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Private Practice Exclusive: The Real Story Behind the Heartbreaking Death

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's Season 3 finale of Private Practice, including which series regular died.]  How do you make the cast of Private Practice cry? Write them a scene in which they...

Natalie Abrams
Natalie Abrams

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's Season 3 finale of Private Practice, including which series regular died.]

 How do you make the cast of Private Practice cry? Write them a scene in which they learn that their longtime friend and co-worker has died. Kate Walsh needed a moment between takes to wipe her eyes after Addison and Amelia (Caterina Scorsone) were tasked with delivering the bad news: Dell (Chris Lowell), Oceanside Wellness Center's midwife, had succumbed to his injuries sustained in a car accident while rushing Naomi's pregnant daughter, Maya (Geffri Maya Hightower), to the hospital. Dell's death was heroic, as he refused treatment while helping to save Maya himself.

Dell has grown quite a bit from the half-naked surf bum we saw in the pilot episode. His speech about "bad things" to his daughter in Thursday's episode was particularly wrenching, as was the decision by executive producer Shonda Rhimes to cut Lowell from the Private Practice roster. "We adore Chris and he's honestly one of the best actors I've known, but there wasn't so much story for a midwife on the show," Rhimes tells TVGuide.com. "Losing him from the show feels like a bit of a death because he is part of our family."

TVGuide.com sat down with Lowell on his character's death-day to get the real story on why Dell is dead.

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TVGuide.com: All cards on the table: Did you want to leave the show? Was it a contract thing? Or were you surprised when you found out?
Chris Lowell:
I'd say it was a very, very mutual separation and a totally positive one. Shonda and I had a conversation about how it was difficult to find a way to utilize Dell in each episode. Neither of us wanted to have these episodes where Dell is bringing files or whatever. We devised this formula where we'd do less episodes, but he would be featured more in those episodes, which is obviously something that I was happy to hear. Then it was a matter of figuring out how Dell should leave the show or if he should leave the show. I wanted Dell to go big and in a fun way, so Shonda was open to all sorts of ideas.

From the beginning, I knew I really wanted [Dell] to die because I've never been killed on a show before, so I wanted to experience that. At first, they were hesitant about it because they had [Dell's former wife] Heather's death planned, and they were having trouble finding a way to do it without it being so dark. The way they've done it is really poetic. It's a really beautiful way to go out. I'm happy this is my last episode.

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TVGuide.com: How did you feel when you found out the season finale would be the end for Dell?
I knew about two weeks prior how it was going to happen. All of us on the show knew this was going to be my last episode. I remember actually getting the script and it rocked my world. We had the table read and we got to my last monologue and I totally lost it. I was a complete mess, a waterfall. Everyone else was too. It was really emotional. These guys are my family. I love them.

TVGuide.com: Dell has really grown a lot from being half-naked in the pilot to now.
[Laughs] It's funny. We always forget about the pilot. It's wild to think how far this character has come. I remember we all signed our contracts without reading the script because we had blind faith in Shonda. I remember getting the pilot and being like, "No, I can't be that stupid surfer eye candy. This is not what I signed up for." I was the butt of all my friends' jokes.

When we started shooting the first season, I sat down with Shonda filled with this fire to say, "Please don't make me half-naked again." As soon as I sat down, she said, "You're never going to have to do that again." She also said, "I'll make you a deal. I'll make sure everyone else on the show has to be half-naked before you ever have to be again." [Laughs] It's a real compliment what she gave my character over the past three seasons. She's given me some pretty heavy stuff and I'm just flattered to be given the challenge.

TVGuide.com: Earlier in the season, you told me that Dell was going to get really dark this season, but he really didn't. What happened?
For a long time, the thought was that Dell was going to go down the drug path and die from the drugs, or be put in rehab and that's how he leaves [the show]. I think they may have been afraid of going perpetually darker.

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TVGuide.com: He does go out on a high note because he saved Maya.
I remember finding out that Dell was driving Maya to the hospital and freaking out thinking it would be my fault. Then when I read it was a drunk driver and I was like, "OK, thank God." I just didn't want to go out a villain or a victim. I will always look back on this experience with the utmost gratitude. These people have taught me more than I ever thought I could learn.

TVGuide.com: What's next for you now?
I moved out of my apartment and I'll be flying to New York. I'm going traveling for the summer and then moving to the Big Apple.

What did you think of Dell's death? Will you miss Chris Lowell on the show?