Deaf actress Shoshannah Stern will essay the role of Dr. Lauren Riley in a multi-episode arc starting February 13
In tonight's episode, Grey's Anatomy is all set to welcome Shoshannah Stern to Grey Sloan for a multi-episode role as Dr. Lauren Riley, a renowned diagnostics expert recruited by Dr. Andrew DeLuca. The episode, titled "Save the last dance for me", not only marks her debut but also introduces Dr. Riley is also one of the first recurring deaf doctor on a primetime network series, according to ET Online. Jesse Williams has directed the episode. Deaf doctors who have been featured on television include Heroes'Emma Coolidge, and ER's Dr. Lisa Parks who featured in two episodes.
The show has always been a step ahead when it comes to being inclusive and informative. Remember the episode where they took us through the procedures for a rape kit? That still stands as the most powerful episode to date. Stern believes that her debut in the show will help give the community prominence. "I think having a deaf doctor on a show like this could change, even save lives. But I think what’s most incredible about it is the level of collaboration that happened behind the scenes in order to make this come to life," Stern said.
"Grey’s didn’t just collaborate with me, they also reached out to several other deaf doctors to make sure that what they were writing was accurate. I really don’t think Dr. Riley could or should have happened any other way. Maybe that’s why she is the first. Maybe that’s how she had to be brought to life," she added. Stern along with Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff worked together closely so as to represent the groundbreaking character accurately.
"I didn’t know until we were on set shooting it," Vernoff told Variety, referring to the vibe on set "electric." "And that is the power of Shoshannah: I fell in love with her as a human, as a communicator, as an actress. I thought she was incredible and I wanted to put her on my show. I did not even know it had never been done before. That’s wild to me. And so to learn that on the day that she was working that this was the first deaf doctor who’s ever appeared on network television? How is that possible?"
Vernoff admits that she introduced Stern's character because she fell in love with the actor, and confessed that it was a first for her. Meanwhile, this spot on the show is literally a dream come true for Stern, for she always dreamt of being on a medical drama ten years ago. "It was always just me walking around in scrubs with the other doctors like I was one of them," Stern recalls. "I remember always having trouble adjusting when I woke up from these dreams because they always felt so vividly real."
Stern, who was invited to discuss her role with the writers, also came prepared with her own research on deaf doctors. "I’ve always been fascinated with all the deaf doctors out there in the wild," Stern said. "They’re all very different, but a commonality they share is that they seem to bring a special touch to their job. Some have actually invented medical technology to allow them more access, some of which you’re going to see in Riley’s episodes."
"The team at 'Grey’s' also reached out to some deaf doctors on their own to ensure what they were writing about was accurate," she said. "It was just an absolutely spectacular example of the magic that collaboration can bring, and I’m so grateful to Krista and everyone at ‘Grey’s’ for their commitment to that." She added, "It was most important to me that Riley was the best at what she did because, not in spite, of the fact that she’s deaf."
"It was also important that being deaf isn’t something that defines Riley, it just adds a unique layer to her. I loved how it was executed on the page, too, because Riley does eventually kind of touch on how her being deaf has actually helped her be as good as she is, but she’s kind of an enigma in that you never really know what she’s thinking or why she’s saying what she is," Stern noted.
Grey's Anatomy airs on ABC at 9 p.m. Thursday