It has been three months since ABC’s Private Practice (Thursdays at 10/9c) dared to go there by subjecting Dr. Charlotte King to one of primetime TV’s most graphically depicted rapes. As in real life, the healing process has been a painfully slow one for Charlotte (played by KaDee Strickland), though the ABC drama’s most recent outing let slip a sliver of sunshine into her world when she and Cooper found themselves able to be intimate again.
Charlotte’s darkest day, however, is revisited this week when unforeseen circumstances bring her face-to-face with her attacker, Lee McHenry (played by Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon). How will Charlotte cope with this unsettling encounter — especially when she holds Lee’s life in her hands? KaDee Strickland shared with TVLine a look at the intense hour to come, as well as sang the praises of an exiting cast mate and previewed the arrival of a new doc.
TVLINE | What are the circumstances surrounding Lee McHenry’s return?
I notice in life all the time that usually when things are going really good, something can pop up to check you — and that’s where Charlotte is at in this episode. She and Cooper have finally made some progress, and true to form, the minute one lets their guard down…. Lee shows up in the hospital needing my help, because his girlfriend, the mother of his son, has stabbed him.
TVLINE | What is Charlotte’s mindset when she locks eyes with him?
What’s interesting is that I literally walked into a scene with Taye [Diggs, Sam] and I couldn’t film for a minute – even though Nicky [Brendon] was nowhere near the set at this point. My body just freaked out, I couldn’t even move through the door. Charlotte is not going to be walking around the hospital falling apart by any stretch, but the first moment [she] felt the knowledge that he was back in the same breathing space… the rug has been pulled from under her. It’s a constant, critical decision of “Do I let this person continue in their life when I actually could take it away from them?” We don’t advocate that by any stretch, but you see that pure primal need to self-preserve. I was glad we included those very human moments, because that is a reality for survivors. They want absolute pain and revenge and suffering for [their attacker], and that changes with the acceptance that this person has not stopped their lives. But there is the sheer emotional nature of “Do I forgive someone that has violated every part of my being? Or is it really in that forgiveness that I can move forward?” The secret thoughts that some people may have [in real life], we actually get to say them out loud. To me, the road we’ve taken is the most complicated, in truth, and it felt right to handle it that way.
TVLINE | Will Charlotte seize the opportunity to get anything off her chest?
Yes, and I love that we can exercise that muscle. As the actress, when they told me he was coming back so soon, I was like, “Oh my god! What will I do?!” I can only imagine what the audience feels.
TVLINE | It must almost be intimidating for you, thinking you’ve got the meat of this story behind you when there’s this whole other critical beat to play.
But the truth is it’s not even just me having some resolution with the story, but also the audience. I understand that I’m the vessel through which feelings for this person get filtered. It’s unspeakable what can happen to a person, and yet I have met remarkable people who moved on [after being raped]. We are allowing this story to carry on and give satisfaction to people who have not only been through similar situations, but also to the audience. I was pleased they’re letting us do that on Thursday at 10 o’clock.
TVLINE | Charlotte and Cooper being intimate again – as an actor, was it a relief to let that bit of light back in, for them to latch back onto a piece of normal?
It was wonderful. You act out this love affair with a person for years, and there’s inherent relief for both of us to come back to this kind of vulnerability as opposed to emotional, raw pain. It doesn’t feel good to be confused, and it’s taxing when your character is in a constant state of “Am I coming or going?” The day where we had to go into the ice room [where Charlotte and Cooper had sex], Paul [Adelstein] and I laughed so much. It did feel like you could breathe again. I had no idea that we would both be so relieved to go back to our old ways, as it were.
TVLINE | Shonda Rhimes really has given Paul a great arc here as well.
It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, because I don’t think you see that story. Shonda has created a unique environment around this subject matter where you understand the pressure, the frustration and love a person can have when they really love another person. That’s what can really allow an audience into a character that they think they know. I’ll go ahead and speak for the masses and say it’s so easy to love Cooper, because of what Paul brings to it and how the writers always allow you to hook into him. I’m just so impressed, because it’s so loving. This guy? C’mon. He’s got it goin’ on.
TVLINE | When you and I spoke in November, you were excited to have Audra McDonald returning after a brief absence, to have Naomi join this storyline. How has that been?
I love working with Audra so much. I don’t think any of us on set ever take for granted the fact that she’s a national treasure. Really, that woman’s track record is extraordinary. There are days when I get nervous anyway on set, but certainly when I’m with her, because she is just so wonderful. She’s also very loving, which I enjoy. That lady is such a talent. [Shortly after this interview, TVLine reported that McDonald will be leaving Private Practice.]
TVLINE | Private Practice is bringing on ER‘s Alex Kingston as a shrink. Will she be a part of Charlotte’s storyline?
Well, Charlotte will have some thoughts about her, that’s for sure. [Laughs] But she’s more entrenched in a different part of the show. I’m very excited about the character she’s playing because what she inherently brings to the screen will bring her character alive, and also because she’s working predominantly with one of my favorite characters on the show. I can’t wait to watch it all snap, crackle and pop!