'Grey's Anatomy': E.R. Fightmaster on How a Self-Tape Audition Turned Into a Career Highlight (Exclusive)

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E.R. Fightmaster (pronouns: they/them) is making their Grey's Anatomy debut count.

The actor made history when they were introduced last month as the franchise's first nonbinary doctor, Dr. Kai Bartley, and their extended stay on the long-running medical drama only means the best is yet to come. For Fightmaster, who viewers may be familiar with from their work on Shrill, landing Grey's -- via a self-tape, no less -- has been one of the top moments in their professional life. "Doing a self-tape and getting Grey's from it was maybe one of the highlights of, I would say, top two highlights of my career."

Fightmaster credited the Grey's writers for being malleable and sensitive in their approach in writing Kai, who, thus far, has mainly interacted with Dr. Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone) and with whom they may or may not be flirting up a potential romance. "The writers are writing scripts that treat nonbinary like it's casual. Like it's in the Grey's world," they explained. "Nonbinary is a thing that's just naturally respected. That makes me feel very good as an artist but also as a nonbinary person myself. That identity isn't being talked about like something that needs to be negotiated. My identity is just there. It's just on screen."

Ahead of Thursday's return episode, Fightmaster opens up about joining the serieswhat they immediately gravitated toward with Kai and the lasting impact of a mainstream show like Grey's featuring a nonbinary character. 

ET: How did you come to join the Grey's Anatomy universe?

E.R. Fightmaster: I got this as a self-tape. I got these sides and I shot them in my house and I would say I've done upwards of two million self-tapes to absolute silence. So doing a self-tape and getting Grey's from it was maybe one of the highlights of, I would say, top two highlights of my career.

How much of the character was already written? Were you able to insert your own experiences or shape the character to who you are?

If you watch the show long enough... you could watch it over three episodes and derive this but all of the characters have this incredible ability to go back and forth from being great at what they do and then also being sexy, fun people. When I read the sides, it was very easy for me to understand that this doctor was not just going to be reading medical terms. I needed to infuse a lot of chemistry and immediate interpersonal details into the script itself. The writing was already beautiful, but the writing was in a way I thought that it gave me the ability to add exactly who I am to the script.

You're also joining the franchise as its first nonbinary doctor. How much are you working with the writers on making sure they understand what it means to be nonbinary and how to write accurately to that?

Grey's has an incredible writing staff and the legacy of the show is writing diversity naturally and writing diversity well. I have not had to have deep conversation to be respected on the show. The writers are writing scripts that treat nonbinary like it's casual. Like it's in the Grey's world, nonbinary is a thing that's just naturally respected. That makes me feel very good as an artist but also as a nonbinary person myself. That my identity is not being talked about like something that needs to be negotiated. My identity is just there. It's just on screen.

What about Dr. Kai Bartley did you immediately gravitate toward? 

Honest, the dorky answer is that I remember seeing, like, when every doctor was called McDreamy and McSteamy, I remember seeing all those doctors and really thinking, "That is a fun job." To get to play not only a doctor on television... But even George Clooney in ER, I grew up seeing all these men on camera that were in these lab coats and scrubs being romantic while also being good at their jobs. And so for me, as someone who really likes to break rules, it was very exciting for me to think about being able to be one of those guys. But do it in a genderless way.

Grey's Anatomy
Bonnie Osborne/ABC

Kai and Amelia are really getting to connect. What can you say about forming that relationship and working with Caterina Scorsone?

I love working with Caterina. She is so much fun. Watching her act is a masterclass and I am excited as a queer person who has seen the show to explore possibilities.

With your presence on Grey's moving forward, what are you excited for fans to experience with your character or learn about your character as the season unfolds?

I think baseline, I'm excited for nonbinary kids to see a nonbinary doctor on TV. I'm excited for nonbinary people to see a healthy, happy nonbinary person, be good at their job, be flirtatious, have fun, connect, be serious and not have to tackle identity the entire time. If I got to see Kai as a child, if I got to watch Kai as a child, I think a lot of things would've made a lot more sense to me a lot sooner.

You'll be that for a lot of people.

It feels great. I do think that there is a wave of nonbinary talent that is active right now in the industry and there's not a single one of us that represents our entire community, but I think that's what's so lovely. I hope that I am showing a shade of nonbinary that can resonate with people and that helps them see themselves more clearly.

There is growing representation of nonbinary characters on TV with shows like Billions, Star Trek: Discovery and Big Sky. What does it mean to see a show like Grey's be a part of that now and what kinds of stories or characters do you want to see as these shows become more inclusive?

Grey's has such a massive reach that it is very exciting to think about. An identity that seems rather new to a lot of people becoming such a household thing to reach an audience this broad and have it be normalized, I think, is a very healthy thing for the nonbinary community. But it's also just a healthy thing for people at large. Other people's identities do not need to be a discussion all of the time. We need to just accept that other people know themselves better than we do. And I think the way that Grey's is writing Dr. Bartley is really allowing for that to happen.

And it's just cool to be on Grey's. 

You're not wrong.

Is there an episode down the line that you want fans to circle or keep their eyes peeled for? Anything you can broadly tease?

I can very honestly say, I think you should stay tuned. I think the storyline that is developing is going to be very exciting and that is where I will leave it.

A lot of viewers were latching onto Kai and Amelia, so it must be exciting to be a part of the social media conversation.

Oh, it's a blast. My mom sends me a lot of videos. My mom would just send me a video of me. Like, "Your cousin sent me this." It's 12 seconds of screen time that have been recycled into a 30-second video with the bass bumping and I'm watching this laughing in my house. It's been so much fun.

Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, Nov. 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. For more, watch below.

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