Giacomo Gianniotti on 'Bittersweet' Grey's Anatomy Departure: 'I'll Dearly Miss' Dr. DeLuca
"It's been a joy to go through those ups and downs with him," Giacomo Gianniotti tells PEOPLE of his Grey's Anatomy character, Dr. Andrew DeLuca
In an interview with PEOPLE, the 31-year-old actor — who first appeared as DeLuca in 2015, and died on the operating table during this week's episode — recalls the moment he found out his beloved character was going to die, what it was like filming the heartbreaking scene, and whether or not fans of the long-running ABC medical drama will see DeLuca again.
"Krista Vernoff and Debbie Allen told me that they had been working on a storyline for quite some time, that they had come to a fork in the road, and that it was a very hard debate," Gianniotti says. "They wanted to tell the best story and really honor everything that was going on and the storyline that the episode would end with DeLuca's demise."
"As tragic and as sad as that is, it was a way to have him highlighted as a noble character," he adds. "[He] went down fighting for what he believed in."
Gianniotti says he has no regrets, because he loves "the story that we told."
"And I think DeLuca goes off in an amazing way," he continued. "In the beginning of the season we see him get ahold of his mental illness, he's taking care of himself. He's been listening to his friends and colleagues. He did the work. He's just getting his life together and dealing with his demons. I only wish that we could've seen more of what DeLuca could've done and what he could've accomplished. That's the only thing that is bittersweet for me. It's been a joy to go through those ups and downs with him. I'll dearly miss him."
In a statement posted on Twitter Thursday, showrunner Vernoff explained the thought process behind killing off one of the show's major characters and thanked Gianniotti for bringing "so much talent and so much heart to the role."
"We at Grey's Anatomy are grieving the death of this character with all of you," she wrote. "Giacomo played him so beautifully and took him on such a powerful journey — from intern, to romantic, to a mental health crisis and back again."
"Giacomo remains a member of our family not just in perpetuity but for more of this season. You will see him again. As actor and as director," she continued. "This is the story that demanded to be told. But sometimes we writers are just as grief stricken by the stories as you are. This is one of those times."
"Thank you Giacomo for your performance, your talent, your grace," she concluded.
During Thursday's episode, fans saw DeLuca come in and out of consciousness while visiting the same beach Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) has been experiencing during her dream sequences while battling COVID-19, and viewers knew the end was near.
During their emotional conversation, DeLuca saw his mom, who was calling out to him in the distance.
"I'll miss you," Grey told DeLuca. "If I go back and you don't, I'll miss you."
"You'll be okay, Meredith," he responded. "I have to go."
"A lot of that was saying goodbye, but I was also saying goodbye to Ellen and a lot of my cast mates at the same time," Gianniotti tells PEOPLE of filming that last scene. "I felt very connected to what DeLuca was going through because I, also, as an actor and as a human, was saying goodbye to all these people that I love. It was very easy to act that emotion."
And while fans continue to mourn the loss of DeLuca, Gianniotti — who is directing an upcoming episode of Grey's — says this hopefully isn't the last we'll see of his character.
"There's been a lot of characters that have come and gone throughout the years, but they're always kept alive in various moments, whether it's a dream or a text or a vision," he says. "I think through that we might see DeLuca in another form."
"He's not coming back in a real way, but in a way that will hopefully help us see him a little longer," he adds.
Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.
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