Vanichi Magazine presents ON POINT WITH JASON GEORGE as the Grey’s Anatomy star talks art, culture and Hollywood.

“The fact that it’s not the point is the point.” Jason George states with a certainty that is as assured as knowing that 2 + 2 = 4. As he sat down exclusively with Vanichi, the topic at hand became media diversity and Mr. George had much to say about it. The debonair family, who lists Dad first under his job description on his @JasonWGeorge Twitter account and “moonlights” as an actor, is well-respected by his peers and beloved by fans of ABC where he stars on not one but, two prime-time dramas: “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Mistresses.”

Jason also serves as chair of SAG-AFTRA’s National Diversity Advisory Committee. So, he possesses a unique perspective on diversity in Hollywood and spectacular insight into networks like ABC that are doing such a noteworthy job of expanding American’s pop culture. ABC in particular has the benefited from the success of showrunner Shonda Rhimes and distributes shows with leading prime time ladies of color like Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and Tracee Ellis Ross.

The internet rarely agrees on anything but when Deadline.com published an article on diversity entitled, “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings –- About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing?” Nellie Andreeva simultaneously united millions in total outrage. Her viewpoint cited shows like “How To Get Away with Murder,” “Black-ish,” “Empire,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Jane the Virgin” as proof that the recent surge in diversity on television and subsequent parts for “ethic actors” lessened the available roles for white actors. There were quotes from anonymous but supposedly frustrated industry professionals claiming the studio execs had to fulfill the “ethnic quota” above all else.

Shonda Rhimes (and most of the world’s internet citizens) sounded off on the piece, which Rhimes specifically referred to as “so ignorant I can’t even be bothered.”

shonda rhimes tweet deadline jason george

Where the Deadline.com article perceived the “sea of change” in Hollywood as inadvertently causing the pendulum to “have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction” Jason George offers a different mirror.

“For a while the only safe stories with African Americans in them were stories from the hood. And now we’ve broken out of that. Now we get the stories where the people just happen to be African American as opposed to it’s about an African American this or the first African American to do that. Those are phenomenal stories but in “Scandal,” Kerry Washington just happens to be a phenomenal political operative who is Black. Viola Davis just happens to be the best lawyer in town and happens to be black. It’s not the point.

“That’s the power we’re starting to have. About Last Night, the cast just happened to be black. It’s not the point. It becomes specific because they bring who they are to the role but it’s not essential to the story. So the fact that it’s not the point is the point.”

Jason sees a vast difference between showrunners and execs trying to create diversity versus simply allowing the story to showcase a world that is diverse and full of people with different experiences. The star has enjoyed 17 years on the small and big screens with roles in almost everything – from an appearance on “Friends” alongside Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox to “Stargate SG-1” to recent arcs on “The Witches of East End.” His resume includes over 15 film titles and 34 television titles.

Perhaps what is even more remarkable about Jason’s career is that he found a path for himself where he consistently portrays characters who didn’t have to be African American. It wasn’t mandatory that they be embodied by a certain skin, yet he was able to step into the role and bring life to what was once just lines in a script.

“When you get more people of color behind the camera that’s when stuff starts to happen.” Jason specifically refers to the success of Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, whose roles behind the camera are also formidable for their financial success as they are their storylines. “When Tyler Perry produces his own movies, the money is there. Shonda Rhimes writing these shows… the money is there and you’re going to get more diversity. She’s not shoving the diversity down anyone’s throat but it’s there and you can’t deny the story’s good. You don’t pay attention to [the diversity]. When the story’s good everyone pays attention [to the story] and the money comes.

jason george vanichi

vanichi jason george quote art culture

Jason doesn’t just see diversity as a black or white issue. It is essentially about allowing different stories to be told, whether that story is about gender, disabilities, ethnicity or race. He diametrically opposes the idea that different characters are “not relatable.”

“People consider anything that’s not their story to be a risk. ‘Not relatable’ is code for, “well, I don’t know how that goes.” And the answer is: well, until you did The Godfather you didn’t know how that was going to play. It turned out to be one of the greatest stories of all time.”

 

The actor also sees an importance in technology helping more independent voices find their audiences. “Technology has changed the game. It’s theoretically easier to get in the game than ever before.”

“You can shoot a movie on your phone and even edit it on that phone if you don’t have a laptop and then get it on the internet. Yet, where there used to be three channels, then five, there are now five hundred channels and, that’s before you even get to the internet.” Although the wider field presents more noise to break through, it also presents more opportunity to be stumbled upon. “… because more people can do it, more people are getting discovered and the American story is getting more shades of color and that’s a good thing.”

Jason also sees this new golden age as resulting in bigger checks for the studios. A recent Hollywood Reporter article about the gob-smacking $384 million opening weekend box office for Furious 7 directly attributed the installment’s success to a diverse cast, cited that 75% of the movie-going audience was non-Caucasian. While the desire to see the late Paul Walker star in one last role probably helped inspire people to purchase tickets, the audience demographics also show positive results for an inclusive ensemble cast. The film’s global box office is the fourth best-ever opening weekend results for any film and domestically it was only a slight second to the results for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire from 2013.

“Follow the dollar signs,” Jason shares succinctly.

“’The Empire Effect’ is what it’s being called in the industry. Who is getting the most buzz right now? Number One new comedy, ‘Black-ish’ on ABC; number one new show, ‘Empire’ on FOX.

“Put people who are good at their jobs in positions of power. [Of course] it still has to be good but when the people who greenlight and create the projects come from different cultures you’re going to get diversity. Don’t try to fill just this one spot with diversity. Put it out there and the eyes will come.”

 

As verbose as Jason was about diversity, he was of few words about the season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy,” exclaiming with a chuckle, “I don’t even know how this episode ends.”

“Before, I was a regular on ‘Mistresses’ and recurring on ‘Grey’s’ and now that has switched. So now I’m on ‘Grey’s’ a lot more. This year, they found out my character’s brother is transitioning from male to female.”

The storyline got wide praise, as many have appreciated Shonda Rhimes increasing LGBT representation on TV. Jason breaks down why he values these conversations and what he sees as root causes for some people’s intolerance. “If this person wants to change their gender in order to find their truth, how does that hurt you? The person will say, ‘Well, it offends me.’ Well, there are a lot of things that can offend you. It doesn’t affect you.”

“My character Ben Warren is not upset because his brother needs to transition. He’s upset because he discovers his best friend in the world has kept the most fundamental truth about herself secret for the past 20 years. Ben feels their entire relationship was a lie. That was the thing I found interesting.

Ben wasn’t approaching it from a place of ‘you offend me because of your existence.’ He was upset because he wasn’t let in after he always let his brother in about everything. I found that very interesting and something I could play.”

While Jason’s role on Mistresses will likely offer drama around different family dynamics, his character, is sure to be in for some surprises, too. “Dom is transitioning out of his relationship with Alyssa Milano’s character and getting involved with other people on the show. So we’ll see where that leads.”

jason george hugo boss vanichi

Whatever happens, social media is sure to talk about it and can find the actor on his Twitter account sharing and weighing in. “I can tweet,” he confesses as he breaks down social networks.

“I was not feeling social media at all in the beginning. Facebook seems like you have to put everything out there. Instagram… I can’t take enough pictures and I’m not going to photograph my food unless it’s something really amazing.

jason george hide and seek

“I did a show called ‘Off the Map’ for Shonda about doctors overseas. When we shined a light on kids with leukemia, we got a huge reaction from parents appreciating the episode. That was when I appreciated social media.”

He gets to work with St. Baldrick’s 46 Mommas campaign, Shave for the Brave. The campaign gets its name from the fact that everyday, approximately 46 mothers are told their child has cancer. The organization has to date raised over $1.6 million for cancer research and has a growing roster of Shavees devoted to the cause. “When your kid has managed to survive cancer, there’s nothing else off limits. These women are powerful and have a hilarious sense of humor.”

It seems that Jason not only inspires others, but also finds inspiration for himself. “Barack Obama inspires me. I saw his speech on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. Common and John Legend and that performance at the Oscars. When you see a really good performance that makes you stop and feel connected to other people, that’s the best of what art can do.”

Yet, they all pale in comparison to his biggest source of inspiration, his kids. Jason shares with a smile, “I have to constantly raise my game to live up to their expectations.”

 

EDITORIAL CREDITS | Wardrobe Styling + Creative Direction by COURTNEY ANN. Grooming by ROZY DUGGAN. Makeup by SHERRI CELIS. Photography by VIKA PETLAKH.

VIDEO CREDITS | Directed by NZINGA BLAKE. Cinematography + Editing by YOUSSOF SEKANDER. Executive Producers JORDAN SWAIN, JOY DONNELL, ERIC JOHNSON, NZINGA BLAKE.

WANT MORE ART & CULTURE? CHECK OUT OUR ART & CULTURE ISSUE

Vanichi announces art culture issue