Shonda Rhimes is the woman behind some of TV’s most talked shows: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice and How to Get Away with Murder. She pretty much owns Thursday night. Now she has a new book out, Year of Yes, about how she, an introvert, made herself say yes to a bunch of things she used to hate to do, like public speaking and having difficult conversations. She also maintains she hasn’t broken through any glass ceilings, all appearances to the contrary. Here’s how she explains it all.
In the intro to your new book, Year of Yes, you say that you like to lie. Are lying and writing fiction connected? I think that spinning stories and “working on the truth,” I like to call it, are connected, definitely. I think that the reality of life is a little bit more interesting when you add a little something to it I’ve always found, or at least I used to find when I was a kid.
The book is about how you overcame introversion. Yet you’ve publicly spoken— and written—about stuff that’s pretty personal. How do those traits coexist? I guess that the act of opening one’s mouth at all is the hard part. But if you’re going to open your mouth you should say something that’s real.
You write two TV shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and you produce another, How to Get Away with Murder. And now the book. How do you come up with that many ideas? I don’t think about that, because if I focused on where my ideas came from, I feel like somehow they would stop.
You write a lot about the character Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy. Is it because of all your characters, she was most like you? These days I’m probably more like [Scandal’s] Olivia [Pope] than I am like Cristina. But there was a moment when Cristina was very much a reflection of who I was.
You describe yourself as scarily, psychotically competitive. Is that what you need to be to succeed? I don’t think that my job requires me to be competitive at all. I’m in my office by myself or I’m in my writers’ room with my people. I’ve chosen a job in which there’s no competition allowed. It’s probably best for everyone.
You devote a chapter to your nanny, and you thank the five other members of your household staff. Why are working women ashamed to acknowledge that they have help? People don’t want to acknowledge it. The people who work in my home were there at different times during the writing of the book. It’s because you feel like—isn’t that funny? I literally just did it! I just said, “I don’t have five people …” Nobody wants to admit they have help. We’ve been conditioned to believe it’s wrong. I’ve decided that more important than me cooking brilliantly, is spending time with my children.
You have said that you did not break any glass ceilings. How can that be true? I did not feel like I had come up against obstacles. One, because my parents raised me to believe that there weren’t any. If you believe that there are obstacles, that’s why there are obstacles. And two, because I came along at exactly the right time in history. There were already women running shows. There were already people of color who had shows. That glass ceiling had been cracked just enough so that when I hit it, it shattered.
So when women or people of color talk about obstacles in Hollywood, are they not there? I’m pretty oblivious. That obliviousness makes it possible for me to move forward despite what anybody else is thinking. That doesn’t mean that obstacles don’t exist for other people. It’s just that I’ve decided that they don’t exist.
You’re a political junkie. What’s interesting you at the moment? The turmoil inside the Republican Party. It’s one of the reasons why the President in Scandal is a Republican.
Would you like to venture a guess as to who the two Presidential candidates might be? I absolutely would not like to venture a guess.
Oh, come on. You could venture a guess as to who the Democrat candidate might be. Actually I don’t want to say. I’m not going to venture. I mean, I would be very excited for us to have a First Woman president. I think Hillary is amazing. But I don’t want to venture a guess because I always feel like that — I’m fairly superstitious. I feel like you’re jinxing. And I always think about how at this moment in time last time, nobody thought that Obama was going anywhere.
Why are you such a big fan of having difficult conversations? I really do feel like the work and time we spend avoiding having difficult conversations, is so much more wasteful and painful and time-consuming than actually having the difficult conversation. Once you’ve had the conversation, you have an answer, and you know. And once you know, everything else is very clear. You don’t have to worry anymore or wonder. You have your answer. And it’s very interesting that we’re always afraid of having an answer or getting to the answer, or what another person’s going to say when that knowledge is the very thing that’s going to clear up whatever stress you’re having. Once I realized that it would feel much better to know than not know, I began to be very excited about having all the difficult conversations I could and just getting them over with.
Were there any that surprised you? None. When I went into these difficult conversations knowing what my line was going to be, whether it was a business, personal, or parental conversation, the conversations became even easier, because I’d walked in with absolutely no sense of anxiety, because I’d already made all those decisions.
Tell me about what you call the Airplane Seat Belt Incident of 2014. Getting on a plane and discovering that your seat belt won’t fit around you was a moment of extreme horror. It was very hard to ignore.
Was there any secret to losing 117 pounds? Accepting that losing weight was always going to suck: I was always going to be hungry. I was always going to want to eat the fried chicken. We work so hard in all areas of life to succeed, I don’t understand why we think this should be easy.
Do you have any regrets about killing off McDreamy? I don’t ever regret a story that we tell.
The characters across your shows have this way of talking thoughtful sound bites, like “Love me”, “Pick me”, “Choose me.” Is that the way you talk? I have no idea. I get asked this question a lot lately, and it makes me nervous, because I’ve never paid any attention to the way my characters talk They speak the way they speak, and if I examine it too hard, I feel like somehow I’m going to not be able to allow them to speak at all.
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SOURCE: TIME Magazine – Belinda Luscombe