Long before he became a prime-time fixture on series like “The Walking Dead” and “The Good Wife,” Jeffrey Dean Morgan landed a part that helped make all those other roles (and at least one of his big screen gigs) possible.
He played the part of Denny Duquette, a patient whose heart was set on Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and it was an opportunity he didn’t want to come to an end — even when it had to.
During a recent visit to Sean Evans’ hot-sauce slathered YouTube series “Hot Ones,” Morgan discussed his dilemma when faced with his character’s impending doom.
“‘Grey’s Anatomy’ I knew was something special,” the 54-year-old said after host Evans asked about his many roles that ended in on-screen deaths. “That’s the one time that I saw my death coming and I was trying everything I could do to get out of that death.”
After all, he’d suddenly found himself in a hit medical drama playing one-half of a fan-favorite romance.
“That character, Denny, and that love story with Izzie kind of took the world by storm,” Morgan recalled. “I knew how f---ing lucky I was to be there.”
And so he decided to plead his case for the character to one person who had the power to change his scripted destiny — creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes.
“I was like, ‘Please don’t kill me! I will do anything,’” he said of his desperation. “I did. I begged her.”
Alas, Denny’s fate was sealed by the end of the show’s second season. No sooner had Izzy accepted his proposal than he died. But maybe all that begging didn’t go to waste, because Morgan was able to reprise the role in seasons three and five in dream sequences and hallucinations.
Eventually, the part of patient and star-crossed lover Denny paid off in more ways for Morgan, too.
“That’s what changed my life,” he told Evans of the role. “Being Denny, where I never got out of bed, is why Zack Snyder hired me to be The Comedian (in ‘Watchmen’). That’s how special that was.”
This isn’t the first time the star has opened up about his “Grey’s” exit. Back in 2006, when it was all still fresh, Morgan spoke to the Los Angeles Times about how disappointed he was about his character’s death.
“It was a grim day, let me tell you,” he said of filming his final scene. “A dark, grim day. I’m still not over it. It broke my heart to leave that show.”
He shared that the role meant more to him than he’d ever expected.
“I had no idea what it would be like,” he said. “How attached I would get. To Denny and everyone there. It is such a great show, such a great group of people. It was the only time in my career when I didn’t mind getting up at 5:30 in the morning, didn’t mind the 16-hour days. I couldn’t believe it. So ... yes, I fought to stay.”