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OUT Pop Culture

'Station 19' stars reflect on the legacy of one of TV's most beloved lesbian romances

Danielle Savre and Stefania Spampinato, who play Maya Bishop and Dr. Carina DeLuca on the ABC series, look back on the evolution of their characters’ relationship.
Stefania Stampinato as Carina DeLuca and Danielle Savre as Maya Bishop in Station 19.
Stefania Spampinato, left, as Dr. Carina DeLuca and Danielle Savre as firefighter Maya Bishop in ABC's "Station 19."James Clark / ABC

Danielle Savre and Stefania Spampinato never expected that their characters, firefighter Maya Bishop and Dr. Carina DeLuca, would end up together on “Station 19.”

In the third season of ABC’s second “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, which follows the lives of a tight-knit group of firefighters at the Seattle Fire Department, Maya, then the captain of her firehouse, was at a crossroads in her personal life. A serial nonmonogamist afraid of commitment, she had just split with colleague Jack Gibson (Grey Damon) and was reluctant to jump into another relationship. One evening at the bar across from the fictional Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, Carina offered to buy Maya a drink, wanting to hear the story of how the fire captain ended up carrying a severed nose in a plastic bag to the hospital.

Savre and Spampinato both said they felt an ineffable electricity during the initial read and filming of that scene — where it’s implied at the end that the characters spend the night together — and now consider it one of their all-time favorites. The actors both credit former showrunner Krista Vernoff for transforming what could have been another routine fling for Maya into one of the most beloved lesbian relationships on television.

“The initial natural chemistry was something that was undeniable and wasn’t something that you can put on or fake, even if you are a great actor,” Spampinato told NBC News in an exclusive joint interview with Savre. “That was a big component that we naturally had, and then I feel like we both love our job, love our characters, and wanted to portray a relationship that was believable.”

Maya Bishop and Carina DeLuca kiss in a scene from Station19
The relationship between firefighter Maya Bishop and Dr. Carina DeLuca started in season three of "Station 19" and has continued through the seventh and final season of the series.Raymond Liu / ABC

In retrospect, Savre and Spampinato said they couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment when they realized that fans had latched on to Maya and Carina’s relationship — which fans have lovingly dubbed “Marina” — but they noticed a clear shift while shooting the fourth season in 2020, when their social media accounts began to see a spike in engagement.

“I think because people were at home, they couldn’t get out, and they were watching a lot more TV, we went inside people’s houses in a way that was different than prior to the pandemic,” Spampinato said. “Maybe that was also why people connected to these characters so much.”

The cast and crew wrapped production on the third season just before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and they returned to work later that summer under strict testing guidelines. In an attempt to limit exposure to the virus, the writers decided to pair actors up for more one-on-one scenes and keep them in a bubble, which Savre and Spampinato said accelerated the development of Maya and Carina’s relationship. That is why Spampinato, who had spent three seasons as a recurring character on “Grey’s Anatomy,” joined the “Station 19” cast full time in the fourth season.

“I actually remember thinking, ‘There’s no way that they’re going to make me a serious regular on a firefighter show because I’m a doctor. It doesn’t make sense.’ And then a few months later, they were like, ‘OK, you’re officially on ‘Station 19,’” Spampinato recalled with a laugh. “It’s because the relationship was so successful that they were like, ‘Yeah, let’s make it keep going.’”

In five seasons, Savre and Spampinato have played out the full arc of Maya and Carina’s tumultuous relationship: They decided to get married in the fourth season, began discussing their plans to start a family in the fifth and tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant using in vitro fertilization in the sixth. After briefly separating until Maya got professional help to address her underlying mental health issues, Maya and Carina decided to adopt a baby boy named Liam at the start of the seventh and final season. (The landmark 100th episode airs Thursday.)

Wedding scene
Dr. Carina DeLuca and firefighter Maya Bishop tied the knot in the season four finale of "Station 19."Ron Batzdorff / ABC

For Savre and Spampinato, who both felt it was “definitely about time” for Maya and Carina to enter motherhood, this storyline has carried a special significance. Back in her native Italy, Spampinato said same-sex couples are not allowed to undergo IVF, and she has a lot of queer friends “who have found so much joy and fulfillment” in the experience of adopting children.

“I’ve been through IVF to donate my eggs before, so I think it’s so important to tell this storyline,” said Savre, who, unlike Spampinato, wants children of her own one day. “I think they’ve done a beautiful job of portraying the IVF process with Carina in the past and the emotional ups and downs that you go on.”

The kind of attention that comes with portraying one of the few lesbian couples on network television where both characters are part of the main ensemble has not been without its challenges. Over the years, some fans have conflated Maya and Carina with the actors who play them. 

“When somebody is talented or is doing something that you like and admire, you tend to think that the artist is the person — and I think it’s very important to separate that,” Spampinato said.

Savre — who spoke publicly about her sexuality for the first time at a 2022 fan convention — said she and Spampinato have confided in and checked in with each other from time to time, especially when the rumor mill began to spin out of control about their real-life relationship.

“I remember Stefania and I were at our first convention, and we were like, ‘Guys, we are not dating. We care for each other, we support each other and we love doing scenes together, but we are not together,’” Savre said with a laugh. “The reason I love to do the conventions with the fans is because you get to meet these people that these characters had such an impact on, but they actually get to see you as a person instead of just the character.” 

Maya is rushed to Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital due to a medical emergency.
Maya Bishop is rushed to Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital — where her wife, Dr. Carina DeLuca, works — due to a medical emergency in season six of "Station 19."Eric McCandless / ABC

Since ABC announced in December that the seventh season of “Station 19” would be its last, some of those fans have launched an ardent campaign to save the show, with an online petition garnering over 85,000 signatures

“The fans came out and were like, ‘We aren’t going anywhere,’ which is amazing,” Savre acknowledged, “and sadly I’m starting to get the feeling that ABC’s not going to save it, but I’m trying to hold out hope.”

Although they are both “grateful” that the writers were given enough notice to avoid leaving any cliffhangers in the seventh and final season, Savre and Spampinato said the cancellation came as a shock to them and their colleagues, who were already in the middle of shooting the season’s first episode and preparing for the second. 

“It felt like an ice bucket in our faces,” Spampinato said.

The writers, who had already sketched out the season’s 10 episodes, had to pivot in a matter of days. 

“They basically had eight episodes to wrap up these storylines, and I think they’re doing a brilliant job with what they were given,” Savre said.

In the case of Maya and Carina, that meant accelerating the timeline slightly to show their early experiences with motherhood, rather than prolonging their struggles to start a family. 

“If this season wasn’t our final season, this would’ve played out differently. The writers told us it would’ve played out differently,” Savre said. “I know that we were drawing out these storylines, but there was a world where the payoff in the end would’ve been amazing — and I think this payoff is great, too.”

Spampinato added that the “writers are really trying so hard to fit in these 10 episodes everything we wish for, everything the audience wishes for, everything they wish for.”

“They’re trying to make everybody happy. I hope that comes through on the screen and people enjoy and appreciate it,” she said.

Savre, who was taking a break from shooting the series finale “in the wilderness” to complete this interview, teased that the characters don’t necessarily have “happy endings, but satisfying endings.”

“In reality, these characters will live on, so we’re not like, ‘They got everything they wanted at the end of the season.’ It’s more like we’re laying the groundwork for that,” she said. “These people are in a good place and their futures look bright, and that’s where we’ll leave the fans, who then can fill in the blanks themselves.”

But are the actors themselves happy with where their characters end up in the finale? “We’re just sad it’s ending, but given that, I think we’ll be happy,” Spampinato said, with Savre adding that she likes the fact that the ending is “not finite.”

Dr. Carina DeLuca and firefighter Maya Bishop adopt a baby boy, Liam, at the start of the seventh and final season of "Station 19."
Dr. Carina DeLuca and firefighter Maya Bishop adopt a baby boy, Liam, at the start of the seventh and final season of "Station 19."James Clark / ABC

The end of “Station 19,” however, does mean the closing of one of the most significant chapters of the actors’ lives. For Savre, whose real-life sister Stephanie works for the Los Angeles Fire Department, being able to represent the less than 5% of career firefighters who are women has been one of the greatest honors of her career.

“Representing a queer woman on television who went through ups and downs, who found love, who came from a rough childhood with an abusive father — I have been given so many amazing storylines to play in seven years that sometimes I’m in awe of what they’ve actually given me to portray,” Savre said. “Whether it was being a strong woman in a male-dominated industry, coming out to your parents, dealing with mental health issues, deciding if you want to have a child … I’ve been so grateful with every storyline and so scared to not screw it up, because I know how important the representation is for all of these things.”

Prior to joining the “Grey’s Anatomy” franchise, Spampinato said she felt she had been relegated to playing more one-dimensional characters who were used as nothing more than comedic relief. But on “Station 19,” she said, “what I’ve loved the most is the chance to play a character, aside from being Italian, that has a job, that falls in love, that has a family, that argues.” Given that Italy’s right-wing government is planning to roll back LGBTQ people’s rights, she added, it has been especially important to her to play an openly bisexual Italian woman.

The actors both said they will particularly miss the ease with which they’ve been able to build their on-screen relationship. 

“A lot of times, actors don’t get along and butt heads, especially with love interests, and you’re like, ‘Oh, God, I have to make out with this person. I have to pretend.’ It’s never felt like that with Stefania ever — not once,” Savre said. “We care for each other. We support each other. I think we’ve been each other’s champions.”

While “Station 19” will be wrapping up its run in May, ABC recently renewed “Grey’s Anatomy” for a 21st season, extending its record as the longest-running prime-time medical drama of all time. Of all the characters on “Station 19,” Maya and Carina seem like two of the most likely to pop up on “Grey’s,” given that the latter still works at the fictional hospital.

Asked if either of them would be open to reprising their roles in the future, Savre and Spampinato agreed that if “Grey’s” showrunner Meg Marinis or Shonda Rhimes’ production company Shondaland came calling with an offer, they would both jump at the opportunity to return in any capacity.

“Of course we’re open to it. If we said, ‘No, there’s no chance, we’re never going to work together again,’ I feel like we’d get death threats,” Savre joked. “This is an industry that 100% is not in our control. But listen, if ABC or Shondaland came to us and was like, ‘We want a ‘Marina’ spinoff where you guys live on a boat and a marina,’ we would be like, ‘Yes!’”

The final season of “Station 19” airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC. Episodes can also be streamed on Hulu.

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