Halfway through its 15th season, soapy medical drama Grey’s Anatomy has had a whole roster of big stars walk in and out of its doors. In addition to the rotation of doctors that have come and gone throughout the show’s season (some with little fanfare, others with much more dramatic exits), Grey’s has also managed to gain a little more wattage thanks to the casting of major celebrities as patients who experience through intense medical procedures, diagnoses, and, often tragedies.
More often than not, these famous faces stick around for only an episode or two, and some appeared on the show well before they became household names in hit TV shows or major studio films. Some of the celebs on this list were mere babies.
With almost a full 15 seasons under its belt, it’s easy to forget all the famous faces that have walked the halls of Grey’s Anatomy, so let this be a refresher to some of the people you may have forgotten about over the years – and who might surprise you that they popped up on the show at all!
20 Tessa Thompson, Season 2
You know her better as Valkyrie from Black Panther and Thor: Ragnorok, but back in 2006, actress Tessa Thompson appeared in season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy as Chief of Surgery Richard Webber’s niece Camille Travis. After passing out while with her boyfriend, Thompson (as Camille) was rushed to the hospital, where she learns that her ovarian cancer has returned. With the help of her friends and the Grey’s interns, they threw a prom for her since she was too ill to attend her own, which led to the illicit hookup between Meredith and Derek. Thompson was later replaced by Camille Winbush in season 4.
19 John Cho, Season 2
Also in season 2, we had the star of the Harold and Kumar franchise and the new hit thriller Searching, John Cho, appear in the episode “Damage Case”. Cho played Marshall Stone, a surgical intern over at Mercy West, the other hospital in Seattle that later merged with Seattle Grace. Cho (as Marshall) was overworked, staying for a 12-hour surgery after a 30-hour shift, and fell asleep at the wheel, causing an accident. He didn’t experience any critical injuries (a rarity for a guest star on Grey’s), but caused the death of a pregnant woman.
18 Mae Whitman, Season 3
Best known for her work in Arrested Development, Parenthood, and the new Netflix show Good Girls, Mae Whitman had a two-episode arc on the show in season 3. As Heather Douglas, a woman with a severely curved spine that seemed to resist any form of treatment, Whitman played her character as an angry patient who was tired of being promised the world only for it to always fail. She ends up successfully undergoing a risky surgery that is funded in secret by Izzie Stephens, following her windfall of cash after the death of Denny Duquette.
17 Jamie Chung, Season 7
In what could arguably be called the worst honeymoon ever, Jamie Chung of The Hangover and Once Upon A Time popped up in the season 7 episode “Adrift and at Peace”. As Trina Paiz, Chung was admitted to the hospital after falling 100 feet into a ravine and landing on her husband. She ends up with only a lacerated ear, while her husband sustains more serious injuries. Fortunately her husband, Jason, who was fighting lethal internal bleeding, survived, another happy ending in what has become a pretty gloomy show.
16 Clea Duvall, Season 4
Clea Duvall doesn’t usually get to play characters who have great lives. Starting in the late 1990s with roles in movies like The Faculty, Duvall was often cast as an unhappy outsider-type. Grey’s Anatomy was no different when Duvall, cast in season 4 as Jennifer Robinson, survives a bear attack after her husband taunted the bear to attack them. It’s revealed that her husband (whom she married after only 10 days) is hurting from a brain tumor, which caused impulsive behavior, and later includes some pretty vicious insults towards Duvall’s character.
15 Jesse Plemons, Season 2
The Breaking Bad and Friday Night Lights alum has worked his way up the A-list thanks to the above-mentioned roles as well as spots in hits like Netflix’s Black Mirror and the star-studded flick Game Night. If you didn’t recognize him as Jake Burton in season 2 of Grey’s, you can be forgiven, thanks to the intense prosthetics worn by the actor in order to portray a man with craniodiaphyseal dysplasia (or “lionitus”), a bone disorder that causes calcium to build up in the skull. Plemons’ character passed from his surgery, but was given post-mortem surgery to return his face to normal.
14 Dean Norris, Season 3
Another graduate of the Breaking Bad universe, we have Dean Norris, best known as Hank Schraeder on the AMC series, plays Vince, the friend of a man trapped under a car following the ferry crash in season 3. It is Vince who seeks out Izzie to help his friend Rick, and who provides Izzie with the drill that she uses to drill a burr hole into the man’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. This ends up saving his life and is what gets Izzie off of probation, which she had been on for the incident with Denny Duquette.
13 Mandy Moore, Seasons 6 and 7
Mandy Moore already had an established acting and singing career when she appeared on Grey’s in seasons 6 and 7, thanks to roles in ‘00s flicks like The Princess Diaries and A Walk To Remember. Since her time on the show, of course, she’s received multiple award nominations for her role on the tear-jerking This Is Us.
In Grey’s, Moore played Mary Portman, a woman who was in the hospital for a colostomy bag reversal, but her surgery gets cancelled after Seattle Grace Mercy West goes into lockdown with an active shooter. She returns six months later for the surgery and ends up in a coma.
12 Frances Conroy, Season 7
Frances Conroy has an uncanny ability to raise goosebumps, which would explain how she’s done so well on shows like American Horror Story and Six Feet Under. Her time on Grey’s Anatomy was no different. In season 7, Conroy played a woman who purposely ran her car into a Laundromat after spotting her estranged husband’s mistress through the window. While she initially claimed not to remember what happened, she later confessed her crime to her doctors, mistakenly under the assumption that her secret would be held in confidence.
11 Vanessa Marano, Season 8
You might not recognize Vanessa Marano all grown up, but she actually played the controversial character of April, Luke’s secret daughter, way back on Gilmore Girls! Since then, she’s had long-running spots on The Young and the Restless and Switched at Birth, but her spot on Grey’s was sufficiently dark.
In season 8, Marano played Holly Wheeler, a young woman found unconscious in a ravine. It is later revealed that she had been taken and held for 12 years, in an episode that was partly inspired by the real-life abduction of Natascha Kampusch. Holly bonds with Meredith, but it later able to go home to her parents.
10 Seth Green, Season 4
Fortunately for Seth Green, he has no issue with acting around blood, thanks to his role on the cult classic TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In season 4, Green played Nick Hanscom, a patient with an exposed carotid artery after a tumor resection. Throughout his two episodes, Green is charming and bonds with Lexie Grey, who tries in vain to staunch the bleeding in his neck. He later passes from his injuries, but, fortunately for Green, his career is still thriving. He’s enjoying his voice work into the 17th season of Family Guy!
9 Danny Strong, Season 8
Another alum from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Danny Strong likewise dealt with a pretty vicious injury, this time in season 8. As Paul, Strong’s character thought he was meeting his girlfriend’s cat – except it turned out that her “cat” was actually a lion, who attacked him and then roamed the streets of Seattle! Fortunately, Paul does survive his injuries but ends his relationship.
In addition to his work on BtVS and Gilmore Girls, Strong is a pretty big deal behind the camera, as the creator of the show Empire and the writer behind the final two Hunger Games films.
8 Christina Ricci, Season 2
In what was an incredibly explosive (sorry) finale told in two parts in season 2, we had actress Christina Ricci playing a paramedic on her first day who found her hand clutching a homemade bomb located inside the chest of a patient. Ricci, whose extensive credits date all the way back to her time as a child actor, ends up yanking her hand out of the body cavity in sheer terror, only to have herself replaced by Meredith, who is dealing with more than a few issues at this point. As the paramedic, Ricci feels extreme guilt for her actions, and is calmed down by George in the stairwell.
7 Rachel Brosnahan, Season 9
When she appeared in season 9’s “The Face of Change”, Rachel Brosnahan was hardly well known. Since then, she’s appeared in House of Cards but is probably best known for playing the title role in The Marvelous Miss Maisel, which earned her two Golden Globes two years in a row and an Emmy award!
In Grey’s, Brosnahan played Brian Weston, a transgender man coming to the hospital to have top surgery, along with his girlfriend, Jess. While Jess, who is also trans, is supportive of Brian, Brian’s father is not and leaves before the completion of his son’s surgery, which is successful.
6 Dylan Minnette, Season 4
Did you spot a baby-faced (and almost actual baby) Dylan Minnette way back in season 4 of Grey’s Anatomy? The 13 Reasons Why actor was just 10 years old when he played Ryan, a boy born without the outer structure of his ears who goes “trick-or-treating” for ears. His mother works in the cafeteria of the hospital. With Meredith’s help, they arrange to have his surgery done pro bono, with the help of Mark Sloan and Miranda Bailey. A less invasive surgery – and as a patient that provides more comic relief and cuteness – Ryan comes through just fine.
5 Abigail Breslin, Season 3
Another cutie who we first met when she was working as a child actor before moving onto more mature fare like TV’s Scream Queens, Abigail Breslin was already an old pro in Hollywood when she appeared in season 3 of Grey’s Anatomy. (Breslin had been nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 for her role in the film Little Miss Sunshine.)
As patient Megan Clover, Breslin believed herself to be a superhero who couldn’t feel pain, and regularly injured herself or dared kids to do so because she couldn’t tell when her injuries were bad. She was later treated for internal injuries after a kid hit her in the stomach 25 times with a baseball bat.
4 Sarah Paulson, Season 6
Another Emmy winner on our list, the inimitable Sarah Paulson has made a major name for herself thanks to roles in shows like American Horror Story and American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson, as well as films like 12 Years a Slave, Ocean’s 8, Bird Box, and the upcoming Glass.
Back in season 6, Paulson made her one and only appearance in a flashback, as the ambitious and cold Ellis Grey, Meredith’s mother, who was treating a patient for GRID (what later became known as AIDS), alongside a young Richard Webber. Paulson’s role was later recast with Sally Pressman in season 11.
3 Elisabeth Moss, Season 3
Prior to making it big on award-winning shows Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, Elisabeth Moss was playing the high-strung Nina Rogerson, the daughter of a woman hurting from a condition that causes a new bone to grow in the place of even the slightest injury. As her mother’s caretaker, Moss (as Nina) is slightly unhinged and brusque with the doctors, and Izzie later says that her mother was worried that Nina would turn into some as frozen as her mother, owing to the fact that Nina, through her care of her mother, had neglected everyone and everything else in her life.
2 Demi Lovato, Season 6
Actress and singer Demi Lovato has been open about her own struggles with mental health, but, while her character, Hayley May, was initially diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic in the season 6 episode “Shiny Happy People”, that proved not to be the case!
It was discovered, with Alex’s help, that Hayley had a tiny hole in her inner ear, which caused the sounds within her body to be amplified to an unbearable degree, which led the character to harm herself. After a successful surgery to repair the hole, Hayley fully recovered. This was early in Lovato’s career, during her time with the Disney Channel’s Sonny With a Chance.
1 Millie Bobby Brown, Season 11
Before actress Millie Bobby Brown won us all over as the shaven-headed Eleven in the Netflix hit series Strange Things, she made a small appearance in season 11 of Grey’s Anatomy. We were first introduced to Ruby via a phone call in which she calls the hospital and is talked through a life-saving procedure on her mother. We don’t actually meet Brown until she is flown into the hospital, where she embraces Owen, who explained every step of the way. Even before Stranger Things, Brown was showing us she had the chops to handle tough subject matter.
References: Insider, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Pop Sugar