"Grey's Anatomy" has long championed women's rights and female leadership on and offscreen — not only does the long-running hospital drama cover contentious topics like abortion, but it also offers women on the show a chance to expand their roles behind the scenes.
Kim Raver is the latest cast member in that spotlight, playing both the new hospital chief in front of the camera and a first-time director behind it. Raver, who portrays surgeon Teddy Altman, has directed "Training Day," an episode airing Thursday with a storyline that discusses reproductive rights.
This season, the series has not shied away from addressing the conflict between anti-abortion and abortion-rights advocates stirred up by the overturning of Roe v. Wade last June, and the resulting change in abortion access. At the start of season 19, the gynecology staff at Grey Sloan Memorial swapped from pink scrubs to black, as one character explained: "the female body has become a war zone in this country and pink is a peacetime color."
"I feel fortunate that we can bring these stories to light. They're not easy," Raver said in a recent interview.
She believes that show creator Shonda Rhimes has always had the power to deliver hot topics — "hot not like trendy but hot that kind of ignite very extreme feelings on both sides."
Then the audience is left to decide for themselves how they feel.
"That's really important in storytelling and that we have that, that we have that freedom to approach different uncomfortable storylines where we're all bound to, you know, disagree," Raver said. "But I think it's discussions that we need to have."
For the actor, directing is the accumulation of over three years' work shadowing directors on set and being mentored by actor, director and executive producer Debbie Allen, who plays Catherine Fox.
"There's this thing that we say on 'Grey's' in terms of in medicine, 'see one, do one' and that's what doctors do, right? That's what the interns do with the attendings," Raver explained. "There are many women doing many different roles on set. So 'see one, be one,' right? I see other female directors, I see female editors, I see female boom operators, I see female camera operators and female DPs."
She said that the feeling of possibility is fostered by showrunners, executives, writers and producers of "Grey's" like Allen, Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Krista Vernoff and Meg Marinis, which Raver appreciates after coming up in a time when she says female performers were expected to "stay in that lane."
"It wasn't like, 'Oh, well, you know ... let's give her a tiny little episode and see,'" she said. "They gave me a huge episode with like two stunts, a birth ... (guest star) Kate Walsh came back. It was massive. And all the while they were like, 'You've got this. We know you can do it.'"
Not only is the actor calling the shots on set as director, she is also running things in the show, as Altman is the new chief of surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial.
She takes over as boss from Meredith Grey, the woman who has been at the heart of the hospital series for nearly two decades. As star Ellen Pompeo stepped back from the show, her character moved to Boston.
Raver doesn't see huge changes happening with both Pompeo's departure (she stays an executive producer and possible guest star) and showrunner Vernoff leaving at the end of this season, as the majority of the team who work on the show will remain.
Raver laughs off the suggestion of taking over Meredith's iconic voiceovers or rebranding the show as "Altman's Anatomy," calling it an ensemble series — although she is enjoying being in charge.
"It is really fun being chief," Raver says. "That's a really fun thing to explore of what is it being a woman kind of leading the troops and juggling motherhood and work and also still being a surgeon and wife and friend."
"How do you want to be a leader?"