Jesse Williams (actor)

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Jesse Williams
Jesse Williams in 2008 white shirt.jpg
Williams in 2008
Alma materTemple University
  • Actor
  • director
  • producer
  • activist
Years active2006–present
Aryn Drake-Lee
(m. 2012; div. 2020)

Jesse Wesley Williams is an American actor, director, producer, and activist. He portrayed Dr. Jackson Avery on the ABC series Grey's Anatomy (2009–2022) and has appeared in the films The Cabin in the Woods (2012), The Butler (2013) and Band Aid (2017). He also provided voice acting and motion capture for Markus in Detroit: Become Human (2018). He has also served as an executive producer of the Academy Award-winning short, Two Distant Strangers (2021) and the Tony Award-winning revival of Take Me Out (2022), for the latter of which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Featured Actor in a Play.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Chicago[2] to Johanna Chase, a professional potter, and Reginald Williams.[3] Jesse Williams has said his mother is a Swedish American and his father is an African American from Georgia.[4][5] His two younger brothers specialize and work in the field of visual arts. Williams graduated from Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island in 1998.[3] After he graduated from high school his father began teaching history in northern Maine, while his mother continued to work in pottery.[3][5]

Williams graduated from Temple University with a double major in African American Studies and Film and Media Arts.[3][6] Following in the footsteps of his parents, he taught high school in the Philadelphia public school system for six years teaching American Studies, African Studies, and English.[7]

Acting career[edit]

In 2005, Williams began to study acting and was chosen to participate in the New York Actors Showcase presented by ABC Television, one of 14 actors chosen from among over 800 individuals who auditioned.[3] Since 2006, he has appeared in a number of television series, films and theatre productions. In 2012, he established a production company, farWord Inc.[5]

In May 2012, a fan campaign was organized to try to influence film executives to cast him in the role of Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.[8] This news resulted in some Hunger Games fans protesting casting decisions made by the film executives.[9]

In 2013, Williams wrote an opinion piece for CNN which analyzed the film Django Unchained.[10] Later that year he narrated the audio version of the book The Bane Chronicles: What Really Happened In Peru, by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan.[11]

In 2006, Williams appeared in an episode of Law & Order, portraying the character Kwame. He also appeared in the role of Drew Collins, in two episodes of the ABC Family series Greek.[12]

On October 15, 2009, Williams began appearing as surgical resident Jackson Avery, in the ABC television series Grey's Anatomy.[13] On June 8, 2010, it was announced Williams would be a series regular, starting in season 7.[14] It was announced on May 6, 2021, that he would be exiting the show,[15] his final episode airing May 20 on ABC. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in May 2021, Williams said the decision to leave the show was "a collective thing" and part of a discussion the actor had with showrunner Krista Vernoff about Jackson's trajectory that ultimately helped solidify 11 seasons of storyline.[16]

BuddyTV ranked him No. 6 on its "TV's 100 Sexiest Men of 2010" list[17] and No. 11 in 2011.[18] Jesse was named the TV Actor of the Year at the 2011 Young Hollywood Awards.[19]

In 2008, Williams made his film debut in the supporting role of Leo in the sequel to the 2005 film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Two years later, he appeared in Brooklyn's Finest (2010), starring Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, and Ellen Barkin. In 2008, Williams signed on for his first leading role, as Holden McCrea in the MGM/United Artists horror film The Cabin in the Woods. Produced by Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard, it was released April 13, 2012.[20]

On June 9, 2015, Variety announced Jamie Bamber, Kellan Lutz, Jesse Williams, and Jess Weixler had joined the cast of the thriller film Money, directed by Martin Rosete and produced by Atit Shah.[21]

In May 2016, Williams was executive producer of the documentary film Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement.[22] In 2021, Williams produced an American short-film titled Two Distant Strangers, written by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe. This short film won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2021.

Williams has served as a guest director for student productions at the Urban Arts Partnership 24 Hour Plays Off-Broadway, at the request of Rosie Perez and Anna Strout.[7][20]

In March 2022, Williams made his Broadway debut in the revival of Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out. Williams stars in the lead role of Darren Lemming. He's been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play.


Williams is the youngest member of the board of directors at The Advancement Project, a civil rights think tank and advocacy group. He is also the executive producer of Question Bridge: Black Males, a multifaceted media project, art exhibition, student and teacher curriculum and website,[23] focused on the black male identity and the diversity within the demographic. He has written articles for CNN[24] and The Huffington Post,[25] and has been a guest on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room.

In June 2016, Williams won the humanitarian award at the 2016 BET Awards, delivering a speech highlighting racial injustice, police brutality, and the invention of whiteness.[26] As a result of his speech, dueling petitions were circulated: one to have Williams fired from Grey's Anatomy and one to keep him on the series.[27]

Other work[edit]

Williams occasionally worked as a model during college, but never considered pursuing it as a career. He modeled for Kenneth Cole Productions, Levi's, and Tommy Hilfiger Corporation.[2][28] He can be seen as the love interest of R&B singer Rihanna in the music video for her single "Russian Roulette" from her 2009 album Rated R. He also appears in the music video for Estelle's song "Fall In Love", from the album All of Me.[20] In 2018, Williams appeared in the video for "Tell Me You Love Me" By Demi Lovato. Williams also modeled for Lane Bryant in 2012.

Williams did the voice acting and performance capture for Markus in the video game Detroit: Become Human, which first released on May 25, 2018, for the PlayStation 4. He also did the voice acting and performance capture for Duke in the video game NBA 2K21, which released worldwide on September 4, 2020, for multiple consoles.

Personal life[edit]

Williams dated Aryn Drake-Lee for five years before the two married on September 1, 2012. The couple has two children together, a daughter Sadie Williams (b. December 2013) and a son Maceo Williams (b. October 2015). The couple filed for divorce in April 2017.[29] The divorce was finalized in October 2020.[30]


Not yet released Denotes works that have not yet been released


Year Title Role Notes
2008 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 Leo
2009 Brooklyn's Finest Eddie Quinlain
2010 Dirty Dancing 3: Capoeira Nights Johnny Short film
2012 The Cabin in the Woods Holden McCrea
2012 Question Bridge: Black Males Executive producer
2013 The Butler James Lawson
2013 Snake and Mongoose Don "The Snake" Prudomme
2013 They Die by Dawn John Taylor
2016 Money Sean
2017 Band Aid Skyler
2019 Selah and the Spades The Headmaster
2019 Jacob's Ladder Isaac "Ike" Singer
2019 Random Acts of Violence Todd Walkley
2022 Secret Headquarters Sean Irons
TBA Your Place or Mine Not yet released Filming


Year Title Role Notes
2006 Law & Order Kwame 1 episode
2006 Beyond the Break Eric Medina 8 episodes
2008 Greek Drew "The Hotness Monster" Collins 2 episodes
2009 The Washingtonienne Keya Pilot
2009–2022 Grey's Anatomy Dr. Jackson Avery Recurring (season 6), Main cast (season 7–17), Guest (season 18); 270 episodes
2010 Seattle Grace: Message of Hope 6 episodes
2016 The Eric Andre Show Himself Episode: "Jesse Williams; Jillian Michaels"
2018 Most Expensivest Episode: "Lights Camera Action"
2019 Power Kadeem 1 episode
2020 Station 19 Dr. Jackson Avery Recurring (season 3); 7 episodes
2020 Little Fires Everywhere Joe Ryan Recurring role
2021 Rebel director Episode #7: "Race"

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist
2006 "When Your Heart Stops Beating" +44
2009 "Russian Roulette" Rihanna
2010 "Fall in Love" Estelle
2017 "Tell Me You Love Me" Demi Lovato
2017 "Legacy" Jay-Z
2013 "Weirdo" The Bullitts

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2018 Detroit: Become Human Markus Also motion capture
2020 NBA 2K21 Duke Also motion capture


Title Year Role Notes
Take Me Out 2022 Darren Lemming


  1. ^ Todisco, Eric (October 15, 2020). "Jesse Williams and Aryn Drake-Lee Finalize Divorce, Agree to Joint Custody of 2 Children". People. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Adams, Patty (October 26, 2009). "The Betty Interview: Jesse Williams". Archived from the original on March 28, 2016. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e David B. Boyce, Standard-Times correspondent (November 13, 2005). "Dartmouth native wins spot in ABC acting showcase". SouthCoastTod Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  4. ^ "Jesse Williams learns and plays history – Daily Press". September 18, 2010. Retrieved October 29, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "Jesse Williams Is Not Just a Pretty Face". Global Grind. January 26, 2012. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  6. ^ "Django, in chains". CNN. February 21, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Jackson Avery: Played by Jesse Williams)". Grey's Anatomy official site (ABC). Archived from the original on May 15, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  8. ^ "Catching Fire Casting Scoop: Fan Fave Jesse Williams Talks Finnick!". E! Online. May 2, 2012. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  9. ^ Anna Breslaw (May 5, 2012). "Another Racist Shitstorm Brews Over Casting Hunger Games' Finnick". Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  10. ^ "Django, in chains". February 21, 2013. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  11. ^ Rosenfield, Kat (April 17, 2013). "Jesse Williams Spills The Beans On His 'Bane Chronicles' Voice Gig". MTV. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  12. ^ "Jesse Williams' Official Website: Filmography". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ "Jesse Williams cast in 'Grey's Anatomy' – Live Feed". August 28, 2009. Archived from the original on January 14, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  14. ^ Michael, Ausiello. "'Grey's Anatomy' exclusive: Jesse Williams gets full-time upgrade | Inside TV |". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on June 9, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  15. ^ "Jesse Williams Leaving 'Grey's Anatomy' After 12 Seasons". May 7, 2021.
  16. ^ "Jesse Williams Opens Up About His 'Grey's Anatomy' Departure: "It Felt Organic"". The Hollywood Reporter. May 21, 2021. Retrieved May 22, 2021.
  17. ^ "TV's 100 Sexiest Men of 2010". December 6, 2010. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  18. ^ "TV's 100 Sexiest Men of 2011". December 7, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2012.
  19. ^ "Jesse Williams Is TV Actor Of The Year". May 24, 2011.
  20. ^ a b c "Jesse Williams' Official Website: Bio". Archived from the original on July 30, 2011. Retrieved September 12, 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  21. ^ Hopewell, John; Mayorga, Emilio (June 9, 2015). "Bamber, Lutz, Williams, Weixler Set For 'Money' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety.
  22. ^ "BET's Award-Winning The Truth Series Returns with the Premiere of an Original Documentary on the Rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement". Business Wire. May 2016.
  23. ^ "Question Bridge".
  24. ^ Jesse Williams, Special to CNN (February 19, 2013). "Django, in chains". CNN.
  25. ^ "Too Many American Students Are Experiencing Hunger". The Huffington Post. October 11, 2011.
  26. ^ Katie Roger (June 27, 2016). "How Jesse Williams Stole BET Awards With Speech on Racism". The New York Times.
  27. ^ Stack, Liam (July 5, 2016). "Petition Wants Jesse Williams Fired for His Speech at BET Awards. But He's Not Worried". The New York Times. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  28. ^ "Jesse Williams". RTÉ News. November 24, 2011.
  29. ^ "'Grey's Anatomy' Star Jesse Williams and Wife Divorce".
  30. ^ "Jesse Williams and Aryn Drake-Lee Finalize Divorce, Agree to Joint Custody of 2 Children".

External links[edit]