Celebrity For Midori Francis, 'Grey’s Anatomy' Is a Full-Circle Moment The newest series regular gets candid about Sandra Oh’s influence, representation, and how she dealt with the fake blood on set. By Tessa Petak Tessa Petak Instagram Tessa Petak is a Brooklyn-based writer who helps to cultivate InStyle's illustrious news coverage across a wide range of topics including celebrity, fashion, and entertainment. She also produces and composes celebrity profiles and features for the site and InStyle's digital issues. InStyle's editorial guidelines Published on October 20, 2022 @ 09:01AM Pin Share Tweet Email Watching Grey’s Anatomy is one of Midori Francis’s core memories, but believe it or not, she wasn’t tuning in every week for McDreamy or McSteamy (like the rest of us). As a young Asian actress, Francis cites Sandra Oh — who played the electric Dr. Cristina Yang for 10 seasons — as one of the first powerful Asian women she remembers seeing on TV and the reason her family loved the show. “It was a big deal to see an Asian actor on screen at that time in prime time who didn't just have a few lines, but was a huge part of the plot and was so messy,” Francis says. Back when the show premiered in 2005, it was rare to see Asian women portrayed as multi-faceted leading characters — until Oh came along. Francis was drawn to Dr. Yang’s ferocity and passion, but she also admired how Oh refused to be placed in a stereotypical box. “I've been rewatching some of [Grey’s], and she's just so committed and feral and skilled,” Francis says of Oh’s performance, which changed the landscape of television and created a space for all women on the screen. “I remember when I was younger, she was a lot of my friends' favorite character, and that was so cool to me. That's honestly a big part of my connection to the show.” So, landing a role on the long-running hospital drama is a full-circle moment for Francis. With this new character, Francis builds on Oh’s legacy as one of the interns at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. She plays Dr. Mika Yasuda, a scrappy young doctor-in-training who takes on the class-clown persona, but actually has a fierce passion for her job. Jonny Marlow Karen Fukuhara Has Always Had a Voice “Even if she's not wearing it on her sleeve, Mika's making a lot of sacrifices to be here,” Francis explains. “She makes jokes and tries to play it cool. I think that's more underneath everything. She's working really hard and really cares about this, and I relate to that very much.” In addition to Francis, the Shonda Rhimes-produced show added four series regulars to shake things up, including Alexis Floyd (Inventing Anna, The Bold Type), Niko Terho, Adelaide Kane, and Harry Shum Jr. (Glee). The “kids” (the nickname affectionately given to the new cast members on set) make mistakes and learn valuable lessons at their new workplace, not unlike the actors playing them. And while understanding healthcare lingo has a bit of a learning curve, Francis credits the veterans of the show — like Chandra Wilson (who plays Dr. Miranda Bailey) and Ellen Pompeo — for helping the rookies feel comfortable. “The OG cast has been so down to earth about everything,” Francis gushes. “Chandra Wilson was giving us tricks about how to memorize big doctor words. And so I was like, ‘OK, if you are telling us that, that's something that you still think about — then clearly it's OK if we struggle with it.’” Portraying a healthcare professional is new territory for Francis, but she’s already accustomed to shattering glass ceilings, much like her predecessor Sandra Oh. Francis starred in the book-turned-Netflix-series Dash & Lily in 2020 as the titular Lily, a shy teenage New Yorker who falls in love with a mysterious boy via a journal passed around in a magical NYC winter wonderland. And last year, Francis appeared in the acclaimed HBO show The Sex Lives of College Girls as the queer, women’s center leader Alicia, who strikes up a steamy romance with a closeted Leighton (Reneé Rapp). While the industry has seen progress in diversity and inclusion since Oh’s first days on Grey’s, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Francis is one of the trailblazers moving the needle and representing strong young Asian women. “I think that the more that we can show all different types of people falling in love, making mistakes, being attached to the plot — when they become the main character, you're forced to empathize with them,” she explains. “If it's placing somebody in a corner into this small role, like a queer person and an Asian person, it's very easy to keep whatever idea or bias you have against them in your head. I think it's [about] just building these strong bonds of empathy between all of us.” Read on to learn about Francis’s on-set experience, how she deals with all the (fake) blood, and if she’ll be returning for season 2 of The Sex Lives of College Girls. ABC Arden Cho Says Tackling Workplace Misogyny Is Like Fighting Crime How did it feel joining such an iconic show as a new cast member? Was there any pressure? It's crazy to be on a show that I watched in middle school with my mom and my friends. And then, it's crazy that it's still on the air. And then, it's also crazy that now I'm on it. It's weird. I think for sure [there’s] pressure. But I will say [everyone] has been very welcoming. The fact that there are five new cast members, they've never done this before. They've never added five new series regulars who are interns before, off the bat. So, there's a clear commitment and investment in us. There was definitely pressure on day one coming in and just learning. They've been doing this for a long time, so on the first day a lot of us were, honestly, still learning to take off gloves and put them back on. There were a lot of medical props we had to get used to, but I will say the cast has been so welcoming. The fact that we all have each other (the new interns and I), it's been really fun. It's been more fun than I think I anticipated, actually. Obviously, the blood, bodies, and O.R. are all pretend for the show, but did you get squeamish at all? Were there any super intense scenes? I am low-key a little squeamish. We had our first medical bootcamp with Linda Klein and Michael Metzner. They're both real-life nurses and they work with the show. They asked us the first week if anyone was squeamish, and I just flat out did not raise my hand. Because I can't be, I'm playing a doctor! And I will say, so far, because I'm in character and everything is fake, I've been fine. What are some other shows that you grew up watching that are as iconic as Grey’s? And if they did a reboot, which would you want to be in? I loved Friends, obviously. And when I was a kid, I always said, "They can reboot it, and Ross could have had a secret marriage and a daughter that he didn't know about. And that I'm the daughter.” What was it like working with Ellen Pompeo and the Grey’s cast? It was amazing. First of all, Ellen gave all the new cast members this beautiful succulent plant. It was the biggest plant filled with succulents I've seen in my entire life. I can't even carry it myself to my car, so it's still in my trailer. Because she's an executive producer now and not just the star, she's also behind the scenes and on the email chains. And so she gave us such a warm welcome. It was amazing. She was so generous. And I remember every one of the OG actors has a piece of advice, but hers was largely to keep it fun. I think they're hearkening back a lot to the earlier seasons right now. Not repeating anything, but putting in this new fresh blood and invigorating the show. It's already amazing. But up until the last season, it was primarily doctors who had been there for so long, so not a lot of mistakes were happening. They were all so good. Now you have five new interns, mistakes are plentiful, and I think that's where the comedy is. So, actually, it's been a lot more fun than I think I imagined. How did you prepare for this role, and do you feel like you relate to Mika and her journey at all? Having these little pieces of Mika's backstory is really helpful for me. I think, similarly, Mika is steeped in student loans. I imagine it's working more jobs outside of just being a resident, which other people might not have to do. And she comes in to work every day, putting in all of these sacrifices. So, I think that she takes this very seriously. You have to love it so much, and you have to want it so much to put yourself through those things. I think I'm a person who's definitely gone through a lot, made a lot of sacrifices, and has fallen down a lot to get to where I am now. And I don't take anything for granted — any opportunity I have, any scene I have. This season is a lot about second chances. Can you explain a time in your life when you were given a second chance or if you've given somebody else one? I had a lot of internal struggles, mental health struggles, as a young person. And I feel that I was often given the opportunity or just a stroke of luck by meeting the right mentor at the right time in my life. Sometimes, you don't always get that, but if you're lucky enough to have that when you struggle, that can be the thing that pushes you. I'm very aware that I was given, at times, a second chance, or just extra meetings with people who see the thing that's worth fighting for. And so I definitely feel without that mentorship, without people encouraging me, giving me second chances, or teaching me the way, I definitely wouldn't be where I am. In that sense, I think I have a lot of compassion and I really root for people who struggle because that's where their true victory is. To me, that's where all the interesting stories are. On The Sex Lives of College Girls you play Alicia, an LGBTQ advocate who goes on to date Leighton. Why is it important to have these diverse love stories portrayed on television? I can't even count the amount of DM requests from people, and I'm still navigating actually what’s the appropriate way to respond. But the amount of people who've reached out being like, "I'm 20, and I was scared to come out, and I did," or "I'm still struggling to come out to my parents, but seeing you on screen," or "I'm an Asian person who's also queer." I think we take the importance of it for granted sometimes, like, "Oh, we've come so far, so therefore it's easy." But I think that there are so many ways where it's not easy to be in the minority, whether that's sexuality or gender. And I think that when you see these examples on TV, it's like, "Oh, here's an example of somebody else doing it and this is what it could look like." Or "Mom, look at this thing." It brings it into people's living rooms, in a way that helps normalize it. Personally, I would love to see more stories where it's not only focused on the struggle, but also the joy. I think a lot of the times when kids come out to their parents, one of the first things that parents still feel or I hear them saying is like, "Well, I just don't want it to be hard for you." And when you really break that down, you are also helping that narrative by even bringing into the room that it's going to be hard. And I understand because we often see stories of struggle, but I think there's also something to be said about, well, what if it also could be beautiful or fun? Or instead of focusing on the struggle, it's like, "Great, there are so many fish in the sea, and it's going to be fun to watch you date." There's so many ways of switching that [narrative], so that when kids come out, it doesn't have to be so focused on the problems. Will Alicia be returning for season 2? Yeah. Why do you feel like it's important to have more people of color in these romantic leads, like in Dash & Lily? When Dash & Lily came out, I think, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before was one of the first mainstream American rom-coms starring an Asian woman. And Dash & Lily came out very shortly after that. So, I think because we're not used to seeing it, once we see it once or twice, we're like, "Oh wow, it's happening all over the place." But, when you look at the numbers, think about how many rom-coms come out every year, not that many are as diverse as they could be. But everyone deserves love and everyone deserves the full breadth of the human experience. SMALL TALK Who is your first celebrity crush? Everyone in the movie the Labyrinth. Are you into astrology? What is your sign? Aries. Fire sign but I love water. What was your last binge-watch? Watching Severance right now. Which celebrity have you been the most starstruck to meet or work with? Cate Blanchett What's your favorite Y2K trend? Frappuccinos and oversized sunglasses. What is one beauty product you cannot live without? DermaFix! Do you believe in ghosts? What is one spooky experience you've had? No, but I'm down to see a ghost and be proven wrong. Sounds fun! Photographer: Jonny Marlow. Creative Director: Jenna Brillhart.