Grey's Anatomy Guest Star Details How The Show Kept Major Cast Member Cameos A Secret Over The Past Year

Prior to the premiere of Grey’s Anatomy’s 18th season, the ABC medical drama announced that several former cast members would be returning to reprise their roles, continuing the trend that reunited fans (and Ellen Pompeo) with Derek Shepherd and other fan favorites in Season 17. While Kate Walsh, Kate Burton and Abigail Spencer were all announced as returning alum in Season 18, at least one name was kept under wraps: Scott Speedman, whose Nick Marsh left a lasting impression on fans after appearing in just one episode in Season 14. 

It’s no easy task, either, keeping such a big secret from the long-running hit's rabid fanbase — as the Grey’s Anatomy showrunners knew well from Season 17, which, along with Patrick Dempsey, saw the return of T.R. Knight as George O’Malley, Chyler Leigh as Lexie Grey and Eric Dane as Mark Sloan. Scott Speedman said those character comebacks paved the way for his surprise appearance, and he told THR what exactly went into the big Season 18 premiere reveal and how they kept Nick Marsh’s return a secret.

Even I kept wondering how they were doing it. I think the Grey’s showrunners and the whole show had done it the year before with Patrick Dempsey and other returning people, so they had this infrastructure that knew how to do it. I wasn’t allowed to do read-throughs. My name was gone from everything. We changed the character name. We shot three episodes in four days, so they just backlogged it. So people knew about it, but they held off on it based on whatever relationship they have with Grey’s, ABC or Disney. They held their press release until it came out, which was nice.

Going into the Season 18 premiere, ABC had only teased the return of “someone from Meredith’s past,” which didn't really whittle anything down, since we’ve come to learn that really didn’t rule out any characters, dead or alive. Some of the steps taken to maintain Scott Speedman’s anonymity sound a lot like what showrunner Krista Vernoff said they did with Patrick Dempsey last season, though, proving that by the time production started on Season 18, the creative team members were old pros at keeping such secrets.

After McDreamy's shocking return in Season 17, Krista Vernoff revealed how Grey’s Anatomy pulled off the big surprise, saying that Derek’s name in the script was replaced with Ellis Grey’s, and instead of saying, “Derek?” as Meredith did when she saw him for the first time on her COVID-hallucinated beach, Ellen Pompeo was instructed to say, “Mom?” at the table read. Vernoff said very few people knew about Dempsey’s impending return, as cuts of that final scene weren’t sent to the studio, and all assistants were kept out of the writers’ room.

Scott Speedman’s reprisal of Dr. Nick Marsh comes via Season 18's location shift to Minnesota, rather than Seattle, with Meredith being wooed to the northern state by an old associate of her mother’s — Dr. David Hamilton, played by Peter Gallagher — to help cure Parkinson’s. This season has also introduced fans to Dr. Kai Bartley, a neuroscientist working on the Parkinson’s project (played by E.R. Fightmaster), and we’ll soon meet Dr. Jordan Wright, one of Nick’s attendings, played by Greg Tarzan Davis, who will be introduced in Grey’s Anatomy’s December 9 episode. And let's not forget about ANOTHER familiar face returning soon in the form of Greg Germann's Tom Koracick

The development of so many new characters in Minnesota — along with Meredith and Amelia’s involvement — really has me wondering if ABC is working on a new spinoff. Only time will tell! Grey’s Anatomy airs at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays on ABC. Be sure to check out our 2021 TV schedule for premieres through the end of the year.

Heidi Venable
Content Producer

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Thrives on New Orleans Saints football, The West Wing and taco trucks.