Whether you’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy for 18 seasons or have just caught the past few episodes, there is no way you would have missed newcomer to the show Anthony Hill. The actor who plays Dr. Winston Ndugu on the long-standing medical drama has quickly risen to fan-favorite status and we’re finally getting some backstory on his character. As the show celebrates its 400th episode and as the latest season drops on Netflix, we were lucky to be able to sit down with him on Zoom to talk about his time on the show, the latest season, and any trade secrets about Grey’s Anatomy he was ready to share.
Can you tell us a little bit about your storyline this season?
Well, it’s been pretty cool because we’ve gotten a chance to put Winston’s personality and some of his history on display. Last season was kind of an introduction to Winston, so this season is more of a thorough understanding of the guy. A little bit, at least. We were going to start a storyline about Winston having his little brother be introduced, like, two or three episodes into this season, but then Kelly McCreary, who plays Maggie on the show, she had a pregnancy, so she had to leave and go have her baby. So we had to postpone everything, because they wanted Kelly to be a part of the brother storyline. We ended up doing it at the end of the season, but still, we’re getting a chance to learn a little bit more about Winston.
What were the highlights for you this season?
I’ll tell you what, a lot of people don’t realize that once Kelly had to leave, we were halfway through an episode, episode two, and we had to reshoot it. So I had to take over her role, all of her lines, reshoot every one of her scenes, and basically take over the storyline, which was a highlight for me because it was an extreme challenge. It was last minute, and it was a really important story. The substance of the storyline was important to me. So I was glad to just be in it at all, but then having to take over for Kelly’s portion of it was incredible. So episode two was probably the highlight for me this season, everything involving my little brother coming in, played by Rome Flynn, though, that was really fun too. Everything about that was different from what I did last year.
Can you tell us a little bit about last year?
Yeah, it was really meta because we were dealing with a real-life pandemic and then we were going to work and dealing with it at work, a pretend pandemic. And it was really strange to kind of grasp all of that. When I got the job, we were right in the middle of March . So we started the pandemic when I started the job. Everything was very different from what the norm was on set. Testing many times a week, all kinds of protocols, all kinds of safety regulations, masks, shields, distancing. And so it was tough because I didn’t get to know anybody.
But the storyline itself was interesting because we got to get a good glimpse into what real-life medical workers were doing. And we got to speak with professionals and COVID experts from all over the world, just to kind of get us an understanding of what it looks like in a hospital right now and the extremes of everything so that we could play it as grounded, as honest as possible.
But it was challenging for lots of technical reasons, but also emotionally it was really tough, because it was really ransacking the world. And we were trying to portray that, as honest as possible. So it was interesting.
I think you guys did a great job with it. And your episode on getting arrested on the side of the road, as well, meant a lot to me personally.
Thank you for that. Thank you. Yeah, it meant a lot to a lot of people, and I’m really glad that they chose to write what they wrote. But it was really special for me. It was like, I don’t want to overuse the word honor, but it was like an honor to be able to portray that because it’s such an important thing that needs to be talked about and seen, you know? So I was glad that we touched on that.
So Winston is a snake nerd. Is that something that you are also comfortable with, or did you freak out a little bit during every scene?
Oh, man. It’s funny because that episode turned out so well. I didn’t know really what to expect. I’m not a snake nerd in real life. I don’t know where that even came from. It was so random to me, but it was funny. And so I was like, yeah, let’s give that a shot. But I thought they were going to have a real snake. So I was prepping my mind and my body for having to deal with a real python on a set. And they were telling me it was going to be real for, like, all the way up until like two days before. So I was, you know, trying to act like I was cool and I was good with it. But they ended up having puppeteers and electronics and CGI and all kinds of stuff married together to make it look like a snake. And it did. They did a great job. It looked incredible. It was not hard to pretend.
I really was hoping it was a real snake.
You know what, I was ready. I’m telling you. I was ready. Everybody else was freaking out, but I was ready to go. I’m not a snake guy at all, but for the show I would’ve done it.
So things at the end of the season are getting a bit rocky. What can we expect? What can we expect for Winston and Maggie and their relationship going forward? What do you hope for?
They have told us some things that were vaguely the general bare bones of next season, but nothing involving Maggie and Winston. OK, the normal answer would be for me to be like, oh I hope that we can mend everything and keep going on that beautiful path we were headed on all the way up, you know? But I kind of like the drama of it. And the end of the season was fun. It was really interesting and different from what, like I said, the fairy tale that was season 17 for our relationship. But the fairy tale of season 17 was for a reason, because the season was such a heavy season. And Maggie and Winston kind of served as this light throughout it, this positivity vibe. But this season’s different, and I liked it. I would like to see more drama. I want to see something crazy go down, like something shocking involving Winston’s family and how it ties into the hospital. Maybe Meredith [Ellen Pompeo], Maggie, the sisterhood. I don’t know. I think it would be really fun to explore that a little bit more.
I heard that you binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy with your mom after you heard that you’d been cast. What was your favorite storyline from pre-Winston?
Oh, good question. Yeah, wow, there are so many good ones. Oh, man. I’ll tell you what, the one episode that stands out — I’m a huge George fan and I get some slack for that. I don’t know why people get on me about that. But I love T.R. Knight as an actor so much. I think that he is really brilliant. Oh my gosh, the choices that he makes always have me, as an actor, leaning in and being like, hell, he’s phenomenal. And so I just like George for that reason. Also, it’s just an interesting character. But that specific episode, I don’t remember what season it was but where he wrote 007 on Meredith’s hand when he’s hit. And he was just like, completely … I hate that I had to say like, oh, I love George, I love the episode when he died. But it was just such good television. Jaws were dropped on that. It’s hard to forget. I just thought that was beautifully written, beautifully performed. It was so brilliant. So that’s my favorite episode. I don’t know about storyline. I don’t know if I could possibly pick a storyline, but I’ll go with that.
Definitely love George. It was nice to see him again in Meredith’s dream state as well.
Yeah, so dope. And I got to meet him too. Oh man, I was such a fanboy. I was trying to play it cool. And I was like, oh yeah, I’m a huge fan, man. Trying to get my breathing together. And he said, I’m a big fan of yours.
We love that.
Amazing. It was my, oh my God, It made my year. So that was middle of this season. And I was like, oh, I can retire now, I’m good to go.
How did it feel starting out on such a well-established show with such a brilliant team?
It was daunting to say the least. I was ready because there are so many actors in LA and all over the country and world that are working really hard to get to a place like Grey’s Anatomy, a well-known show that’s received well, that people love to watch, that tells good stories. But it’s also, along with the excitement, it was terror. Because you know, everybody on that show is so good. They really are. And everybody brings a certain level and there’s an expectation with that. And so I felt the pressure to just kind of try to fit in and not be, you know, the squeaky wheel. So I was doing everything I could to prep for it as soon as I got it. And yeah, just trying my best on the day-to-day to just take it one day at a time and not look too far into the future or try too hard or whatever it is that goes through our heads, you know? It was great, though. Seeing people that I’ve watched on my TV for years and years and years, and being face to face with them and reading lines with them was amazing but like I said, it was also pretty scary. But luckily it’s working out all right so far.
Did you have to prep much? Was that more in terms of acting or in terms of like researching things for the show?
A little bit of both. You know, I try to stay in classes to stay sharp and I just like classes, I like working with other people, so that’s always going to be a thing. But as far as the medical thing and the technical part, I was definitely concerned about that. You’re in such good hands there, though. People like Linda Klein who have been there for so long, working with the medical aspect of things. So when you get there, they make sure that you’re ready before you do your first surgery, or you understand what you’re doing on a procedure, whatever it is. But I wanted to do some stuff on my own. So I was at home reading books. I took it pretty seriously, you know, it’s Grey’s Anatomy.
And you’ve got to prep. So I was reading books about cardiothoracic surgery, different interns, and what it’s like to graduate into being an attending. And I was watching YouTube and looking at different procedures, and trying to just get used to being able to stomach watching procedures.
Because that was an interesting mindset that surgeons have, just being so blasé about something pretty gross, in my opinion. So yeah, that kind of thing. It was fun though. I’m still doing it. I still do it all the time. I enjoy it.
So there is a photo on your Instagram of you actually performing surgery, and it looks suspiciously like chicken. Can you tell us any secrets on what was the most shocking element about operating?
First of all, one thing that’s kind of funny that they do is when they have to have blood squirting out of something, an organ, or arteries, or whatever, they have somebody underneath the operating table with a little gadget, remote control, squeezing. And you can see his feet sometimes while you’re operating. And it’s the weirdest thing to have to ignore. But yeah. So that’s one thing that I was like, I guess I’ve got to get used to a guy being underneath the table constantly.
But the one thing that kind of surprises me is that they teach you how to do these surgeries. Like, the main points of them, the main parts that need to be shown, they’ll teach you the specifics of it. And so you have to learn that fairly quickly. And they will use real parts on the table. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this. This might be, like, a problem, but yeah, I think it’s a known fact that they use organs from animals and things that have been donated or whatever. So yeah, that was not a piece of chicken.
Is there a storyline or a specific thing that you would like Winston to be doing in season 19? We’ll call this manifesting.
There’s these bad men that are after Winston’s little brother because he took a loan from them and it’s not great. And it’s kind of putting everybody in danger. And I would love to see something play out with that where I’m like in a high-speed car chase and I’m like, I don’t know, I find a gun somewhere and I pop, pop, pop [gun shots], you know, there’s explosions and I’m diving under stuff. That would be dope. I don’t think that’s Grey’s Anatomy, but hey, I’m going to try. I’m going to pitch it. I’m going to see what happens.
It might have to be a Station 19 / Grey’s Anatomy crossover.
In a crossover, I could pull that off. I feel like.I think I might try to get some action hero credits on my résumé.
Do you have any future projects that we might see you in alongside Grey’s Anatomy?
You know, we only have a little window of time off in the summers, and it’s pretty tough to squeeze anything in there without an extraordinary amount of planning ahead of time. Which some people do really well, and I haven’t quite mastered yet. So I don’t have anything coming up right now, but there’s plenty that I’m manifesting.