Saturday night at the Garden of Palms retirement home, West Hollywood. Half a dozen gray heads look up lazily from a card table as the glass doors blow open. In strolls Ellen Pompeo, two globe vases of roses in her hands—refugees from a friend's gallery opening. "We had a party and we had so many flowers left over and we just wanted to bring them over!" she announces to the wrinkly residents.
Pompeo would prefer this little display of goodwill not make it into the record—"You're going to make me look like Mother Teresa," she says. "It's not sexy!" But Luke Wilson's backlit love interest in Old School needn't worry about her sexual stock suddenly getting delisted, especially not this spring, when she becomes Meredith Grey, the pristine face of ABC's new medical drama Grey's Anatomy. The show follows a group of well-moisturized young sawbones as they slog through the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital's cutthroat surgical-residency program. On her first day as a doctor, Pompeo's character wakes up from a night of anonymous sofa sex, politely tells her boss where to stuff it, and diagnoses a mysterious aneurysm to save a girl's life—all while looking huggable in scrubs.
"She just has this great quiet bubbliness that makes it possible to believe that this is a surgeon and a person who doesn't know what she's doing at the same time," says Shonda Rhimes, the show's creator. "She's a charm."
That's the thing about Pompeo. She's nice. Scary nice. Recycles-roses-for-the-aged nice. Of course, the only thing more dangerous than being nice in Hollywood is being called nice—and then believing the hype.
Sitting on the edge of her chair at Joan's on Third, one of her favorite L.A. quick-bites, Pompeo can hardly find time for the neat squares of chicken Milanese she has cut on her plate. She can't stop talking about her new life as a medical maven—her recent trip to the morgue and the surgeries she has watched.
"The fact that they can take your heart out and rest it in a bowl of ice and, you know, shut your brain off," Pompeo says. "Medicine is so fascinating."