More than a month after we lost Lexie on the chilling Grey’s Anatomy season finale, it still hurts to think about helpless Little Grey trapped under the wreckage of a downed plane as she struggled to breathe through bloodied teeth. Well, Lexie’s portrayer, the always lovely Chyler Leigh, is happy to remind us, “I’m alive.” Here, for the first time since she released a brief statement explaining her reasons for leaving the series [we agreed not to get back into that], Leigh opens up about her last moments on set, what’s next and being honored by an organization helping to bring water to the world’s thirstiest.
TV Guide Magazine: Chyler! How are you?
Leigh: I’m good. If I cough, I’m sorry. I’m kind of getting over a little cold.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, you’re in much better shape than the last time we saw you on TV.
Leigh: [Laughs] For sure.
TV Guide Magazine: I first have to tell you, as hard as it was to lose you, your death scene was brilliantly acted.
Leigh: Aww. Thank you. I wasn’t really dying though. That was quite an experience. I haunted a lot of people.
TV Guide Magazine: We’ll talk more about that. In the meantime, what have you been up to?
Leigh: Life. A whole lot of life and I am so grateful that I get to be home with my kids who are three beautiful, complicated, dynamic children. I have a lot of life to live.
TV Guide Magazine: You also had a movie out that Justin Chambers [Alex] was originally slated to be in.
Leigh: Yes, Justin wasn’t available [because of his Grey’s shooting schedule] but we still made the movie called Brake with Stephen Dorff as the main character. I played his wife. It came out in March. A really incredible little movie.
TV Guide Magazine: So what’s next?
Leigh: A few things. My husband [actor Nathan West] and I write. There’s a musical thing and a children’s book we’re in the process of. It’s still all very much in the developmental stage.
TV Guide Magazine: Why is a children’s book something you wanted to do?
Leigh: We read books to our kids every night and my husband is such an amazing storyteller. He has them rolling with laughter. So we had some pretty profound ideas come up.
TV Guide Magazine: You and Nathan are being honored next week with the Pioneering Spirit Award by an organization called the Thirst Project. What’s this all about?
Leigh: The Thirst Project is a phenomenal organization [about] the water crisis. Almost one billion people on our planet don’t have access to any clean drinking water. 4400 kids die every single day from diseases caused by contaminated water. And eighty percent of all global diseases are water-born. It’s ridiculous. My eight-year-old son will complain about having to drink a cup of water and I’ll show him a video to watch. The Thirst Project has been able to build wells in several developing countries all around the globe and teach the people in the villages how to maintain them so they have clean water for life. Clean water has been brought to over 100,000 people over the world in just four short years. For my husband and I to be able to put our names out there, we’re able to be a part of it. We were also able to finance a well in Swaziland that’s making an impact.
TV Guide Magazine: Have you had a chance to visit any of these developing countries?
Leigh: I have to say that has been my heart’s desire since I was five. It seems like every time I had a chance I was having a child. But I will be going in September to Uganda and perhaps Swaziland. It’s a whole other thing to be impacted up close and personal.
TV Guide Magazine: Did you invite any of your Grey’s friends to come to your gala next week?
Leigh: Yeah I did, and so many people are going to be out of town. This is the family time for people to get out. They’re all over the place, and that’s okay.
TV Guide Magazine: Who do you still keep in touch with?
Leigh: I have a few people that I’ve reached out to, obviously with no offense to anyone else. I’ve texted back and forth with Sara [Ramirez] and Chandra [Wilson] and Sarah Drew. I owe Jessica [Capshaw] a text.
TV Guide Magazine: Fans were so invested in Lexie and Mark [Eric Dane] as a couple and so devastated by her death that some have expressed a desire for Mark to die as well and join her in the afterlife. What are your feelings on this?
Leigh: The roller coaster between them was always very dynamic and I think realistic. When it comes to death we never know the date or the hour. There is absolute shock value to that. As far as their relationship, it was in some ways very young. So Rachel and Ross [from Friends]. It’s so hard to put a pin in what went wrong or how it could have gone better. But will Mark go on? Absolutely. He’ll move right along. That’s just what Mark Sloane does. But initially I hope there will be a devastation.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you think Mark was the love of Lexie’s life?
Leigh: I do. She learned so much from him about herself and about life in general. I do think there could have been a destiny for that.
TV Guide Magazine: Will you submit your death scene for Emmy consideration?
Leigh: I didn’t push it. And I don’t know if my peeps did or not. I’m going to let Lexie be.
TV Guide Magazine: Was it hard to shoot that? Had you ever died on film before?
Leigh: No, I never died before. That sounds funny saying that. I think everyone has an emotional wellspring and that happened to be a moment where I was sprung.
TV Guide Magazine: Was it cold shooting that scene?
Leigh: It was. Cold. We were up at Big Bear and at one point it had snowed. Then it would rain and be sunny and hot.
TV Guide Magazine: Was any of the cast particularly supportive during the shoot?
Leigh: Everybody was very accommodating — the crew, cast. And I opted to stay underneath [the wreckage] for the most part over two days rather than trying to get in and out.
TV Guide Magazine: So after that, are you ready for another series right away?
Leigh: I don’t know really what I want to do. I’m always down to do a sitcom. I did That 80’s Showback in the day and that was a really great experience. I think comedy would be good for a while. Right now I’m just taking a pause from everything. We also live in Orange County so it’s nice not to have to drive back and forth to LA.
TV Guide Magazine: Lastly Chyler, of all of Lexie’s great scenes and storylines, which are you most proud of?
Leigh: Ironically, I think her death. It really was a chance for me to be able to go from the beginning of the character to the end. There’s something that’s very bittersweet about that. Something about being able to be there for the moment of her death that I appreciate. I don’t know if that’s morbid or not, but that’s how I feel.