Jesse Williams sat down with the folks at The Hollywood Reporter to talk about his decision to leave Grey’s Anatomy this month, and the actor who played Dr. Jackson Avery says his exit felt “organic.”
About why he chose to leave the show, he said:
It came up this season. It was a combination of trying to figure out with Krista and the team what makes sense and what’s next for Jackson. His pot is kind of bubbling over. What does he need to be doing? He’s been on this off-screen path of self-discovery, he’s had trouble with abandonment issues and had unfinished business with his dad and, after his marriage ended and April went away, he’s been unable to maintain real connection and romantic relationships and platonic relationships. He’s thrown himself into work.
Jackson left a few times but also was never a part of any community. Being an Avery, he was expected to go into surgery. But what else is there? He was never involved in anything that was happening and the world was coming to a boil. He’s been in bubble wrap his whole life and needed to do something and connect to something he was passionate about that wasn’t just his profession. It felt organic that Jackson had to change his environment and was willing to make a connection to something. What if he goes with his gut instead of his legacy? What if he goes to what’s true to him? Watching what’s happening in the streets and how it impacts Black and brown folks, it made sense that he needs to venture off and shed the shelter and try something new — or use it to do something that he’s passionate about.
And what the showrunners Krista Vernoff and Shonda Rhimes thought about this, he said:
This was an organic, collective decision; it wasn’t something I had to tell anybody. It was something we found and understood and were trying to honor it and do properly. It was a team effort throughout. It didn’t feel like any one of us coming to the other and having an outcome predetermined. We wrote something together and this is what it was.
And what Ellen Pompeo thought, he said:
It’s been pretty emotional. Our last scene together was very emotional as Jesse and Ellen as much as it was Jackson and Meredith. That’s my buddy and this is a new side for both of us. I haven’t always been an emotionally available person and this journey was increasingly emotional.
Asked how involved he was with Jackson’s storyline, he said:
I was very involved and beyond excited to be able to spend time with her at the end. I love her and we really collaborated so much in the world of “Japril” and were very hands on and making sure that work was true to the characters and selfless. Years had gone by and we fell right back into it. It was really special and I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
And looking back on his time in the show, he said:
When I look at the through line of how fans have approached me and the respect that has been earned for a surgeon of color who doesn’t fall into any one box, and struggles, has nuance and vulnerability and makes mistakes and is fallible and needs to grow and is able to find his vulnerabilities and share them — it’s really human. People connect to his journey.
Being able to be safe enough in a workspace to be able to introduce real-world impact. This isn’t just a biracial doctor in an alternate universe; this is our universe. What does he do when he goes home? What are the obstacles he’s had? And how does it feel when you’re dealing with a conflict of interest in terms of a cop who shot a kid and you have to operate on him? What’s hard and threatening about that? What’s it like to be in a failed relationship or lose a child but also to come to work every day and face the person that you feel like you failed and struggled with?
I’m really proud of being able to humanize things that are always projected to be so polarizing and far away in our society. Being able to look at the way these last couple episodes how he went out, these are really polarizing topics: racism, police brutality, racial inequality in medicine, discrimination … these are things that people put their head in the sand, deny and argue about and have been political punching bags. And this character and his journey has connected with people from all walks of life.
What Shonda has created with Grey’s is a pioneering vision of characters that are human and not just a Black guy. It’s a person with love, a childhood, a relationship and so much harder to stereotype and dismiss real people that you can connect to and feel like you know. It’s a beautiful ship to be on and I’m honored and proud of the impact that we’ve had all over the world. People see themselves or their loved ones or the conversations they’re scared to have on screen. And that’s forever.
You can read the rest of the interview here.