Laura Innes, <EM>ER</EM> Laura Innes, ER

It's goodbye to the last remaining — well, almost — original ER cast member. Tonight Kerry Weaver hangs up her scrubs and leaves Chicago's County General for warmer climes (Florida) to deliver medical news for a prestigious TV station. Laura Innes, who has played the irascibly endearing doc for 11 and a half seasons, gives us the dish on why she needs an abrupt exit, her years on the long-running hit show, and what she's up to next.

TVGuide.com: Say it ain't so! After nearly 12 years, Dr. Kerry Weaver's leaving County General for good?
Laura Innes:
Yeah. There's some talk of her coming back a little bit next year, but we'll see.

TVGuide.com: In what way?
Innes:
There's an idea about integrating her new job on the medical show into a story line. Part of that thinking had to do with the fact that next year would probably be ER's last year, but the show's doing so well, I don't know what's going to happen.

TVGuide.com: The producers kept your departure awfully quiet. Everyone went, 'What?" when Weaver was fired. Why so under-the-radar?
Innes:
We decided to just have it be a surprise. It may not have been a smart decision, but it was good storytelling — making it happen the way it might in real life.

TVGuide.com: It was left a little vague last week. My colleague's daughter, who's a major fan, said that after watching she thought that maybe you'd still be around in some way.
Innes:
Nope. I'm in this week's show and have a couple more meaty goodbye scenes to wrap it up. I'm basically doing cleaning-out-my-locker kind of stuff. So one more [episode] for me, and as I said, there's talk about maybe a couple next year, but I [told them], "We'll see if that feels right."

TVGuide.com: Why are you leaving in the middle of the season?
Innes:
There are other big stories happening and... Aaron Sorkin just walked in the room. I'm so sorry, I have to talk to my boss for a minute. [Innes calls back five minutes later.] I'm directing a Studio 60 episode for him.

TVGuide.com: Already moving on. Sounds like some other ER characters could be leaving at the end of the year?
Innes:
That's a possibility. There are a lot of discussions with the actors about what they want to do. They felt, in case there does end up being another departure, that they wanted to wrap me up early.

TVGuide.com: How long has your departure been in the works?
Innes:
About a year ago we talked about it. For the past couple of years, I've been doing half episodes, and I have a directing deal with [ER creator] John Wells. So I've been easing off the acting. This summer we talked about what was going to take place.

TVGuide.com: Whose idea was it for you to make your exit? 
Innes:
It was kind of mutual — one of those things where it just feels like you're running out of steam. It's awfully hard to leave this show, though, because it's such an incredible joy. But it seems like [it's] time, doesn't it? I just told them, "I don't want to be sick or die." I didn't want to send this message that this woman who had this history of disability and is gay — now we're going to kill her off. I said, "Let her have a happy end." So I'm happy about that.

TVGuide.com: Is that why Weaver had an operation and finally threw away her crutch?
Innes:
It did feel like the character was shedding some of her hardness and moving on in her life.

TVGuide.com: You're not kidding. She gets a glam TV job and a gorgeous girlfriend to boot.
Innes:
I know. Weaver must be so good in bed! All of her girlfriends are so hot. I definitely raised the bar in the lipstick-lesbian category.

TVGuide.com: Speaking of hot girlfriends, do you watch Elizabeth Mitchell, who played your first female lover, on Lost?  
Innes: Isn't she great? You never know which way she's going to go. [Her character] is this creepy, beautiful lady.

TVGuide.com: Over the years, Weaver has been portrayed as abrasive, prickly, intensely ambitious and disloyal. Was playing a bitch fun?
Innes:
I didn't see her so negatively, because if I did, I might have played her as an evil person. But I remember early on, being in a department store and hearing a woman say, "Oh, I just want to slap her!" That's when I realized this character is going to drive everybody crazy. She's the boss from hell, which was fun to play. But just at the point where you'd want to shoot her, they'd plop in poignant story lines where she'd show empathy, like when I signed with this deaf little girl.

TVGuide.com: Do you think it was brave of you to play her bitchy when she was also a role model for the disabled and lesbian communities?
Innes:
[Laughs] A bitchy role model. But you know what? If I had to choose a doctor, it would be Weaver. Her bedside manner is sometimes lacking, but at least she'd save me.

TVGuide.com: Was there a real responsibility being that two-for-one role model?  
Innes: For the disabled community, it was a mixed thing. To have somebody who's disabled be a very strong, capable person is great, but I'm not actually disabled, so it was this kind of back-and-forth. But I did always feel a responsibility. I said to the writers, "It's OK if I'm the hard-ass, but I hope you always show her being compassionate, because I represent this large group of people."

TVGuide.com: And then Weaver came out. How was the reaction?
Innes:
It explained her avoidance of a personal life. That was my favorite story line. I feel that the producers and NBC didn't really get enough credit, because it was a big deal to have a main character on a mainstream show come out. Some viewers were not happy with that, and my friends said, "People will assume you're really gay." Everyone should get over it. A lot of people do think I'm gay. But for that character, what could have been more interesting to do? 

TVGuide.com: You're a married mom of two. C'mon, aren't you sorry you never got to kiss George Clooney or Goran [Visnjic]?
Innes:
How do you know I didn't?

TVGuide.com: Did they throw you a big party? 
Innes:
Yes. Everybody came. It was Dec. 6, my last day, after an emotional goodbye scene I had with Maura [Tierney, Abby], who has become a close friend in real life. They put together a reel of scenes and outtakes and because I'd been on the show so long, it was a long reel. They also gave me a framed copy of my very first call sheet. I was something like No. 47 on that — and the past two years, I've been No. 1. It's like I clawed my way to the top of the call sheet.

TVGuide.com: How Weaverish of you. So is it Laura Innes, director, from now on? You've directed ER, House and now Studio 60.  
Innes: I'll definitely keep acting if anything interesting that's not like Kerry Weaver comes along, some hot old chick.... I won't wear a lab coat, and I never want to say, "Pass the CBC Chem 7" again. I would like to do some comedy. I love The Office.

TVGuide.com: There are so many former residents of ER out there. Do you ever hang out? 
Innes: There are! We could start our own show — an alternative universe version of ER. I keep up with Julianna [Margulies] and Gloria [Reuben] and I see Tony [Edwards] once in a while.

TVGuide.com: Any last words to your fans of 11 and a half years?
Innes: I would just say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you for watching. I have had a blast."

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com