When it comes time to list the Most Divisive TV Characters of 2015, it’s hard to imagine Grey’s Anatomy‘s Dr. Penelope Blake not ranking near the top. For not only was she largely responsible for the death of Patrick Dempsey’s beloved McDreamy, but she added insult to injury by invading his widow’s home (on the arm of one of Derek’s bereaved colleagues!), and then breaking the news that she had just gotten a fancy new job at Grey freakin’ Sloan (a gig that kicks off in Thursday’s episode).
Oh, and she’s also the first serious post-split girlfriend of half of a Grey’s supercouple.
What kind of actress would want to walk into such a s—storm?! I was curious about that myself, so I rang up Penny’s portrayer, Samantha Sloyan, in an effort to find out…
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TVLINE | Did you know when Derek died that you would be back?
Oh, no. I had no idea.
TVLINE | What did you think when they approached you about bringing Penny back?
My first thought was, “What is the story going to be?” [Laughs] Just knowing the impact [Derek’s death] had, I was interested to know why I would be crossing paths with these doctors again.
TVLINE | Was there any trepidation about stepping back into the shoes of such a seemingly thankless character. I mean, you killed McDreamy. And you’re coming between Calzona!
I feel like it’s really wonderful to be involved in storylines that so many people care about. [Laughs] Even though the circumstances are difficult, the highly-charged nature of it makes it incredibly exciting.
TVLINE | After the skewering she took at that dinner, I actually felt sympathy for Penny. Meredith and Amelia were monstrous to her.
But what I loved about that was Meredith in the episode [eventually] says, “Now she’s a person.” We put ourselves in Meredith and Amelia’s shoes and, of course, here’s this person who you view as responsible for the death of the love of your life. But then what is it like when they’re in your home and looking at you? That’s one of the things I love about Shonda [Rhimes], because that’s a real question. It’s easy to hate people when they’re extracted [from your life], but what do you do when you see that they’re just a person?
TVLINE | What was it like shooting those tense dinner party scenes?
Tense. We were doing really long takes and it had a very theatrical [feel] to it, like doing a play. Every time I looked up I had the whole cast — all wonderful actors — looking at me and feeling all of their individual characters’ feelings. So it was wonderful for me, because it was that tense. I was in a roomful of people who were working together for years, and that all helped me [empathize] with how Penny must feel as the odd man out.
TVLINE | Did they all console you between takes?
[Laughs] Every single one of them. They were all so warm and open.
TVLINE | How did you justify for yourself as an actress that Penny wouldn’t have told Callie that she was coming to work at Grey Sloan?
Well, she says outside that it’s such a big hospital, but I don’t think that’s all of it. Penny and Callie’s [relationship] is relatively new. And I do think that the experience with Derek is the worst night of her life. I feel like she was just so afraid to share it.
TVLINE | What’s more tense — the dinner party or her first day at Grey Sloan?
[Laughs] It’s a toss-up. Penny now has to be at the absolute top of her game. If she’s going to step into this hospital with these doctors given her past, she better be on her way to being that better doctor that Meredith told her to be.
TVLINE | And for how long are you sticking around?
I don’t know. All I know is that every time I get to participate, I’m happy to be here.