She’s tough as nails as Chief Resident Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, but when we spoke, Chandra Wilson had the giggles like a schoolgirl. Lately, life is a wonderful parade — she’s enjoying her role as Dr. Bailey in the show’s fifth season, she’s elated about her family life with her husband and three children, and last month she helped raise a tidy sum of money for breast cancer research.
So how is it she’s so good at playing somebody so miserable?
This month, in the Hallmark Channel original film Accidental Friendship, she plays Yvonne, an embittered and homeless woman with nothing to care for in the world but her ever-loyal dogs. When a local policewoman and dog lover happens upon her, the two begin a cautious, tentative friendship that gradually changes both of their lives.
Wilson’s performance makes this one of the stronger Hallmark Channel efforts, not least because of her empathy with those in her character’s situation. “I feel like all of us are in a position, especially with this economy, where, through whatever circumstances, we could find ourselves on the street,” she says. “Not intentionally — all it takes is one job loss or one medical injury, or one divorce, and that’s kind of it.”
In part, her compassion is rooted in family. An uncle of hers, a Vietnam vet (“One of those people who doesn’t like authority, and doesn’t like people to tell him anything.”), lived the homeless life by choice. “In Houston, he was kind of known as the Flag Man, because he had a cart with an American flag on it,” she explains. “He would go to his soup kitchens and do the things that he needed to do, set up his tent the way he wanted it set up, and he was completely in charge. And that was his choice — that was exactly how he wanted to live.”
Wilson’s uncle is just one of many homeless who, she explains, exist outside the common misperception that most people seem to have about them. “We want to put homeless folk in the category of mental illness or drug addiction, or alcoholism — something like that, that has them end up on the street,” she says. “But at this point, 45 to 50 percent of the homeless out there are people with jobs. They just, for whatever reason, have not been able to maintain day to day, paying the bills or paying the rent.”
In some measure, it’s obviously Wilson’s appreciation for what she has that keeps her so upbeat. At the same time, she knows how quickly things can change. “It’s amazing what sort of circumstances you can find yourself in where you’re at a loss,” she says. “I just always feel like this could be any one of us. At any point at any time, it could be any one of us.”
At least for the time being, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be Wilson’s turn any time soon. As Grey’s Anatomy rolls on through Season 5, the series retains one of the most loyal fan bases of any show on television. Even Wilson is a regular viewer. “Every single episode,” she declares. “I’m a big fan. I’ve been a big fan of the show from the beginning.”
But surely it must be odd, looking at yourself each week and judging your work? “Not at all,” she asserts. “I don’t see me at all. I see that crazy woman, Miranda Bailey, saying what she’s saying, doing what she’s doing. It doesn’t bother me one bit. I’m not critical in the least.”
As she delves further into her character with each passing season, Wilson says she gets just as excited learning about Miranda today as when the series began, and she looks forward to the continued unfolding of their relationship with each other. “She goes in directions that I never would have thought of, and she has backstories that I wouldn’t have known anything about,” Wilson offers. “Every table read, still, to this day, I come in and find something else to be surprised about.”
Accidental Friendship premieres on Hallmark Channel Nov. 15.