Jesse Williams Opens Up About Viral Nude Scene And Why He Switched To Theater After Leaving Grey’s Anatomy

jesse williams as jackson on grey's anatomy
(Image credit: ABC)

In the past month or so a lot of fuss has been made over former Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams and his Tony-nominated turn on Broadway in the play, Take Me Out. Basically, you’d have to be living underneath a very large rock and have zero contact with the outside world to not know that one of Williams’ performances was taped by an audience member, who leaked his on-stage nudity online, which led to lots of predictably rowdy responses after folks peeped Williams’ naked work. Now, Williams is opening up about his viral nude scene and why, exactly, he made the move to theater after Grey’s Anatomy.

What Does Jesse Williams Say Now About His Viral Nude Scene?

Jesse Williams originally stunned fans in 2021, after deciding to leave his role as Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, where he’d been an audience favorite for a whopping 12 seasons. While he recently returned to the medical drama for the Season 18 finale, people are definitely still talking about Williams’ Broadway nude scene (which gets an unexpected response during shows). When asked by Women’s Wear Daily about why he decided to do Take Me Out despite the nude scene, Williams said:

Once I read it it was, ‘I’m not not going to do this. This is perfect.’ And that said, I looked at the nudity and was, like, ‘Oh, shit. I don’t want to do that. I would never say I want to do that.’ But it makes sense in the context of this play and it invites the audience to experience some of the realities of what the characters are going through. And it’s really a fitting time to examine heteronormative male relationships to each other and themselves and identity and what it is to be a man. Why does ‘being a man’ require you to discriminate against others? Why does it require you to have power over another group? Why does it require you to be homophobic, in order to prove that you’re a man? What happens if you don’t? What do you have left?

The play takes place largely in a men’s locker room, with Williams starring as a baseball player who comes out to his fellow players. As he noted in his interview, being naked on stage several times a week, and in front of a live audience, wasn’t really on his to-do list. But, Williams could see that the nudity fit what the play was trying to say about a lot of important issues, and seeing as how he loved the rest of the content, he took the leap.

Take Me Out opened on April 4, leading to some awkwardness from some of Williams’ former Grey’s Anatomy co-stars like Ellen Pompeo, who wanted to support his work, but were also a bit nervous about sitting through his nude scene. However, Sarah Drew took in Williams’ show, said she loved it, and admitted that she didn’t get what all the fuss over his nudity was about.

Why Did Jesse Williams Do Take Me Out After Grey’s Anatomy?

Viewers saw the Grey’s Anatomy Season 18 ending bring Jackson and April back, with the added benefit of the reveal that Japril is finally back together romantically. With Williams’ willingness to return to the show that made him a star, many might be wondering why he did take such a professional leap after leaving the hit series. About the move, Williams said:

And I knew that once I left Grey’s, I wanted to do something very different. I wanted to do something that was entirely a new challenge, something that is really sincerely scary to me, that feels really like there’s a lot of ways to fail. I kind of felt like I’ve been in a safe space, in some ways, for quite a while. Which has, frankly, been my entire acting career: I hadn’t started acting until I was almost 30. And then I almost immediately got on Grey’s.

It just makes a lot of sense that Williams wanted to find a post-Grey’s project to really test himself. As he said, the show had been the bulk of his career until he left, and it’s pretty easy to see how he could have started to feel like he needed to at least attempt working in environments that hadn’t basically fostered his maturation as a performer to see what he was really made of professionally. Williams continued:

The vast majority of things in my career are ahead of me. It’s not like I had a movie career first. I hadn’t done a bunch of theater. I didn’t come up studying this. It wasn’t my life’s dream. I don’t have all those experiences yet. They’re all ahead of me, which is exciting. But I wanted to go right into the fire and get my ass kicked and make it be purely about the story, purely about the art.

Jesse Williams’ run in Take Me Out ends on June 11, but you can always relive his time on Grey’s Anatomy with your Netflix subscription.

Adrienne Jones
Senior Content Creator

Yennefer's apprentice, Gilmore Girl; will Vulcan nerve pinch pretty much anyone if prompted with cheese...Yes, even Jamie Fraser.