BONES Post-Mortem: Michael Grant Terry Talks About the Heartbreaking Wendell Twist in ‘Big in the Philippines’
January 17, 2014 by Marisa Roffman
[Major spoiler alert: This post contains big spoilers for the BONES episode "Big in the Philippines." If you have not seen the hour, please go watch that first, and then come back to read this interview.]
On tonight’s episode of BONES, a seemingly routine sports injury ended up revealing a much more heartbreaking reality: when Brennan was baffled by Wendell’s newly broken arm, she dug around and realized he actually had a rare form of bone cancer.
I spoke with Michael Grant Terry (Wendell) about finding out about his character’s new arc, his hopes for this storyline, and more…
How did they tell you Wendell would be facing cancer?
Michael Grant Terry: I actually got an email from [BONES creator] Hart [Hanson] a couple weeks before the episode that said, “Don’t panic,” and I’d be getting cancer in the next episode. Which was nice to hear, to get a pre-emptive strike on it. And when I got the script, it was beautiful, and I was really excited [BONES star] David [Boreanaz] was directing. I think it’s my fourth episode working with him [that way], and he’s just lovely to work with as a director.
How was it filming the scene where Booth and Brennan told Wendell about his disease?
MGT: We kind of collectively decided — David’s an actor’s director, so he asked me what I need and wanted from the scene. And none of us really wanted to rehearse that scene; it was very quiet on set. The crew is great, they’re all cooperative and attentive to the actors’ needs, and we all decided we didn’t want to rehearse it, we didn’t want to overdo it, so we wanted to focus on the scene so we could be true with the emotions, and there with each other. We’ve all worked together for five years, so it was very key to have those relationships, both because we care about that person as an actor, but also as a character. I didn’t know what Emily was going to give me in that scene, and seeing Dr. Brennan cry completely blew me away, as Wendell and as myself. It was wonderful to feed off of that. It was not a lot of work other than to feed off of that, and to have a proper reaction to that.
Whenever Brennan cries, I definitely feel like the audience is always thrown a little bit.
MGT: Oh yeah. Wendell has never seen her cry, so I was like, “What?” It almost made me as Wendell try to be stronger. I think a lot of that was him keeping his emotions at bay, like, it’s there, obviously, but he’s not going to let himself go…I think Wendell feels if he lets that emotion come, he won’t be able to recover from it.
That makes sense. When Hart told you about the cancer, did he tell you Wendell would seriously consider not getting treatment?
MGT: No, I only got the actual details about it when I got the script. When I first read it, that’s when I got to see those different levels; those different stages you go through of grief, and denial, and hope, and running away from it, and fear, and anger. And I think that just plays into one of those levels of that: I’m just going to run away from this and let it play out and see stuff I’ve never seen — especially for Wendell, who hasn’t seen that much of the world because of financial issues, I think that almost made sense to him. That made sense to Dr. Brennan, too. The world is a beautiful place, [he] should go see it.
From what we saw in the episode, Booth, Brennan, and Cam know Wendell is sick. How do you think this will impact the his relationships with Hodgins, Angela, and the rest of the squinterns?
MGT: I don’t know, but from what I can guess, based on the friendship between Wendell and Hodgins, this is going to be a big deal for them. And that’s only me taking a guess, because I don’t know for sure. I would hope that it would really challenge their friendship and make it stronger.
Same with Angela [with] the past they’ve had together. And the other squinterns as well, if they do bring them into the mix.
I’m excited to see how that grows, because we’ve only just started to tap into that one piece of the friendship with Booth and Wendell. When something like this happens, your friends lift you up, and come together for you. I would wager a big guess that Hodgins will be there as a big rock for Wendell.
BONES boss Stephen Nathan told me that how Wendell is doing will be discussed on-screen before you come back. Have your cast mates filled you in on what’s been said?
MGT: [Laughs] No, not yet, but I’m sure I will gather that information before my next episode rather than come in with my own ideas and act that way and have them be far from the truth.
Fair! Is there something you do hope you get to do or get to experience while playing this arc?
MGT: I really hope to do it justice; to do the disease justice. I really think this is an important disease to bring awareness to, and I really want to make sure it’s done with grace and integrity. I really would like to show how hard this is for someone and how hard this is for millions of people to have it. That’s my biggest thing. My biggest thing for this episode was handling finding out you have cancer with integrity and grace. My thing now is continuing that throughout the arc, and my hope is I get to put my stamp on that, and really bring awareness to it. Because I think it’s tragic, and we all do have people in our lives that have suffered from cancer in one form or another, and it’s so heartbreaking.
Have they given you an idea of when you’ll come back? Or are you just waiting for the next script to arrive?
MGT: I’m still waiting for the next script to arrive. I know it will be soon.
Have they given you a hint about where this arc might ultimately going? Or are you in the dark and waiting to see where the cards fall?
MGT: I think they’re waiting to see where the cards fall. I think [Hart's] “don’t worry” was a “you’re not going to die in that episode.” [Laughs] A “you’re not dying in this episode that we’re writing.”
I don’t want to know, because I think it’s better for me to not know where it’s going to go, because Wendell wouldn’t know, obviously. I think it’s better for me to just get the scripts and not necessarily know what my arc is going to be. So, I don’t know, and I’m not actively seeking the answer for that.
That absolutely makes sense, especially since you’ve been keeping busy with so many other guest spots.
MGT: Mainly horrible bad guys. Wendell was my nice happy place I could go to, and now he’s not so happy anymore! But it’s exciting to keep coming back to [BONES]; it’s such a wonderful cast and crew. Such wonderful producers, and directors, and writers. It’s a great place to come back to, and now to have this arc on top of that is exciting as well.
What’s most fun about being an actor is not knowing where the next step is. I revel in the fact I don’t know where this is going to go for Wendell. And I don’t think the audience would want to know, either; they should always be on their toes, and not really be sure what’s coming for the characters at all.
I feel you’re going to get a lot of tweets coming your way once they’ve seen it, probably pretty distraught about what he’s going through.
MGT: Yeah! You don’t know [while watching the episode] what the outcome is going to be. It kind of leads you down the path that I’m leaving, that he’s out of there. That last scene is really beautiful when he makes the choice to not give up and to be remembered as someone who fights and fought back.
A lot of it stems from — and this was just a little tiny thing that was in the first episode I was in — but Wendell mentions his father died from cancer, and I think that’s very important to note for his character. To have that close relationship with your father who died of the same disease you’re getting, really, I think is something he thought about a lot, and made him decide he won’t go down without a fight. It’s an injustice to my father, it’s an injustice to everybody else out there and all my friends and all my loved ones.
Be honest…did you tear up at tonight’s episode? What do you hope comes from this new chapter in Wendell’s life?
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