Camilla Luddington on Motherhood, Mental Health and Grey’s Anatomy: “I’m Not Done Yet”

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Camilla Luddington on Motherhood, Mental Health and Grey’s Anatomy: “I’m Not Done Yet” featured image
Photography: Sarah Krick; Styling: Natalie Hoselton; Hair: Justine Marjan; Makeup: Tonya Brewer

Anyone who has watched the evolution of Dr. Jo Wilson on a little show called Grey’s Anatomy over the past 12 years feels like they know Camilla Luddington personally. After chatting with the Brit, I can confirm the warm, palpable energy we’ve come to anticipate on our screens is far from an act.

Luddington, now a mother of two children, Hayden, 6, and Lucas, 2, tells me it’s not just the viewers that have gotten a front-row seat to Jo’s iconic character arc: “She’s evolved in the same way that I’ve evolved. When she had a one year old on the show, I was pregnant with my son. The year that Jo got therapy on the show was the year that I also was like, ‘Maybe I should start therapy.’ I feel extra connected to her because it has been so long, and it feels like I’ve grown up with her on the show.”

As Grey’s Anatomy gears up for its season 19 finale, Luddington chats with us about the show’s early days, working with the iconic Shonda Rhimes, being a mother in Hollywood, and how the show has been a catapult for her own personal growth.

Many of us know you as Dr. Jo Wilson, but you had an entire acting career before she entered the scene. What were you doing before Greys?

Right before Grey’s, I was playing a fairy on True Blood. And then it’s kind of a blur to be honest, because it’s so long ago at this point. But that’s what I was doing for the few months before the show. One of the reasons that I ended up on Grey’s is because I met Shonda [beforehand]. There was a pilot season right before I started Grey’s in the spring. It doesn’t really happen anymore, but January through around April was when all the pilots and all the casting would happen. I tested for a pilot for Shonda. She was doing a brand new show called Gilded Lilies—it didn’t end up happening—and I ended up testing for the lead against another girl, who ended up getting it. It’s amazing because I think if I had gotten that, I wouldn’t have been able to do Grey’s, so it all worked out in the end.

What are some of your fondest memories of the early days of Grey’s Anatomy? Has any of that stayed the same at all?

That’s hard, because some of my funnest memories were honestly my lunch time spent in Jessica Capshaw’s [Dr. Arizona Robbins] trailer. It was so fun. We both never really had scenes together, so during lunch and other breaks when we both weren’t working, I would always go hang in her trailer and we would just laugh. So of course, that’s changed because Jess is gone.

But I think now my favorite thing is honestly every morning coming into hair and makeup. We’re really close to our glam teams on set. Everyone’s very close to their people. Those are the people that we see every single day, more than anyone else. Because we obviously work with different actors every day. I’m going into my 12th year [on Grey’s] and I’ve had my current glam team for maybe nine years. So they weren’t my OG, but they feel like it.

Shonda Rhimes is an icon. What has it been like working with her for more than a decade?

I’m so honored that I was able to get snatched up by her at the beginning of my career.

It’s been incredible. She’s just so iconic. She was already so iconic back then, but since I started the show, that’s when How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Bridgerton, Inventing Anna happened. There’s so much that she’s done. And I was already a fan of hers because I loved Crossroads, the movie with Britney Spears, and I didn’t know that she wrote that movie. So I was already like, ‘She wrote Crossroads, you guys.’ [laughs]

But it’s incredible. She’s just a powerhouse. And every time I see her, I feel like I’m in the presence of holiness. She was just at our table read—it was the first time we were in person again for it since COVID—and I saw her golf cart riding in and I literally ran off to hug her. I was so excited to see her. She’s incredible. Her writing is incredible. The way she manages her shows, she’s just an amazing person. I’m so honored that I was able to get snatched up by her at the beginning of my career.

Navigating a character’s evolution over 10+ years is really unique for an actor. How have you found that to be with a character as complex as Jo?

It is really special, because I feel like you get to grow with the character. Something that’s really been so fun with her is that she’s evolved in the same way that I’ve evolved. When she had a one year old on the show, I was pregnant with my son. I feel extra connected to her because it has been so long, and it feels like I’ve grown up with her on the show.

She’s evolved in the same way that I’ve evolved.

The writers do an incredible job of layering into these characters year after year, and it’s exciting to find new discoveries about them. It’s like when Chris Carmack [Dr. Atticus Lincoln] showed up, and they’re like, ‘Hey, this is this was your best friend back in the day. This is where you guys worked. This is what you guys did.’ I didn’t have that information before. So every season, they layer in something new, and it keeps it really fresh for you as an actor.

You mentioned becoming a mother during your time on Grey’s. Was the show supportive during that time?

I was super lucky in that I had a bunch of actresses to look up to on set who had done what I had done and had babies on our show. As an actress a decade ago, getting pregnant still felt very uncertain. You weren’t sure if you had to step away for a little bit, if people would want to cast you. I was so lucky to be on the show.

I actually called Shonda to tell her I was pregnant because it was really obvious. I threw up in the middle of an OR scene and I didn’t want her to think I showed up to work hungover and had been out drinking or something. [laughs] So I was super early [with breaking the news], like nine weeks [into pregnancy]. I was planning on waiting [to tell Shonda] but I didn’t think I could. I called her and the first thing she said to me—I’ll always remember it—was, ‘We love babies on this show!’ And that just set the tone. Whenever we need to breastfeed, production stops for us to go pump. It’s super, super supportive. Do I think it’s like that everywhere? Absolutely not. I think we’re very, very lucky.

I’m still learning what that balance looks like.

How has balancing home and work life been as a new mom?

It isn’t always easy. It’s hard. It’s definitely hard. I do think that we’re lucky because we are a big ensemble, so I’m not working every single day. But there are days that go by where I’ve worked a couple of 12-hour days and I haven’t seen my kids in three days. And that’s hard. So the days that I have time off, I try to give them as much of my attention as I possibly can.

And then we have a nice long hiatus. We have two or three months off in between seasons, so that’s really special with my kids. But it’s tricky. You learn as you go, and it’s different every year and every age because they change so much and they need different things. So I’m still learning what that balance looks like.

Do you understand most of the medical terms that you’re rifling off on the show?

Every time we have an episode come out, we have a little medical guide that is attached to the script and it lists all the words that we’re saying and what they mean. And then we have medical producers on set, too, that are real doctors and they’ll help us. I’ll come into work and be like, ‘What am I doing? Why is this person dying?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Well, they threw a clot.’ So I definitely know way more than I did before the show, but by no means do I know most of what I’m saying, I’m still learning for sure.

You’ve said Jo played a part in you seeking therapy off-screen. What role does mental health play in your life?

It’s huge, but I didn’t find it until my 30s. This is another reason why I feel like Jo and I are kindred spirits and we’ve grown up together. The year that Jo got therapy on the show was the year that I also was like, ‘Maybe I should start therapy.’

To keep resilient in motherhood, therapy is very, very important for me.

I think it’s so important. And to be honest, I feel like back in my 20s I couldn’t even afford to do therapy. I’m sure that there are resources out there where you can get financial help with it, but I didn’t, because there was a long time where I was so broke that I didn’t even have health care. Eating was more important to me at the time. And so now I really think of it as a gift that I’ve been able to give myself in my thirties and it’s been so important.

Motherhood is what threw me a little bit. I thought I had it all together and then I became a mom and I loved these little children so much that it gave me so much anxiety. The world suddenly looked different. So to keep resilient in motherhood, therapy is very, very important for me.

Let’s go back to your hair and makeup trailer. What does skin care look like during an early call time?

In the morning, honestly, I am super tired. That’s the truth. I’m exhausted. I have kids that have been awake, teething, or whatever it’s been, so a lot of my morning routine is just literally trying to look awake. We have Skyn Iceland Eye Gels that I put on my face every single morning. They’re amazing.

We have these ice roller balls that we keep in the fridge and I usually do a little lymphatic massage with those also just to perk me awake. And then we also have this new microcurrent tool that we’ve been using from Face Gym. You run it over your face and it contracts your muscles. We just got that this year and I’m obsessed with it.

Are there any makeup staples you use for a natural look on Grey’s Anatomy?

We just started using the Makeup by Mario Foundation and it’s really nice. We were using something different [for previous seasons] but what I liked about this foundation this season is it feels just a little bit lighter on my skin. I think it’s really important to show the freckles and all those kinds of things. So that sits really nicely on my skin. It gives a nice glow but it’s not too greasy or shining-looking for the show.

And then we have used this Dior mascara for a million trillion years. It’s like the OG mascara we’ve always used. It’s funny, I was just talking with my makeup artist about this. I use two different types of lipstick and we get asked about it all the time. Laura Mercier Peche and YSL #15. We’ve used that combo for like 10 years. We haven’t changed it, we’re still obsessed.

Do you use any of the same products in your personal life that you use on set? Or are Jo and Camilla’s makeup very different?

I personally wear those two lipsticks every single day. But a lot of the time when I’m not on set, I try not to wear too much makeup just to give my skin a little bit of a break. I have Charlotte Tilbury Foundation, which I mix with moisturizer to make it really, really light, and I wear that every day. And I’m obsessed with Unseen Sunscreen. I think it’s the most amazing sunscreen. It’s incredible. I put it on my kids. It’s what I often wear every day.

Some key roles have been leaving the show recently. How was it seeing Ellen [Pompeo] leave the show she was such a matriarch of?

It’s funny because Ellen said this in interviews: The character is leaving but she’s not leaving. She’s a big presence on our set. She has to come and do ADR every week because she still does a voiceover. Of everyone that’s left, she’s the person I feel like really hasn’t. I just don’t see a world in which Meredith Grey is not going to be back. So to me, it feels like she hasn’t really gone. And then Kelly McCreary [Dr. Maggie Pierce] is leaving this year, but I’m hoping that she gets to show up in episodes too, in the same way that other people have been able to hop back in.

It feels like there’s so much story left to tell for Jo.

Do fans have anything to worry about in that regard for Jo? Is there an end on the horizon for you on Greys?

I’m not in control of that, because the writers might be like, ‘and we’re going to have her explode’ and suddenly I’m gone. [laughs] But, as for me choosing a time to leave, I’ll know when her story’s been told, and it feels like there’s so much story left to tell for Jo. And if there was a time where I didn’t feel excited to dive into stories with her I would know, but I’m still so, so excited with her even after all these years. I think the writers do an amazing job. So no, personally I’m not done yet, and hopefully they’re not either.

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