“Grey’s Anatomy” star, Jason George, has been acting for an impressive 20 years, and has seen the industry change from content to representation. He’s been playing Ben Warren for 7 seasons, and gets to be married to boss lady, Miranda Bailey. The actor took some time to talk to VULKAN about all things “Grey’s,” why he thinks it took so long for minorities to be cast in lead roles, police injustice and the message of his short film, “Sunday,” and his four reasons for doing any project!
How do you think TV (roles and content) has changed since you began your career in the 90s?
Today, they’ll kill off anybody so you can’t assume anything (as an actor or as a fan). Also, TV has inherited more filmic qualities. Short order series on cable and online are sometimes shot more like 10 hour movies than 10 episode series, with the entire season story arc laid out before shooting even begins. This means an actor can actually know the beginning, middle, and end of his character’s story. With network TV, you usually only know one script at a time so you’re often surprised by new things you learn about your character…since when am I a murderer?
You’ve been a regular on the ever-popular “Grey’s Anatomy” since 2010, playing anesthesiologist, Ben Warren. What do you enjoy the most about being on the show? What do you enjoy the most about being Ben?
I’m an actor, so I’m happy just having a job. It’s even better that “Grey’s” has been around long enough for the cast and crew to really become a family. Kids have been born and grown into middle school on this show. Beyond that, I love that the show and Ben gave me an opportunity to do both comedy and drama.
Do you think the show accurately portrays the struggles doctors face with balancing their personal and professional lives?
I think “Grey’s” shows the way being a doctor can feel even if not always exactly the way it actually is. Old quote: “Film is a lie that tells the truth.”
What are some of the challenges when playing a character for such a long time?
You have to keep doing the basics. It’s easy to fall into bad actor habits or forget to be grateful off camera. You also become more of an advocate for your character and you have to remind yourself that if they don’t make mistakes and have problems, there is no drama-happy characters with no flaws and no problems make for bad TV.
On the series, Ben Warren is married to Miranda Bailey. What was one of your favorite moments as a “couple?”
There was an episode that took place over a year in the show. I loved being able to knock out a year’s worth of scenes in about two or three hours with Chandra Wilson.
Can you tell us about your process when choosing roles?
Some wise, journeyman actor once told me that there are four reasons to do any project: the role, the people, the billing, and the money. The role; I’ll play Othello on a street corner because that character is the OG. The people; I’ll be thug #3 for Scorsese because he’s another OG. The billing; the catch 22 of Hollywood is that nobody wants to hire you for a job until you’ve already done it. So your first guest star or first series regular gig is important and so is having your name on the poster or above the marquee. Still waiting for a billboard to say, “Jason George IS ABOVE THE LAW.” And money is money; always nice but not the reason I became an actor
How does your personal connection to your characters manifest itself, if at all?
Ben is a devoted family man. Loves his kids to death but will not let them act a fool. Loves his lady and wants her to be a badass, because he knows he’s a badass and isn’t threatened. That’s pretty familiar in my personal life.
In your new short film, “Sunday,” you play a husband to a wife who fears for her son in the midst of racial police brutality. Can you tell us a bit about your character and how you relate to him?
The only time I’ve ever had a gun pointed at my head was by a police officer. I know we need police. I love the police. But I know the police are human and they were raised in a country with racism at its core. For some, even if they’re a person of color themselves, black skin has an immediate association with the criminal element. I loved the project, “Sunday,” because it shows the human story that’s one step removed from the equation. Every young black man has a mother who worries that no matter how smart or well-mannered he may be, a cop may see him as a threat. My white friends don’t have that same worry. For them, “the talk” with their kid is just about sex.
What do you hope viewers take away from “Sunday?”
I hope that “Sunday” increases people’s compassion. Even if you don’t resist arrest, and do everything the officer asks, you know this could still potentially go south. I imagine women might feel something similar at times because they live in a world where men look at them. Not the regular “I have to look somewhere” looks or even the “Hi, nice dress” looks, but the unwanted, predatory, “you know you want it” looks from men who feel some constant need to prove that they are, in fact, men. I imagine that feeling of dread for women is similar to the feeling black men get when cops eyeball them…and cops have guns.
Over the past few years, there have been many shows that portray strong black leads and supporting roles. Why do you think it took so long for the TV industry to show this representation?
I actually chair The Diversity Advisory Committee for SAG-AFTRA, and have to speak about this often-even to groups of future show runners. The sad truth is it took so long because Hollywood needed undeniable proof that there was money there. It took the unprecedented success of a Shonda Rhimes. It took the slow deterioration of ratings because of DVDs, video games, and the internet to make those smaller “niche” audiences truly matter. When every show has 10-15 million viewers you don’t care about picking up certain communities. But when 2 million viewers is a hit you definitely care that you can pick up another 500,000 by having your lead be Black…or Latino…or Asian. The films that have the top return on their investment have casts that are at least 50% minority. “Fast and Furious.” “Pitch Perfect.” “Creed.” “Straight Outta Compton.” Relatively inexpensive movies that made a gang of cash, especially considering the investment.
The other piece is Obama. Partially the man himself, but also what he represents. The younger generation can vicariously see themselves through characters that may happen to be people of color. Girls and boys today grow up wishing they were Beyoncé and Jay-Z. And they don’t have nearly as many laws (written or unwritten) that tell them there is a line they shouldn’t cross when wanting to be like their pop culture heroes, or like the President. Well…like the last President…and there aren’t as many laws right now.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I love being with my family. And I’ve been lucky enough to usually have a job. Ironically, the result is that one of my greatest obstacles is staying hungry and ambitious. That hunger is reawakening in me for a number of reasons these days. Not the least of which is I want to model the hustle for my kids.
What would you like to be remembered for as an actor?
I’d like to be remembered as an actor’s actor; an actor who served his fellow actors off screen, an actor who could do comedy and drama, a character actor with leading man qualities.
If you could work with one actor/director, who would it be and why?
Right now, I’m pretty geeked out on Ava Duvernay. She’s a hella director but she also carries herself with dignity and integrity and is trying to do good and do well at the same time.
Besides more “Grey’s Anatomy,” what does 2017 have in store for Jason George?
2017 is about trying to be part of the “creating” side as well as the “performing” side!
Post expires at 5:57am on Monday November 6th, 2017