The end is nearing for “Private Practice,” (Tues. at 10:00 p.m.) which will be heading off into the TV sunset after six seasons on Jan. 22. I’ll admit I’m sad to see the show, a frequently sudsy medical procedural with unexpected emotional kick, go. Even though I came to the party far too late, having gotten hooked on the show during a trip to Brazil (the show was subtitled instead of dubbed into Portuguese, so how could I resist?), it only took a few episodes for me to get so hooked on the travails of Oceanside Wellness Center’s beleaguered staff I added it to my to-do list the minute I got home.
So, I was excited to get a chance to talk to star Amy Brenneman (Dr. Violet Turner) about what’s on the way. The actress, unlike her grieving character, seemed upbeat and happy to talk about what’s next for her (which, so far, isn’t TV) and was excited about how Violet’s character arc concludes — hinting that women who might see themselves in Violet should be as well. We discussed whether or not it’s possible for the recently widowed Violet to have a happy ending, why she isn’t eager to be an “actor for hire” again, and why she found the mixed-up styles of the final season to be “fun, not a challenge.”
Since her husband Pete died of a heart attack, Violet’s been largely off-screen and in mourning. Are we going to see more of her before the series ends?
I think some of that is the structure of the season this year. Because the focus was really on one character at a time, my stuff was mostly at the beginning, and it was big stuff. But yes, we will.
Violet’s had so many lousy things happen to her — a crazy patient cut her baby out of her belly, her marriage fell apart, and just when it looked like it might come back together, her husband died. Will she get any kind of happy ending?
Yes, there is a happy ending for Violet. [Last week] we see more of her, and the last two episodes are a little more of the old style where we’re all in it, and you see her changing up.
This season, the show tried out lots of different ideas — there was a dance episode, a mockumentary episode, even an episode with “NCIS”-style still-frame scene intros. Was it fun trying something new each week, or was it a challenge?
It’s definitely fun, not a challenge. I totally admire Shonda [Rhimes] and the network for saying, this may not be the end, but let’s try out some ideas. If you don’t give yourself a chance, especially with something like a procedural, you get sent off after six seasons and you go, ‘Oh my god, we never did a dance episode!” or whatever else. And we did a dance episode! The only challenge, before we knew we were canceled, was that we knew we couldn’t sustain the one-person-per-episode focus of the show if we came back. The writers knew that, though.
You produced and created “Judging Amy,” so were you instrumental in forming Violet’s storyline, or at least in wrapping it up?
You know, yes and no. I sat in the writers’ room probably two or three times this season and participated in the arcs, then I would disappear onto the set. But Shonda was very solicitous of my opinion because she knew my work from “Judging Amy.” There were times I would have an actor hat on or a producer hat on, and I’d ask what’s going on with my character or with this story?
So, can you give us any other ideas about what’s going to happen to Violet?
She ends in a very intense state. When Shonda made it clear she was going to tear everyone up at the end of the series in a Shakespearean way, I said, can you leave her single? There are millions of happy, fulfilled single women in the world, and I just think it’s really important to show one of them on screen. I would hate for her to just be paired off and dance into the sunset. And Shonda said, “I know! I’m one of them!” She was incredibly excited and supportive. When the story ends, Violet is single and very solid, so I felt very good about that.
As an actor, how difficult was it to find the right tone for “Private Practice”?
I learned a lot from Shonda about making a series buoyant and aspirational. You can ask what doctor wears these shoes, but it’s not hardcore realism. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, that kind of lightness. When Shonda told me, I’m gonna get you this young boyfriend, I was skeptical, and then I met Stephen Amell [“Arrow”] and said, alright, this is good! Her job is to push us and her job is to set that tone, and she knows her stuff.
This must have been a dramatic change from “Judging Amy,” though.
I think on that level, if you look at Amy Gray, “Judging Amy” was also a melodrama so there’s always a lot of stuff happening. It was a real struggle for me at the beginning, and it was a struggle for Shonda to find the right tone as well. Those first six or seven weeks before the writers’ strike, I was like oh my God, I can’t do this. I was secretly happy there was a strike, and I think Shonda was, too, even though she’s a writer. But once we reassembled the show it had its gravitas and it found a balance. The ensemble of the show was an absolute joy because I got to see my family, which was a real prerequisite for me after “Judging Amy.” And really, in an ensemble you have more screen time to tell your story, if you think about it. Violet’s been off camera, and I’ve had to keep her life alive as the show went along, because she was still alive and doing things.
After more than a decade as a regular on series television, what are you going to do now? Take a break?
I don’t really know. I’m doing [some] bucket list things. I’m teaching a class I’ve always wanted to teach, writing a play I’ve wanted to finish, that sort of thing. In terms of television, whatever I’m doing next I’d like to produce again. It takes up a ton of time, but I enjoy it so much and now that my kids are older I can do it. I love working with material and I love working with writers. It’s hard to think about being an actor for hire, even thought it was great on “Private Practice.”
What’s the class?
It’s at my kids’ school and it’s called Playmaking. My kids go to this amazing school and there’s this very diverse student population I’ve wanted to work with for a while. When I was growing up I was in a theater group and there were no scripts really, and I’m longing to get back to that.