Dr. Jackson Avery arrived at Seattle Grace Hospital when it merged with Mercy West Hospital last season on GREY’S ANATOMY. The surgical resident survived the shootout in the season finale and has been making waves all through this past season. It may tell you something about the appeal of Jesse Williams, the actor who portrays Jackson, that on GREEK, he played a character known as “the Hotness Monster.” Williams is adept at playing nonchalant, too – when someone comments that he’s created quite a stir on GREY’S ANATOMY, Williams responds innocently, “Oh, have I?”
The former high school teacher was previously on the TV series BEYOND THE BREAK and in the films THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2 and BROOKLYN’S FINEST with Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke. Here he talks about his work on GREY’S ANATOMY and in the finally-scheduled-for-release theatrical film CABIN IN THE WOODS.
ASSIGNMENT X: Have you done any research into being a doctor for the part?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I do some reading, I’m reading a couple books about young surgeons, about surgery, about hospital life, about those hours, and I grew up kind of watching off and on those surgeries on public access on TV. They would show heart surgeries and brain surgeries, just on some random channel you’d skip through. And usually, you’re grossed out, but I wasn’t. I’m not squeamish; I’m fascinated by the whole process.
AX: How is it speaking all the medical jargon?
WILLIAMS: Sometimes that’s tough. I think what’s equally tough is the choreography, because we’re doing a lot of precise medical moves, and we’re “Close that aorta,” “Get through the sutures.” We have doctors on our set that come in and correct you. I could save your life right now [laughs].
AX: Season Six ended with a series of literal big bangs, in the form of gunshots. How was that finale to shoot? Were you worried that your character might not survive?
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. That whole season was week by week, “I don’t know if I have a job next week.” Remember, I signed on to do it for three episodes, in and out. I was looking for the next job, and they wrote me into the next one. And the next one. And then I got a small part in the next one. I joked there was a performance-based contract. Like an athlete or something. [The Season Six finale had] excitement, but it was also bittersweet. I mean, these [actors playing characters who got killed] are buddies of mine. Robert Baker is a tremendous actor, hilarious, a nice guy and Nora Zehetner – I mean, we all came in together, we all literally had our first day on the job together, we are that class. So when you find out one isn’t going on – it was the luck of the draw, it could have been any one of us. We also feel kind of bad. But they’ll go on and do bigger and better things. What I like is that they finished with a bang. They really work with a lot of friends here. But they finished with tremendous performances. What’s nice is, Meredith’s character invited [Jackson and other survivors] into her home. So we stayed with them for a little while. It’s kind of a nice symbolism, I think, and as a fan of GREY’S from the early years, people staying under one roof.
[The Season Six finale] was kind of four levels of experience. Reading it was very tremendous and the most tenuous table read we’ve ever had. Everybody was hanging by the edge of their seats. Then you shoot it, and you get this adrenaline and you have an experience in this way with your coworkers. And then you watch it, and that’s a whole different ballgame. And then you get the fans’ reactions, which is something completely unexpected. I’ve heard just unanimous people loved it, and I think it opened it up to a great premiere this season.
AX: Before you were on GREY’S ANATOMY, you made CABIN IN THE WOODS, the horror movie written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, with Goddard directing and Whedon producing, which is finally supposed to be coming out via Lionsgate this October. How was it working on that film?
WILLIAMS: Those guys are terrific, Joss and Drew – they’re like kids in a candy store. We’re working with a lot of gory content, we’re working in Vancouver in the woods in the middle of the night in brutal conditions, and they’re so happy, they get so much joy, it transcends – it goes into us. It really was like summer camp. We loved the process, they had a great sense of humor and I think just terrific imaginations. So that was a big task. It was the first time I had a lead in a film, and was working on a film for three-and-a-half months or whatever, and gosh, they were a dream.
AX: Obviously, executive producer/creator Shonda Rhimes frowns on story spoilers, but can you tell us of any guest stars who may be coming up on GREY’S ANATOMY for the season finale or early next season?
WILLIAMS: We always have really wonderful guest stars, but I don’t know of anybody [specific[.
AX: You’ve got the summer hiatus coming up. What did you do during your previous hiatus?
WILLIAMS: I took a break. I traveled. I went to the World Cup in South Africa, I went all over South Africa. I saw four matches in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It was awesome. We had a great time. I was in France, I was in London – I just travel as much as possible, because otherwise, I just live in my trailer.
AX: Did you do any promotion for GREY’S while you were traveling?
WILLIAMS: I did some promotion in Cannes during the film festival. Huge fans out there, and I did one interview in Cape Town. It was tough during the World Cup, because the finale was airing [in South Africa] then, so the fans were extra-rabid. And I had no idea – I had expected to be totally anonymous out there, but they treated me like I was freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio. It was absurd.