Shonda Rhimes on Cristina Yang, split pants and no regrets

Shonda Rhimes, the force behind ABC's "Scandal," "Grey's Anatomy" and "How to Get Away With Murder," is also the author of "Year of Yes."

Shonda Rhimes, the force behind ABC’s “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” is also the author of “Year of Yes.”

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Shonda Rhimes took to the stage Monday night to deliver her wisdom to the masses, in a sit-down conversation with Los Angeles Times critic at large Sasha Frere-Jones.

The event, part of The Times’ Ideas Exchange, took place at Bovard Auditorium on the USC campus and centered around Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes,” released Nov. 10, which focuses on the television luminary’s attempt to become the type of person to say “yes” to opportunities that frightened her and how it revolutionized her life.

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The impetus for the book came from a conversation Rhimes had with one of her sisters in 2013, when, in response to the news that Rhimes would not be attending any fabulous Hollywood parties, her sister stated, “You never say yes to anything.”


It wasn’t until Rhimes was not asked, but informed, that she’d be seated with the Obamas at the Kennedy Center Honors that she realized that there may be a grain of truth in her sister’s accusation.

“When I got home, I realized that if they had asked me, I absolutely would have said no. The idea of doing something like that would have been overwhelming. And I would have missed what was an incredible experience that I was forced to have,” Rhimes recalled, “because if the President asks you to do something you’re not allowed to say no.”

Rhimes spoke repeatedly about worst-case scenarios she feared when entering social environments and offered some evidence of her own awkward ways.

“I’m the person who splits their pants and doesn’t notice the breeze for a really long time. I really, truly, went to a dinner party with the price tag on the back of my dress, so you not only know what I spent, but what size the dress is,” Rhimes quipped, adding, “I threw a chicken bone across the room at a dinner party onto somebody’s white carpet and then tried to pretend it wasn’t me.”

“I’m not a graceful person,” she said.

As far as her hit television shows go, Rhimes explained the importance that Cristina Yang (portrayed by Sandra Oh on “Grey’s Anatomy”) still plays in her life, despite the character’s departure from the series itself.

“I talk about my ‘ride or die’ group and it’s a very intense group of people. And one of the people on the list is Cristina Yang. And she doesn’t exist. And I don’t care.” Rhimes went on to explain that she eventually realized that she used the character to say the things she was always too afraid to say.

“She was test-driving the idea that maybe I don’t want to get married. She was test-driving the idea that you could be more excited about work than about being in a relationship. She was test-driving the idea that being powerful is interesting, much more interesting than a lot of things we’re supposed to want as women.”

But it’s not lost on Rhimes that saying “yes” is sometimes what gets people in trouble when they’re anxious to please others. When an audience-submitted question posed what a person should do when they say yes, no matter what the circumstances, Rhimes gave it to them straight: “You’re not actually saying ‘yes’ to everything. You’re just saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

With the evening winding down, Rhimes was asked if there was anything during her “year of yes” she regretted. She paused before answering.

“There’s no experience in there that I wish I hadn’t done,” Rhimes said. “I’m not a person who really believes in regrets, though. Why spend time worrying about something I can’t change?”

Follow me on Twitter at @midwestspitfire.


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