British-American actress Camilla Luddington has remained a fan favorite since her introduction as Dr. Jo Wilson to ABC’s hit medical drama series Grey’s Anatomy, nine years ago.
As season 17 of the show airs, Camilla’s portrayal of the resilient character continues to win hearts just as much as the actress -who is also known for voicing Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video games- herself does.
Finding joy in playing “make believe” with her different roles, Camilla who describes her process as “part method acting,” knows Jo’s character well from playing her so long, connecting particularly with the character’s storyline involving her mother. In conversation with 1883, Camilla who has known and pursued her passion for acting since childhood, delves into the emotional journey of portraying a doctor in a season centred around the pandemic, speaking of the weight of wanting to accurately represent the stories of frontline workers. She also reveals her bucket list, dream role, shares a piece advice for aspiring actress, and much more.
You’ve mentioned in a previous interview, how your favorite part of acting is delving into other people’s experience and stories, playing make believe. I’m sure playing a doctor during a pandemic has got to have taught you to see things from a very different perspective. Stepping back into the role of a doctor, knowing everything our frontline workers have been doing, what was that like?
Yeah, usually it’s make believe, like you said. That’s why I think this has been the most difficult season. Usually the storylines are set in a different world, I could step into Seattle Grace, play my role and at the end of the day I’d get to go home into my own world. This is the first time ever that I think we’ve all been living almost this real-life story line where what’s happening on the show is also happening to a large extent in real life. When you are watching the incredible bravery of the frontline workers on the news, and then you’re having to go and play that role, there’s a weight to it. You feel like you have to do right by them, making them proud, and bring their stories to the forefront. It was maybe the most intimidating season just because it felt the world in show was also the real world. We wanted to represent what’s really going on, give this platform to highlight the doctors, nurses and essential workers who had been dealing with a pandemic and thank them for what they have been doing, and what they continue to do.
Having been with the character of Jo for so long, how much of yourself have you brought to Jo and conversely how much of Jo have you absorbed into yourself if you had to think about it?
I think Jo is very resilient. I would hope that’s something that’s kind of rubbed off on me. She’s been through so much, I admire her strength, and I hope that it has become a part of me as well. I think the character’s humor – the sarcasm or dryness – that’s is a little bit from me. When we start the show, they kind of observe what you’re like as a person and write the character according to your personality. So, I think Jo’s sarcastic nature is partly because of they’ve written the character to align with me in real life.
How would you describe your process and how has it evolved as you’ve gone from role to another?
I’m partly a method actor. I don’t necessarily stay character all day, but I definitely pull from my past and my own experiences to sort of color the scenes and help me bring emotion to make them feel real and authentic. Previously, my process actually used to be to sort of step away and separate myself from the character before a scene. But now with Jo I kind of think about her past and then mix it with my own. It’s my ninth season on the show, so I almost have a shorthand of acting with this character, where I can really quickly jump into whatever emotional state Jo is in – this comes only from playing her for so long.
In recent memory, what’s a moment that you can think back to where you’ve done that; mixed your experiences with that of the character?
I think the episode where Jo meets her mother for the first time is a good example where I did this in a very intense way, because my own mom passed away when I was younger. So there’s this element feeling like I’m missing my mom. She hasn’t been there for so many monumental moments in my life. And then Jo is experiencing this heartache, mourning a relationship she has never had.
If I asked you right now what your dream role is, what would you say?
I’ve gotten to play Lara Croft in the games and I think that to play an action hero some point would my dream role, because my daughter is so interested in superheroes right now. So to be able to show her something where I get to kick butt I think that would be like my dream job right now. And if I can have a role where I fly, she’d be sold so I’d just love to do that kind of role for her.
You’ve spoken about how you’ve always wanted to go into acting, but you’ve also done everything from singing and dancing. So creatively have you got any different passions that you’d love to experiment with, that you haven’t had a chance to do yet?
I haven’t sung or danced for a long time now but my passion for acting came from musicals, it’s what I grew up watching so if could ever go back and do Broadway or a play in the West End I think it’d be pretty incredible. I think it would kind of feel like home to me because I grew up with it.
What would you say has been the most memorable or surreal moment of your career so far and what’s on your bucket list as a creative?
Most memorable is probably Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve done other shows, but there’s nothing quite like the machine that is Grey’s. I don’t think something like it will ever happen again. The fandom is just the most passionate fandom I’ve ever experienced. Every single season, I think maybe we’ll lose viewership but we’ve been on the air for 17 seasons and every single time there’s a flood of support, people who’ve been with the show for many years, saying ‘Meredith Grey is the reason I’m a doctor.’ It just makes this wild experience. It’s lightning in a bottle, I don’t think there will be anything quite like it again.
In terms of a bucket list, I’d love to be able to produce my own material one day just think that that would be an incredible opportunity and I look at other people doing it like Margot Robbie and I just think that is like the ultimate dream to be to be able to be creative in all different realms.
Has creating and producing a show been something you’ve always wanted to do or is it something that kind of developed as you worked in the industry and met people who made you realise it doesn’t have to be either-or, you can do both?
Growing up, it didn’t occur to me that you could do other things as an actress. I just felt like you were you’re hired to do this one job. But then I think in my twenties, I started to see people like Reese Witherspoon sort of get their own production companies and start to produce material and I became very aware of that you can have a bigger piece of the pie than you thought you could. I realised that you have more control than you thought you did, and so my passion for the future – after Grey’s – is , taking the reins and being able to create something of my own. I can’t say much but, my husband and I absolutely have started writing something, it’s definitely something that we are already diving into but it’s a project for much later.
Coming into the industry as a young actress, you didn’t know everything an actress can do, how empowering it can be to do all these different things. So as someone who has now gone through it if you had to give a piece of advice or encouragement to anyone who is an aspiring actress, what would it be?
I would say don’t put limitations on yourself because I think that I felt like I was like an actress, I put that label on myself and felt like I had to fit into that box. Now, I just feel like women are kicking down the sides of the box and they’re making a new box, one with no limitations. So write your material film it with friends, use platforms at your disposal – Tiktok, Instagram or YouTube- to get your material out there. Don’t let yourself be boxed in, put the power back into your hands and reach people.
Finally, what’s one question no one has ever asked you in an interview you wish you were asked?
“What’s my favorite drink?” Nobody knows what my favorite drink is! The answer is very specific, it’s a Flaming Cadillac Margarita.
Season 17 of Greys Anatomy can be seen on ABC
Interview Malvika Padin
Photography Martina Tolot Moroder