By Stacy Jenel Smith
Beautiful, 25-year-old "Grey's Anatomy" newbie Chyler Leigh
was in a public restroom the week after her first, very brief appearance on the mega hit show, washing her hands and minding her own business, when "the girl next to me says, 'Oh my gosh! You're on 'Grey's Anatomy!' You play Lexie!' She goes to reach out for my hand and I say, 'I'm just going to dry my hands first, okay?' She was very sweet, but it was awkward," Leigh recalls with a laugh.
"Normally I can just get away with walking down the street in my glasses and ponytail - I don't really dress up or anything. I don't get recognized that much. Once in a while. But within a week and a half of the 'Grey's Anatomy' finale I got recognized five times, twice in public restrooms. It's been nothing creepy, but a lot of people have said, 'Oh, I think you're a great actress, but I hate your character.' I've been on for about two and a half minutes, and I'm hated! So I hope to redeem that in this season."
Leigh is playing Dr. Lexie Grey, Harvard-trained half sister of Meredith (Ellen Pompeo). She was first seen trying to pick up Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) in Joe's bar, the wench!
With Kate Walsh
having moved on to her own "Private Practice" and Isaiah Washington having parted company with the "Grey's" team, Leigh was made an official series regular for season four, which is set to launch Sept. 27.
With a bright, effervescent demeanor adding an undeniable charm to her knockout looks, she's a shoo-in for It Girl status very soon. Leigh is aware, "I'm still in that space of, 'Yeah, okay. Life's pretty normal,' but once it starts airing I think life is going to change a little bit. But I'm looking forward to it."
Unlike other It Girls, Leigh comes complete with a husband, actor Nathan West, and two children - Noah and Taelyn. "They don't really get it yet," she says of her TV star status. "My son is three and a half, and my daughter is 10 months. My son still trips out when he sees mommy or daddy on screen, and then he tries to figure out, 'How can you be there if you're here?'"
Her husband is supportive and proud, according to Leigh. "7th Heaven" fans might remember Nathan and Chyler playing Frankie and Johnnie, the troubled friends of Mary Camden (Jessica Biel), in 2000.
The Charlotte, North Carolina-born actress grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia and Miami, Florida. It was while she was in eighth grade in Miami that she started modeling, then moved into commercials and a syndicated teen news show called "Hall Pass." Then it was on to Hollywood and acting roles.
Leigh's other credits range from the 2001 "Not Another Teen Movie" and its accompanying Marilyn Manson "Tainted Love" music video - to the short-lived "That '80s Show," in which she played a punk rocker named June Tuesday. She was also in the series "Reunion," and "Girls Club." She earned her Celebrity Babe stripes when named No. 65 on Maxim's Hot 100 Women of 2002.
As far as how it's been going to work on the "Grey's" set, she says, "It's always a little intimidating when you go into an established show, because you don't really know what to expect, and everybody already has established relationships. You kind of feel like the new kid in school - that kind of awkward, horrible feeling at first. But everybody has been so welcoming and so gracious and it's been so wonderful They've been congratulatory and equally excited about me being there as I am about being there. So it's really been phenomenal, it really has."
Now, just wait for Sept. 27 - when she'll be riding the wave of fame. "Oh, yeah, big time," says Leigh, smiling. "I'm just going to ride it out and see where it takes me."