Jazz Tangcay talks to actress Khalilah Joi about shooting that powerful “rape episode” of Grey’s Anatomy
The show has been on for 15 seasons, and this year, Grey’s Anatomy aired one of its most poignant episodes – ever! In ‘Silent After All These Years’ , Abby (Khalilah Joi) comes to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, a rape victim and doesn’t want to report the incident. As she is wheeled down the hallway, the women of the hospital line up on either side to show support and solidarity. It was a powerful moment. It was poignant and it addressed the issue of consent.
The episode comes at a timely moment, when consent is in the conversation. I caught up with actress Khaliah Joi to talk about getting the part and how she honored rape survivors.
Read our chat below:
I know you auditioned in the past for the show, but what was your relationship like before this episode?
I remember watching the pilot. I was still back home in Virginia and not a lot of pilots can do it, but with this, you were in from the beginning. I had been a fan for many years. I was a religious watcher for many seasons. It’s been on for so many seasons and I jumped back in around season 13 or 14, so I’d been watching it like a regular fan.
My actual first audition for the show was last year. Since then, I’d been in and out of the auditioning for different roles and then this happened. I didn’t actually audition for this episode. I’d gone in that week for a totally different episode and character. I went in for that on Wednesday. I didn’t hear anything back on Thursday, but on Friday, I got a call from my manager saying they’d just released a new role on the breakdowns and they penned me immediately. An hour later, I got an offer. I asked him, “What’s the role?” He didn’t know. We had no idea what the episode was, nor what the character was. That night, I think Friday night, the producer sent me the script and I was blown away and terrified.
It’s so different from the other episodes. It’s not about the arc as such. What was it like to go through and read that?
It was a mix of emotions. I started sobbing when I was reading the script. That’s not something that happens often, as actors we get a lot of scripts, and when something moves you on the page, you know how powerful the story is that you’re telling.
When I read the wall of women scene in the script, I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Just reading it, you knew it was a very important story. It didn’t feel like another story and another episode in the season. They were using this platform to make a very important statement and to address things that needed to be addressed.
I was incredibly flattered that they chose me for this role, but I was also really scared. I didn’t want to mess it up. Reading that script, I knew this story needed to be told properly. I really wanted to do that effectively and pay homage to survivors because their voice needs to be heard.
There’s so much that needed to be said about that episode in terms of honoring the survivors. What did you do next after reading the script to ensure you could really dive into it?
We didn’t have very much time because I got the script on Friday and our table read was on Monday. I did a few things. One was to do research on post-rape trauma. We find Abby very soon after she’s experienced what she has. I looked at what it was like in the body? Emotionally? And all the different things going through this person’s mind. I wanted to get more into that.
I have a personal friend who is a family therapist. She deals a lot with sexual assault in her work. We sat down and talked about that and how it presents itself emotionally and what that journey is like for survivors.
Abby doesn’t feel like a character that you have to create. She felt more like a representation of women who have experienced this who just needed to be heard. It wasn’t like I had to create these things.
Elizabeth did such an amazing thing in the writing. She gave me so much and just trying to be as authentic as possible was all I was focused on.
The hallway scene is one of the most powerful and iconic moments on TV. What was it like shooting that?
It was such an amazing day. I remember they had shot a scene in the hallway earlier that morning without my character there. Once I got to the soundstage, I hid because I didn’t want to see THAT until it was time to see it.
When I had to get to the room and the set, I walked around the outside to get to Abby’s room. I remember Camilla Luddington saying, “Have you seen it?” I said, “No. I don’t want to see it, until I see it for the first time.” I wanted that to be my genuine reaction to seeing all those women. It was so powerful and such a beautiful thing. We did several takes of it and I cried every single time. You never got past that feeling of camaraderie and solidarity and women really standing for one another. It hit you every time. Everyone was crying the whole time.
What has the feedback been like for you since playing it?
It’s been incredible. Especially after the first 72 hours. I had never experienced anything like it before. On social media, I got so many messages. What shocked me – and Elizabeth mentioned it to me the day before, but she said to take care of myself- I got so many messages from survivors. I was moved. Reading these stories and hearing people share their very private and intimate moments. They were saying, “Thank you.” “I feel heard.” I feel sane.” “I’ve never had my story told in this way.” I even got messages from people saying, “I’ve finally told someone.”
You’re giving me goosebumps.
For someone to say, ‘I saw this episode and it gave me the strength to go and talk to someone about what I have been through.’ I have goosebumps. It’s overwhelming.
As actors, we want to tell stories that are powerful and make a difference. I don’t think I really realized how much this story could and would have. All of these messages started flooding in.
You know, the show isn’t in its first season and yet people still tune in either religiously or dip in or out of it. But it’s still got so many viewers, but the messages show the power of the show.
Also, I heard from men who were applauding the show’s conversation about consent overall. That scene at the end with Tuck learning about a layman’s definition of consent and what it is – that inspired me. I went home to Virginia a few weeks ago and sat my 17-year-old nephew down. We watched the episode and then had a very long conversation about consent and what it meant. We discussed how to navigate that world. He’s at that age where he’s probably exploring those things. It’s such a beautiful jumping off point to have those conversations.
It gives people a segue to make things less awkward. I felt it was important they had that scene with men because I feel women talk about it all the time. I feel men have to have these conversations with each other.