It didn’t take long for the tough-talking surgeon to become a fan-favorite on the long-running medical drama, thanks in large part to actress Chandra Wilson’s spirited performance. Bailey might be small, but her no-nonsense attitude and brutal one-liners continue to help Wilson steal scene after scene. For the aforementioned reasons, she’s easily become one of the most iconic characters on Grey’s, but showrunner Shonda Rhimes originally had very different plans for the role.
During an interview with Oprah all the way back in 2006, Rhimes revealed that the first idea she had for the eventual Chief of Surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital was to make her “a tiny blonde with curls.” Say what?
“The script was written with no character descriptions, no clue as to what anyone should look like — except for Miranda Bailey,” Rhimes explained. “I pictured her as a tiny blonde with curls. I thought it would be unexpected to have this sweet-looking person open her mouth and say tough things. But then Chandra Wilson [an African-American actress] auditioned, and she opened her mouth and said those same things. I thought, ‘That’s exactly who Miranda is.'”
Rhimes went on to note that the physical descriptions for all of the other characters were also pretty loose, since they read actors of multiple races for each part. “My goal was simply to cast the best actors. I was lucky because the network said, ‘Go for it,'” she said. “If they had hesitated, I don’t know if I would have wanted to do the show. But it was difficult to write the pilot because it’s easier to imagine people in terms of color.”
Fortunately for all of us, Wilson nabbed the part of Bailey and cemented some truly iconic lines — “Stop looking at my va-jay-jay” comes to mind — into our memories forever.