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Jesse Williams Describes Audiences’ Unexpected Reaction To His Nude Scenes In Broadway Play

Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery on Grey's Anatomy.
(Image credit: ABC)

Being naked on stage has got to be one of the more vulnerable positions you can find yourself in as an actor. While nude scenes on TV or in movies certainly come with their own awkwardness, when you’re live and on display in front of your audience, you witness their reaction in real time — for better or worse. Jesse Williams recently experienced that when he made his Broadway debut in Take Me Out, and he said the audience’s reaction was the exact opposite of what he’d expected.

Take Me Out opened on April 4 at Helen Hayes Theater, but rehearsals had actually started pre-COVID. The former Grey’s Anatomy actor — who will return to the medical drama with Sarah Drew for the Season 18 finale — talked on the Late Show with Seth Meyers about how seeing A Soldier’s Play left him with some high expectations for what he’d experience as Darren Lemming in Take Me Out. Blair Underwood — “legendary, most-handsome-man-in-the-world Blair Underwood,” Jesse Williams called him — was one of the stars, and he apparently caused quite a stir with the audience. According to Williams:

It starts the second act, he’s buttoning the top three buttons of a button-down shirt. He’s fully dressed. He’s just buttoning the top three buttons of his shirt, and the audience goes, ‘Wow!’ The ladies are hootin’ and hollerin’. The production has to wait, like, an extra ten seconds, and I was like ‘Oh my God, what are they going to do for full-on, two naked men out on the stage?

If Blair Underwood could cause such a commotion by simply buttoning up his shirt, Jesse Williams understandably must have expected the audience’s reaction to full nudity to be even more raucous. I can even see how that might have helped to calm the actor’s nerves a little, seeing the theatergoers react so favorably to the leading man. However, that has not exactly been his experience, as he told Seth Meyers:

But we kind of get the opposite reaction in our play. It’s so intense, and the language is so dense that as soon as naked people come out, everybody gets quiet. You can hear a pin drop, or something else drop. It gets really quiet every time we come out there. Every now and then there’s some shrieks or gasps or people scurrying out, the light of the exit door cascades up there.

As awkward as that must be, Jesse Williams seemed extremely amused by it. That dang Blair Underwood had him ready for some real mayhem from the crowd, and I can’t imagine what went through his mind the first time his nudity was met with absolute silence. 

Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo previously talked on her podcast about feeling a little apprehensive to see her former co-star naked on stage. Even more, her fellow executive producer Debbie Allen, who plays Jesse Williams’ mother on the show, also wanted to support his new project. However it went down, they were all smiles in a photo taken backstage at Take Me Out, and the dance legend sang her TV son’s praises. You can see Seth Meyers’ full interview with Williams below:

Take Me Out was extended after it opened to rave reviews, and is now set to run through June 11. Jesse Williams will reprise his fan favorite character Jackson Avery for the two-hour Season 18 finale of Grey’s Anatomy, scheduled for Thursday, May 26. In the meantime, check out our 2022 TV Schedule to see what other shows are premiering soon.

Heidi Venable
Heidi Venable

Mom of two and hard-core '90s kid. Unprovoked, will quote Friends in any situation. Can usually be found rewatching The West Wing instead of doing anything productive.