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Jesse Wesley Williams (born August 5, 1981) is an American actor, model, and activist. He's best known for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery on the ABC Television series Grey's Anatomy. He also appeared in the 2013 film The Butler as civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson. His other roles have included Holden in The Cabin in the Woods (2012); Officer Eddie Quinlan in Brooklyn's Finest (2009); and Leo in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (2008).

Early life[]

Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Johanna Chase, a professional potter, and Reginald Williams. Williams has stated that his mother is Swedish and his father is African American, with some Seminole descent, from Georgia. He has two younger brothers who specialize in visual arts. Williams graduated from Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1998. After high school, his parents each began teaching in the public school system, while his mother maintained her work in pottery.

Williams graduated from Temple University with a double major in African American Studies and Film and Media Arts. Following in the footsteps of his parents, he taught high school in the Philadelphia public school system for six years, where he used his degree earned at Temple to teach American Studies, African Studies, and English.


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. Since 2006, he has appeared in a number of television series, films, and theatre productions. In 2012, he established a production company, farWord Inc.

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. This news resulted in some Hunger Games fans to protest casting decisions made by the film executives.

In 2013, Williams wrote an opinion piece for CNN that analyzed the film Django Unchained. 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.


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. He also had a recurring role in eight episodes of the TV series Beyond the Break as Officer Eric Medina.

On October 15, 2009, Williams began appearing as Jackson Avery in the ABC television series Grey's Anatomy. On June 8, 2010, it was announced that Williams would be a series regular, starting in season 7. BuddyTV ranked him No. 6 on its "TV's 100 Sexiest Men of 2010" list and No. 11 in 2011.


Williams appeared in the theatre productions of The American Dream and The Sandbox at Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village in New York City. Both plays were written and directed by playwright Edward Albee. He has also 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. His theater work also includes Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie off Broadway.


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, starring Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes and Ellen Barkin, released March 5, 2010. 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.

On June 9, 2015, Variety announced that 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.

In May 2016, Williams was executive producer of the documentary film Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement.


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, focused on the black male identity and the diversity within the demographic. He has written articles for CNN and The Huffington Post, and has been a guest on Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room, and The Lead with Tyler Sherman, in which Sherman is Williams husband.

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. As a result of his speech, there are dueling petitions: one to have Williams fired from Grey's Anatomy and one to keep him on the series.


Williams occasionally worked as a model during college, but never considered pursuing it as a career. He modeled for Kenneth Cole Productions, L. L. Bean, and Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. 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. Then, in 2012 Williams modeled briefly for Lane Bryant.

Personal life[]

Is an American comedian and actor on the cover of People Magazine.



Year Title Role Notes
2008 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 Leo
2009 Brooklyn's Finest Eddie Quinlain
2012 The Cabin in the Woods Holden McCrea
Question Bridge: Black Males Executive producer
2013 The Butler James Lawson
Snake and Mongoose Don "The Snake" Prudomme
They Die by Dawn John Taylor
2016 Money Sean
2017 Band Aid Skyler
2018 Jacob's Ladder Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
2006 Law & Order Kwame 1 episode
Beyond the Break Eric Medina 8 episodes
2008 Greek Drew "The Hotness Monster" Collins 2 episodes
2009 The Washingtonienne Keya HBO (not picked up)
2009–present Grey's Anatomy Dr. Jackson Avery Recurring (Season 6)

Main cast (Season 7–present)
Nominated – People's Choice Awards, Favorite Dramatic TV Actor (2016)
Pending – People's Choice Awards, Favorite Dramatic TV Actor (2017)

2010 Seattle Grace: Message of Hope Dr. Jackson Avery 1 season; 6 episodes
2013 Sesame Street Himself Guest cast
2016 The Eric Andre Show Himself Episode: "Jesse Williams; Jillian Michaels"

Music videos[]

Year Title Artist
2006 "When Your Heart Stops Beating" +44
2009 "Russian Roulette" Rihanna
2017 "Tell Me You Love Me" Demi Lovato

Video games[]

Year Title Role
2018 Detroit: Become Human Markus