"Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?"
The sweet-yet-hardened Charlotte will be faced with her most difficult obstacle yet when she becomes the victim of a violent sexual attack in the closing moments of the Oct. 28 episode. Her attacker: A mentally unstable man (played by Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon) who walks into the ER.
TVGuide.com spoke with Strickland to discuss how she dealt with the storyline, as well as the ramifications of Charlotte's rape.
TVGuide.com: After hearing about this storyline, I was in shock.
KaDee Strickland: Well, I hope that people who love the character so much are equally as in shock, and also really supportive of the journey. [Executive producer] Shonda Rhimes and I, all we cared about was humanizing the victims and just really creating a legitimate experience for the audience in a way that you may not see on network television. Because, you know, there are certain boundaries around it. When I read it, I was just blown away. I was blown away not because this horrible thing has happened to my character but because [Shonda] has really articulated the truth of a life-altering experience.
TVGuide.com: What was your reaction when Shonda told you she was going to do this?
Strickland: I said, "Hell yes. Let's go. Let's do it." She looked at me a little bit surprised because I was — I won't say giddy, but I was overwhelmed with joy that we were doing this. I know that sounds strange but the truth of it is I knew how important this was the minute it came out of her mouth. I knew that she had all good intentions with this. I was thrilled because it's a very personal thing to me, especially if you break down the statistics that one in six women will be raped in their lifetime.
When you really go to those statistics and you look at the size of our audience, you're talking about a lot of people that understand this, a lot of people that have had it either happen to them or to someone close to them. If we can legitimize that for people who know what this walk and this journey is like, then we've done something that we set out to do.
TVGuide.com: Where does it happen?
Strickland: It happens at the hospital. I can't get away from that... So, it puts us in a very wonderful position to really carry through this storyline with the integrity that it deserves, which is that it's not resolved in four episodes. It's not like it just goes away. It is a part of who I will be on this show as long as this show is on the air, and I love that. That's real. She doesn't know [her attacker], I can tell you that. It's a very brief encounter.
TVGuide.com: How did you feel playing the actual attack scene?
Strickland: You know, funnily enough, the attack was less daunting than the rest of the episode for me personally. It's psychologically hard. It's physically hard. I didn't come out of there unscathed and neither did the attacker. So knowing that, as safe as we were, it's a brutal thing. I made an agreement with [Nicholas]. I said, "Listen, I want you to be safe." We had a safe word, because it's too important for us to play around with this... He was so committed and brave.
RAINN, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, got heavily involved with us in this process to make sure that everything we did was suitable to the story of the survivor of this kind of crime. And that's what it is, it's a sexual crime. It's the kind of thing that you don't mess around with. I spent a lot of time personally working with survivors of brutal rape because it's not just an attack. It's a physical assault that is shocking. Charlotte doesn't come out of this, by any stretch, physically or emotionally as the same strong sort of control freak that we all know and love. She's a very different person after this event.
TVGuide.com: How will this affect her feelings towards her fiancée, Cooper (Paul Adelstein)?
Strickland: It's not just Charlotte and Cooper affected, it's every relationship on the show. Cooper is involved in something else at that time. I think that's very real and I think that's great to see that these things don't happen when it's convenient. These things happen in life when you least expect it. And Charlotte also has a lot of shame. More often than not, women aren't readily available [to report the rape]. They're beyond shock, beyond horror; for some of them, not literally physically being able to speak or move. That kind of stuff comes into play.
TVGuide.com: Will she get justice?
Strickland: I can tell you that at the moment they are, with great care, laying the groundwork for what that's going to look like, because it's coming up. There will be an episode where the attacker is confronted with this. Will she heal? I think not unlike what we saw with Violet [Amy Brenneman], you see a person live with the trauma. It's more, 'How does a person cope?' How does a woman who has the world by the tail, who has a great job, who has great people around her, how does she move forward? It doesn't feel like any show we've ever done before. That's the thing that we kept saying, "This doesn't even feel like our show." Which isn't a bad thing.
RAINN's 24 hour national hotline can be reached at 800.656.HOPE or by going to online.rainn.org.