Jesse Williams is best known as an American model and an actor.
But the Grey's Anatomy star did not set out to be either of those things.
The son of teachers, he majored in film at university, but taught English and history at public schools in Philadelphia after he graduated.
''I was studying being a cinematographer, but I had always been a history buff and really loved school, so I started teaching,'' says the 31-year-old, who has called his time in the classroom the most meaningful job he's ever had.
To pay the bills while at university he dabbled in modelling.
''I'd go to New York and do a couple of commercials and a little bit of modelling, but I kind of hated it.
''It paid very well, but I wasn't fulfilled and that is no discredit to anybody who does that - I still do that in a manner of speaking - but at that moment in my life, it didn't feel like the best use of my time.''
However, it did give him a new perspective on being in front of the camera.
So when he found himself back in New York years later working at a law firm and ''trying to figure out what to do in my mid-20s'', he reconsidered acting.
''I worked at the law firm for a year-and-a-half. I was overseeing huge cases, huge anti-trust, hostile takeover cases, hiring and firing attorneys and keeping up correspondence with our Tokyo and San Francisco offices. It was full on. It was 80 hours a week. I had no business doing it. I was not qualified at all. And I lived there; I had breakfast, lunch and dinner there. I hired and fired people that were way more qualified than me. I had a very weird moment having to sit a 50-year-old man down and tell him he needed to increase his output or else he's got to go.''
Ready for a change, he contacted his former commercial agent.
''I said 'Hey, I really enjoyed that little bit of acting I was doing before. Is there a way that I could maybe return to that?' And he said 'Good luck. Everybody's here trying to do that so get in line'.''
Williams slowly began building his resume with off Broadway shows and a guest role on Law & Order before getting his big break in 2008 chick flick The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2.
''I grew to like [acting]. I didn't come to it because I had some burning desire to be an actor. I had no interest in being an actor, to be honest, but I learned to respect the role that the actor plays in the storytelling process.''
While winning the role of surgeon Jackson Avery on Grey's in 2009 would take his career to the next level, he actually shot Joss Whedon horror film The Cabin in the Woods, this year's surprise cult hit, before he scrubbed in at Seattle Grace (the film's release was delayed because of studio financial problems).
Cabin also stars Kiwi actress Anna Hutchison, who Williams says is ''beautiful and fun''.
''I think it's going to be really great for her career,'' he says of the Go Girls star.
''I got to work with a lot of great young actors [on Cabin] who are really exploding now [such as] Chris Hemsworth who's Thor and kind of taking over the world,'' he laughs.
The film would also prove a good training ground for the relatively inexperienced Williams.
''I came from doing a little bit of theatre in New York and in theatre you can play and do it over and over again every day and make it different,'' he says. ''[With film] you shoot it once or twice and it's done - you're never going to say it again and nobody cares if you had a bad day or they changed the lines right before you started shooting. All that matters is what you did in that moment and that's it. So that was a real lesson in preparedness.''
Williams says working with pop culture icon Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) was also a joy.
''He makes it so much more fun because you can see in his eyes how much he enjoys it.
''The enthusiasm made all the difference on that set because a lot of us were kind of new and it was tough conditions; we were in the cold and the rain and we were outside in the woods, it was 4am, you're covered in blood, you can't see and you're running around and [Whedon and director Drew Goddard] were so excited that it rubs off.''
When Grey's returns for its eighth season on Monday, Williams says Jackson finds himself in the middle of an awkward relationship triangle.
''Jackson's with Lexie [Chyler Leigh], but he's got to work with Mark Sloan [Eric Dane] and what do you do when your girlfriend's ex-boyfriend is your boss?''
Later in the season, Fame's Debbie Allen guest stars as Jackson's mother, whose presence ruffles the notoriously guarded surgeon.
''She is outstanding,'' Williams says of Allen. ''She's directed us a couple of times, so I've got to know her on set as a director and she comes in with so much energy and personality.
''Jackson's mortified to have a family member there. He's a got a big chip on his shoulder about his family legacy, but also this mum is embarrassing. She's going to tell your friends the horrible stories and show them the baby pictures ... It's a really fun episode.''
- Grey's Anatomy, Monday, 8.30pm, TV2
- © Fairfax NZ News
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