?
A couple of things. I think writing is probably one thing. I’m working on something with my writing partner right now that I’m so excited about. That is something I’ve kind of always done but have kind of just been afraid to go that way. I think there’s something to that.
And I do think there’s something in the medical world, but with a holistic bent to it. I think that in an ideal world for me, western and eastern medicine would kind of join hands and work together. One of my dreams is to open up some sort of a holistic center that also combines service work where physicians from both worlds, but especially focused on holistic would give their time and do pro bono work for people that can’t afford it. I would love to do something that kind of combines service and health. That would be fascinating. And I feel like in some ways maybe my career will hopefully make it so I can do that as well later on.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I meditate every day. That’s probably something that most people don’t know. And I am kind of on like baby time in that I wake up super early and I like to go to bed super early. Once again, it’s like a baby or like a grandma. Obviously, from what I’m telling you, I’m very fun. (Laughs.)
One more thing – I am studying tai chi. It’s really cool.
What does the future hold for you?
That is a big question.
I know one thing I would like it to hold. We’ve talked a lot about career, so I’ve kind of talked about that. I would love children. So hopefully that’s coming. I’ve met my fantastic, miracle of a husband four years ago and we’ve been married for just a little over a year. It’s very interesting, when I met him it became very evident to me how it’s so important that the world has more of him in it.
I think also, along those lines, I’d really like to have the opportunity to spend more time with my family and now with his family that’s also my family. Neither of us has family in California, so that’s tough.
So family’s a big theme. I think more consistent work is a big theme. And also, like I was saying before, the opportunity to do something where I can combine, with my husband because that would be a joint thing, something that has to do with holistic health and service work. The holistic health area has greatly helped and enhanced my life and I would love to be able to bring that to people that can’t quite afford to have it.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy.