History Still Matters to CW’s Next Guest Artist, Grey’s Anatomy Star

August 30th, 2010 by Kim Lenz


Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams spends his days saving lives and breaking hearts as the handsome Dr. Jackson Avery on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” but not too long ago, his days were spent convincing students that history matters.

It’s history that really holds the heart of this self-described “geek.” As a child, he loved visiting the homes in Colonial Williamsburg, imagining what it was like to live in the 18th century. Next month, he’ll get his chance to bring the period to life when he performs as Colonial Williamsburg’s second Guest Artist.

The Guest Artist program, established this year, invites theater, television and film actors to perform alongside CW interpreters in the Historic Area. Williams is the second in the series, which was introduced with actress Mamie Gummer. He will perform two shows on the Governor’s Palace grounds at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sept. 25.

Williams described himself as “chomping at the bit” to start preparing for his outdoor theater piece during a phone interview Wednesday. He has fond memories of visits to Colonial Williamsburg as a child. “I really was fascinated with how people used to live and what they did without,” he said. “I always found it fascinating sitting on that dirt or straw floor and trying to picture what it felt like … the smell of it.”

Williams’ love of history led to his first career, as a teacher of American studies, African studies and English at a public high school in Philadelphia. A Temple University graduate, Williams holds bachelor’s degrees in African-American studies and film and media arts. He’s a relative newcomer to acting; one of his first roles was portraying the love interest for actress Alexis Bledel in the 2008 film, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.” Since then, he’s appeared alongside Richard Gere and Don Cheadle in “Brooklyn’s Finest” and is now a series regular on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

He first heard about the Guest Artist opportunity a month ago and said he was immediately interested in seeing how Colonial Williamsburg has found new ways to educate and entertain. “This was an ideal match,” he said. “As a teacher, history was always my favorite subject to teach, especially African and African-American history.”

Williams will portray James, a bold and brash slave working at the Governor’s Palace during the term of John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore and the last royal governor of the colony. In an emotionally charged scene, Williams’ character will join other slaves as they worry about the fates of their children and their efforts to gain freedom as the palace hits the auction block. In all, several dozen slaves and indentured servants were affected in the auction of the property in 1776.

Williams said the script was a pleasant change from the normal scripts that float around Hollywood. “A lot of what we see in TV and film is based on brands and roller coasters and around a suspension of disbelief,” he said. “Rarely as an actor do you get the opportunity to tap into something you were already interested in. It’s a lot different, then, to get a really thoughtful script that is based on something you’ve grown up loving.”

For more information about Williams’ Guest Artist performance or to reserve tickets, click here.

2 Responses to History Still Matters to CW’s Next Guest Artist, Grey’s Anatomy Star

  1. Anonymous

    September 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    How much is he being paid for this trip to our Williamsburg? Could that have been used to supplement our local CWF employees who are in the Restored Area every day?

  2. Anonymous

    September 21, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    I have to agree with Williamsburgher! I find it intresting that Williams’ though will be in town at a time when it will be impossible for most people to get there to see him, and at a most REGULAR SLOW time in the season! I would have loved to see someone of his knowledge and hopefully skill be put at a time when MORE people could see him perform! Hopefully I can get to the Historic Area since I’m still pretty local!

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