Debbie Allen on Grey's Anatomy, Her Trailblazing Career, and the Increasing Diversity in TV By Emily Zemler
The legendary actress and director will be honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Gracie Awards.
Getty Gabriel Olsen
"I don't think about that," Allen admits when asked about her contributions. "I'm too busy working to pat myself on the back. I don't think about that ever. I know I've touched a lot of people and I've inspired them. There have been so many wonderful young people who I've touched or trained."
"I'm too busy working to pat myself on the back."
Allen has directed everything from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Family Ties and Jane the Virgin. So what ties it all together? She says it all comes back to dancing. "The cohesive thing is the spirit of the dance, because it's helped me twirl through all of it," Allen says. "When you come up as a dancer, you come up with a tremendous amount of discipline. You are used to pain. You are born on criticism. Your every accomplishment comes out of criticism. You're tough. So coming out of that world in my own manner of creative curiosity and passion has remained a very interesting thing for me."
Having played Dr. Catherine Avery on Grey's Anatomy since 2011, Allen is pretty much a Shondaland fixture. "Grey's Anatomy has turned into a whole other movement in my career," she says. "You never know when you say yes to something where it's going to lead, or if you say no to something where it didn't go," she says. "Working in Shondaland has been great. The opportunity to become executive producer and director [on Grey's Anatomy] was great."
As she celebrates the growing diversity in the entertainment industry, Allen emphasizes the importance of earning each opportunity.
It can't be a lay-up. need to hire people whose work speaks to me and who work for the opportunity. The way to push it is for people to go and do the work and put in the time and gain the skill. It's not a given because you do an independent film on your iPhone and it gets some attention that you can direct. That doesn't mean you can come and tell Ellen Pompeo what to do.
As for Allen, she's certainly earned that right. There are only a few more episodes left in this season of Grey's Anatomy, and she says the finale—which she, of course, directed—will be a stunning cliffhanger: "There are some seeds that are planted that may leave you a little stunned and thinking: What's going to happen when we come back?" Any clues? "All I can tell you is it's hot. Don't miss it!"