10 Actors Who Got Permanent Roles After Guest Starring

Grey’s Anatomy began its nineteenth season on October 6, 2022, but the main focus has been on preparing for the expected departure of main star Ellen Pompeo. While the actor’s departure is a huge blow to the series, there may only be guest stars who can take on roles as part of the main cast if the past is any indication.

Many cast members started out as guest stars, from Eric Dane’s turn as Mark Sloan to Caterina Scorsone’s upgrade after initially appearing as a guest star on the show’s spin-off. It’s worth examining how these actors got their start with their characters and what propelled their roles into the top category.

Anthony Hill

Winston Ndugu laughing on Grey's Anatomy

Anthony Hill guest-starred as a former love interest in a single episode of Season 16, playing Winston Ndugu. Winston’s role was to create doubts in Maggie’s mind about being spontaneous with romance, although their relationship is left on ambiguous terms.

Hill was then promoted to a series regular role starting the next season, with Winston moving to Seattle to be with Maggie. The character’s importance shifted from a cameo appearance to Maggie’s husband becoming part of the current crop of regulars.

Scott Speedman

Nick Marsh smiling on Grey's Anatomy

It took Scoot Speedman three years before his appearance as Nick Marsh turned into a lead role. The character appeared in Season 14 as a patient at Gray Sloan Memorial whose life was saved by Meredith, planting the seeds for their later romance.

Nick resurfaced years later, this time pursuing Meredith for a real relationship that ended with the character getting a job at Gray Sloan Memorial. Speedman’s jump to a regular role is even more interesting considering Meredith will be leaving the series while Nick is expected to remain.

jason george

Ben Warren talking on the phone on Grey's Anatomy

The case of Jason George is special in that he started out as a recurring before becoming a guest, which then turned into a regular spot. The character of Ben Warren was Bailey’s love interest in the sixth season, until she broke up with him in the following season premiere.

George only had a guest role in Season 7 before leaving the show for over a year. The actor returned in season eight, this time being upgraded once again to a recurring capacity. It wasn’t until season 12 that George was promoted to the main cast, five years had passed since he appeared in a guest role.

Chyler Leigh

Lexie Gray looking right on Grey's Anatomy

Lexie quickly became a fan favorite. Grey’s Anatomy character, even if she was a bit annoying, as her bubbly personality was hard to resist. She became a series regular once Season 4 began, but Chyler Leigh’s first appearance on the series was as a guest star.

This happened in the final episode of season three, where Leigh made her screen debut when Lexie introduced herself to George. Her guest appearance certainly packs a punch, as the reveal that she was Meredith’s sister was big enough for her to be promoted from the next episode.

Kelly McCreary

Maggie Pierce looking left on Grey's Anatomy

Kelly McCreary had a series entry similar to that of Chyler Leigh, arriving towards the end of the tenth season before becoming a main cast member in the next. Maggie was introduced as Meredith’s long-lost sister, who arrived at Gray Sloan Memorial as one of the new doctors.

McCreary’s guest role was intended to create a buzz, as her character wasn’t just another Meredith sister in Grey’s AnatomyBut she was also the daughter of Richard Webber. McCreary didn’t have to wait long to be promoted to regular status, which she has held for nearly a decade.

Kate Walsh

Addison looks to the right on Grey's Anatomy

Kate Walsh had perhaps the most iconic appearance of any actor on the series when Addison arrived in Grey’s Anatomy to ruin Meredith and Derek’s relationship. Some of it was very brief, appearing in the closing moments of the season one finale.

Addison’s revelation that she was Derek’s ex-wife shook the series to its core, with such important information serving as a springboard for Walsh to be one of the main cast of the season two premiere. As far as guest appearances go, Walsh is still unrivaled in the impact he brought.

Eric Dane

Mark Sloan looking to the future on Grey's Anatomy

Eric Dane was one of the first actors to appear in one season and then be promoted to regular status in the next. Mark was hyped even before he appeared as the one responsible for breaking up Addison and Derek’s marriage, appearing midway through the second season.

Dane had memorable interactions with the characters of Patrick Dempsey and Kate Walsh, with that chemistry leading to the actor’s permanent role on the series. Dane stayed with Grey’s Anatomy for over half a decade before calling it quits in season nine with Mark’s death.

Brooke Smith

Erica Hahn looking up in Grey's Anatomy Cropped

Brooke Smith had an on-again, off-again role as Erica Hahn for two seasons, until she became a mainstay in the fourth. Hahn appeared as a consulting physician in Season 2, performing the same role the following year, before accepting a position at Seattle Grace.

Her character’s progression meant that Brooke Smith’s initial guest star status was upgraded to a regular, with Hahn getting her own storylines with Callie from Sara Ramirez. Unfortunately, the novel was negatively received by Grey’s Anatomy fans, with Smith written out of the show in Season 5.

Caterina Scorson

Amelia Shepherd looks left on Grey's Anatomy

Caterina Scorsone is another actress who has had a unique trajectory to become a main cast member. Scorsone was featured in the spin-off Private office as a regular before appearing as a guest star on Grey’s Anatomy in the same year, when Amelia visited her brother.

Scorsone returned to the main series after Private office‘s conclusion, initially reprising her guest role until Amelia becomes a permanent fixture in Meredith’s life. Scorsone’s cross between Private office and Grey’s Anatomy proved to be fruitful, as she’s been playing the role for over a decade now.

Kevin McKidd

Owen Hunt in military uniform on Grey's Anatomy

Unlike most of his other castmates, Kevin McKidd became a series regular the same season he was introduced as a guest star. Owen Hunt appeared in the season five premiere, where Sandra Oh’s romantic sparks with Cristina Yang were well received.

McKidd’s character had taken off after his debut, only to return as part of the new hospital staff several episodes later. McKidd is a prime example of how making an impact as a guest star can quickly lead to a bigger role, with the actor now one of the series’ longest-serving stars after more than 14 years.

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