"It's not anything that the audience can't handle," KaDee Strickland stresses as she sits in the living room of Sam's beachfront house on the Private Practice set during one of the few days she's not covered in prosthetic cuts, scrapes and bruises.
The "it" in this situation is her character Charlotte's sexual assault and brutal beating in this Thursday's episode of Private Practice (10/9c on ABC).
At the end of last week's episode, Charlotte walked out of her office at the hospital only to encounter a deranged man whose face the audience has yet to see (though we know he's played by Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon). After a harsh smack, he shoved her back into the dark office as the episode faded to black.
"The fact that she has this happen in her place of business is a very powerful statement because she has to go back to it," Strickland says. "It will never be the same thing to walk into that hospital and to have all your control taken away."
Charlotte's initial reaction is one of shame and denial — so much so that the once fearless and hardened leader of the hospital will not share what happened behind closed doors.
"Charlotte is so apprehensive," Strickland says, tearing up at the thought of Charlotte's plight and that of the many real-life survivors. "Charlotte is someone who absolutely lives to control things in her life. In this moment and in this act of crime that happens to her, all control is lost. Out of the devastation and the shock that come with that, she wants to act as if it didn't happen."
Just moments after the attack, Pete (Tim Daly) discovers Charlotte in the hospital. "Pete has a unique sensitivity to it, because right from the beginning he suspects she was raped, but chooses to completely respect her privacy on it," Daly says in his on-set trailer, where a small guitar lays strewn across his couch. "The fact that he doesn't push her makes her more vulnerable. It's easier for her to push back when people are nosing into her business."
Because she's in shock, Charlotte will initially reject being subjected to a rape kit. "Addison is trying to convince her to do the right thing — the rape kit, the HIV test, all the blood labs — these are imperative things," says Kate Walsh, clad in a nightshirt and a red parka to keep her warm following a bedroom scene between her character Addison and Sam (Taye Diggs).
"The dichotomy of that relationship changes dramatically because I need to lean into someone," Strickland says. "I feel safe and I also feel that Addison would never betray me in a situation. The thing that I love about the character of Addison, in terms of her being a hero, is that you really see her stand in those shoes with a very new point of view because this isn't hers to do. It's mine. I'm the one living with it and I bring her into it."
Along with Addison, Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) will step in to assist with Charlotte's injuries. "In the process of tending to her injuries, she and Charlotte start developing a confidence and a bond," Scorsone says. Charlotte and Amelia will also "discover that they have a very significant thing in common, so the bond that they form is immediately deeper and more significant than it would otherwise be," Scorsone adds.
And because Violet (Amy Brenneman) was raped in college, she will help to guide Charlotte. It "opens up a story between a survivor from a college-age and this story of an immediate victim, having to learn how to become a survivor," Strickland says. "It's not always the easiest thing to come to grips with and certainly not in the hours that pass because so much happens."
Next to Charlotte, her fiancé Cooper (Paul Adelstein) will take the attack the hardest. "She's a very strong woman and he has a lot of trouble seeing her so compromised," says Adelstein, who didn't see Strickland in the full makeup until they shot the first reaction scene, hoping to capture an authentic moment. "He's actively pushing Charlotte to be more present in the investigation and calling the police. He's really encouraging her to close this thing."
"I think all of the helplessness, all of the rage, all of the confusion, the element of him not having been able to prevent it, all comes into play," Strickland adds.
The small victories will come in Cooper attempting to make her smile, though she'll be the one trying to buck-up for Cooper's sake. "At one point she gets afraid that he's going to leave her because they're not back to normal," Adelstein says, adding that Cooper will also be in the dark for several episodes before learning the true nature of her attack.
Exiting Sam's beach house, the Georgia native heads to a hallway in the hospital set, where the media village and director's chairs have been cleared away for her to film the PSA that will air with Thursday's episode.
In one take, Strickland delivers this video message:
Watch Strickland discuss Thursday's episode:
RAINN's 24-hour national hotline can be reached at 800 656-HOPE or by going to online.rainn.org.