Things You Might Not Know About Grey’s Anatomy Star Chandra WilsonPublished on May 12, 2016. Updated August 20, 2020
We all know and love Chandra Wilson for her role as the hard-loving, smart and fiercely loyal Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, who so often steals the show with her larger than life personality and hilarious one-liners. But there’s so much more to know about this amazing actress, wife and mother of three — even though she does her best to keep her personal life private. Chandra is one of the few original actors cast on the Shonda Rhimes medical drama series who still holds her coveted position on the show, and fans are so thrilled she’s stuck around so long! We couldn’t imagine it going on without her, so we made a list of 8 things you probably didn’t know about Chandra Wilson!
8. Started Acting at a Young Age
Chandra is a well seasoned actress now, and it’s probably because she’s been acting since she was only 4-years-old! Her mother was a postal worker and wanted to keep her active while growing up so she enrolled her in a series of after school activities to keep her busy and pave the way for a bright future. In an interview Wilson commented on it: “Starting at age four, my mom decided that she was not going to have an idle child in the house. So I started taking dance lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then I was in acting classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and I was also modeling on Saturdays. And that was my childhood.” Sounds like it all paid off, and quickly because by the mere age of five she was performing on stage in musicals with Houston’s Theatre Under the Stars company.
7. Career in Theatre
She may be focusing on primetime television now, but theater is where Wilson focused all of her efforts in the early moments of her career. As a child and teenager, her focus was primarily on the arts and she didn’t entertain any ideas of doing anything different with her life. She attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and then continued on that path with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She graduated with a BFA in drama and spent the next four years studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and performing on stage. Chandra landed jobs on the production of The Good Times Are Killing Me in 1991 and won a Theater World Award for Outstanding Debut performance and some off-Broadway productions like Paper Moon: The Musical and Little Shop of Horrors. Her most recent onstage performance was Chicago in 2009!
6. Slow Starts
No doubt, Chandra Wilson is a huge star now after landing the life changing role as Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy. But she wasn’t always a big star, in fact it took her quite a while to break into the acting scene and make a name for herself. She landed a lot of guest spots on primetime television like Law & Order, Sex and the City, The Cosby Show and even acted alongside Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington on the big-screen in the 1993 film Philadelphia, but for some reason she couldn’t get any recurring or regular castings. For the first eight years of her acting career, Chandra worked part-time as a bank teller at Deutsche Bank just so she could make ends meet. Fun fact: she was working as a bank temp across from the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks.
5. Miranda Bailey
It took 15 years since Chandra’s first television debut to land a regular cast role on a series and she almost didn’t even get that one! The role of Miranda Bailey was originally written for a petite, Caucasian blonde which is a far cry from the Dr. Bailey we’ve all come to know and love, who is a full-figured African American woman. She got the part because she wowed the producers so much with her audition and, according to Chandra, she “knew the casting director.” She was clearly the right pick because she was nominated for four consecutive Emmy Awards from 2006 to 2009, won four NAACP Image Awards for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series from 2007 to 2010 and the 2008 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Scene-Stealing Star. Chandra has come a long way from the first pilot episode. “There was no thought in my mind, standing there in that moment, that I would still be playing that same character 11 years later. I don’t even know if I was considered a regular yet!…All I was thinking was, ‘Ooohh, I’m doing a job as an actor, and I’m getting paid and I’m going to be able to pay my bills and pay my credit card.’ I still had a day job! I was taking time off from Deustsch Bank so that I could go to L.A. for those 15 days of filming the pilot — and to Seattle; we went to Seattle as well.”
4. She’s Humble
Despite her star status from her role on Grey’s Anatomy she’s remained incredibly down-to-earth and nonchalant about her success which is a refreshing characteristic in Hollywood. In an interview she was asked about being recognized on the street and whether she feels different about herself now as an actress since she’s gained her popularity on-screen. “The only difference in my career now is the visibility I have. People say I made it now, but I feel like I made it doing summer stock.” She’s so humble she even believes she might one day return to the bank and work as a teller! She held onto the job during the entire first season of Grey’s Anatomy. “They told me I could come back if acting doesn’t work out. I told them, ‘Keep my seat warm,'” she said.
3. Soap Opera Fan
In an interview with USA Today she admitted to being a soap opera fan. She said she’ll watch up to four hours of daytime television every day. Of course she’s busy with her job so she tapes all the episodes. During the interview she said, “I’m sitting here going through my tapes right now.” In some ways she looks at Grey’s Anatomy like a soap opera because viewers want to tune each day to each episode to see how all the conflicts are resolved, but she’s extremely grateful it’s not one-dimensional like most soaps because Grey’s women don’t get involved in petty cat fights.
2. Charitable Work
As a wife and mother of three, Chandra is extremely passionate. She became an activist for Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome after her daughter, Serena developed the disease in 2010. She now serves as the association’s spokesperson and even pitched the idea for Grey’s to feature the disease in an episode of the ninth season. The episode was “Second Opinion” and was directed by Wilson herself and aired in 2013. Not only that, but she was also named the spokesperson for Downy Touch of Comfort campaign in 2009. The campaign delivers handmade quilts to kids in Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. In an interview with E.T., she said, “We find out about the personality of each of the kids when we go into the rooms — and lo and behold — in our arsenal of quilts, we’ll have something to just brighten up the day of the kids.” More recently, Wilson lent her voice to the documentary Autism in America, a film that shares the stories of families and individuals who live with Autism everyday.
1. She’s a Director
The first episode she directed of Grey’s Anatomy was “Give Peace a Chance” (season 6, episode 7). In an interview with Cosmopolitan she said, “It turned out really well, so when [this episode],] ‘Push,’ came along, and Bailey had her big date, there was this moment of, ‘Wow, I get to direct myself on a date, and what’s that going to be about?’ I got to introduce Ben Warren’s apartment, and the editor was telling me that it’s really interesting to see things from a woman director’s point of view. A male director might not have thought to let us see how Bailey was taking the room in, how she’s focusing in on the flowers and wine. I appreciated being able to show that part of Bailey.” After that episode, Chandra went on to direct 13 more episodes and on another show for Shonda Rhimes, Scandal‘s episode “Get Out of Jail, Free.”