Jesse Williams is an actor, director, and activist, best known for his performance as Dr. Jackson Avery on the ABC medical drama series “Grey’s Anatomy.” Jesse Williams has a net worth of $12 million. He has also appeared on the big screen in such films as “The Cabin in the Woods,” “The Butler,” and “Band Aid.” As an activist, Williams is involved in advocacy groups focused on racial injustice and civil rights.
Early Life and Career Beginnings
Jesse Williams was born in 1981 in Chicago, Illinois to Reginald and professional potter Johanna. He is of mixed race, with African-American heritage on his father’s side and Swedish ancestry on his mother’s. Williams has two younger brothers, both of whom went on to work in the visual arts. As a youth, he went to Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, graduating in 1998. Following Williams’ graduation from high school, his father started to teach history in northern Maine. Williams subsequently enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was a double major in African-American studies and film and media arts. During this time, he occasionally worked as a model for Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, and Kenneth Cole. Like his father, Williams then became an educator, teaching high school in the Philadelphia public school system for six years.
While studying acting in 2005, Williams was one of 14 actors selected to participate in the New York Actors Showcase, presented by ABC Television. In 2006, he made his television debut in an episode of “Law & Order,” playing the character Kwame. Also that year, Williams had a recurring role on the surfing drama series “Beyond the Break.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” and Television Career
After appearing as the character Drew Collins in two episodes of the ABC Family series “Greek,” Williams debuted his biggest role yet in 2009, playing surgical resident Jackson Avery on the medical drama series “Grey’s Anatomy.” Starting with the show’s seventh season the next year, he became a series regular. Williams went on to star in 270 episodes of the popular ABC series, and received a People’s Choice Award nomination for Favorite Dramatic TV Actor. He eventually left “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2021.
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In 2020, Williams reprised his role as Dr. Jackson Avery in the third season of ABC’s “Station 19.” Also that year, he had a recurring role as Joe Ryan on the Hulu miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere,” starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. Among Williams’ other television credits are the Starz crime drama “Power” and the comedy sketch series “The Eric Andre Show,” on which he appeared as himself. Beyond acting, Williams was the director of the seventh episode of the ABC legal series “Rebel,” and was executive producer of the television documentary “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement,” in which he also starred.
Williams made his feature film debut in the 2008 sequel movie “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.” The next year, he was part of the ensemble cast of the crime film “Brooklyn’s Finest,” starring Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, and Richard Gere. Williams had his first leading role in 2012, playing Holden McCrea in the horror comedy “The Cabin in the Woods.” In 2013, he portrayed civil rights activist James Lawson in the historical drama “The Butler,” which featured an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Jane Fonda, Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, John Cusack, Cuba Gooding Jr., and many others. Williams next had starring roles in the sports drama “Snake & Mongoose” and the crime thriller “Money.” In 2017, he had a supporting part in the dramedy “Band Aid.” Williams had his biggest year on film yet in 2019, when he starred in the horror films “Random Acts of Violence” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” and had a supporting role as Headmaster Banton in the boarding school drama “Selah and the Spades.”
In addition to his film acting, Williams produced the 2020 short film “Two Distant Strangers,” about police brutality and racial injustice in contemporary America. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.
On stage, Williams acted in revival productions of two Edward Albee plays, “The Sandbox” and “The American Dream,” at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. Additionally, he was a guest director for student productions at the Urban Arts Partnership 24 Hour Plays Off-Broadway.
Other Media Involvement
Williams has appeared in a number of music videos during his career. In 2006, he was in the video for “When Your Heart Stops Beating” by the rock group +44. Later, he played Rihanna’s love interest in the video for her single “Russian Roulette.” Williams has also been in the videos for Estelle’s “Fall in Love,” Demi Lovato’s “Tell Me You Love Me,” and Jay-Z’s “Legacy.”
Additionally, Williams did voice acting and performance capture for the video game “Detroit: Become Human,” in which he played the character of Markus. He did more voice acting and motion capture for the 2020 game “NBA 2K21.”
Personal Life and Divorce Settlement
Jesse Williams married his longtime girlfriend Aryn Drake-Lee in 2012. They have two children together, a daughter by the name of Sadie and a son named Maceo. In April 2017, the couple filed for divorce. During the course of their divorce proceeding it was revealed that Jesse’s monthly income is $521,000 ($6.25 million per year). As a result, at one point a judge ordered Jesse to pay his ex $33,000 per month in support. That was eventually raised to $50,000 and finally $100,000 PER MONTH. That amount could be lowered as they work towards a final settlement.
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Williams is a member of the board of directors of the Advancement Project, a civil rights think tank and advocacy group. He also serves as the executive producer of Question Bridge: Black Males, a media project, exhibition, and teacher and student curriculum centered on black male identity. In 2016, Williams won the BET humanitarian award for his work.
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