The 36-year-old actress talks to ET about the original 'Grey's Anatomy' exit she pitched and why she was intrigued by Alan Ball's new family drama.
Jerrika Hinton dusts off her hospital scrubs and dives into a uniquely relevant tale on HBO's Here and Now.
Created by True Blood and Six Feet Under's Alan Ball, the 10-episode drama revolves around Audrey Bayer (Holly Hunter) and Greg Boatwright's (Tim Robbins) multi-racial American family and the inner turmoil facing them amid challenges navigating a post-Trump world. Hinton plays one of three adopted Bayer-Boatwright siblings, the Liberian-born Ashley, who's now a fashion executive struggling to keep her marriage afloat. Raymond Lee and Daniel Zovatto portray the other Bayer-Boatwright adoptees: a Vietnam-born life coach and a Colombian college student, respectively.
"I really love work that engages with the world," Hinton, 36, tells ET. "I believe that our entertainment shapes us and we shape our entertainment, and that ongoing dialogue is a fact of nature. A lot of what people are taking away from [the show], at first glance, is the Trump conversation, the political, but for me, the show is more human than that. I'm not describing these people in terms of progressives or conservative backlash, because the show means more to me than that and these people are more interesting to me than that terminology."
For the Dallas, Texas, native, Here and Now marks a pivotal step forward in marrying the professional with the personal: leaning into shows that tap into topical matters while elevating her acting ability to new heights. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Hinton craved the opportunity to stretch her acting muscles. "I grew up in theater, so I'm all about the process and I love having a process. My process is integral to the success of Ashley and to the success of the show as a whole because the ensemble is so strong," Hinton explains. "None of us want to be the weak link and we're all bringing every f**king aspect of every corner of ourselves every day and that's -- I don't have the words for it -- it's really wonderful."
The show leans into the increasingly difficult question of what the modern definition of identity is, and Hinton specifically noted that that was an intriguing element for her to explore over the course of the season. "All of these people are questioning who they are and looking for reflections of who they are in the world, aching for reflections of themselves," Hinton says. "When people ask me what the show is about, what the message is of the show, I want to say, 'It's whatever you bring to it. What are you looking for? Who are you?' The show is a mirror in that way."
Because the Bayer-Boatwrights are an unconventional, multi-racial family, the characters often share distinct points of view -- and therein lies the inherent drama. "I wanted to make sure I had a deep foundation for who she is and what her backstory is, but also have an understanding of someone who is socio-politically aware and presenting certain things to the audience responsibly," Hinton says of her character, Ashley. "At the same time, having a third eye on the material as a black viewer -- something I would relate to that would get me jonesing to come back for more -- while also understanding that, yes, Ashley is a black woman but she doesn't necessarily fulfill our ideal of what the black experience is."
One specific scene that struck a chord with Hinton is the moment in which Ashley is arrested by a cop who makes racially insensitive remarks. Hinton recalled filming the scene, crediting director Uta Briesewitz for giving her the space to make the tense moment as authentic as possible. "She gave little to no direction. She just let me be and I deeply appreciated that," she shares. "There are so many things happening within Ashley's body that all I needed to be was a vessel, a conduit in that moment, and there are certain things that are so delicate that we can't shake them to death. It was a trying day of work, but in the best [way]. That's how it should be."
Here and Now came across Hinton's lap at a time when she was seriously contemplating recalibrating her career after navigating her exit from Grey's Anatomy. "What I wanted to do next looked like taking some significant time off -- and then this script came down the pipe," Hinton remembers, crediting Ball's involvement as being a crucial selling point. "Maybe I can take this avenue to do some healing as opposed to walking away from everything, and so, I auditioned and thankfully it all worked out."
Speaking more specifically to her departure as surgical resident Dr. Stephanie Edwards at the end of Grey's 13th season, Hinton revealed that she had a deep "attachment" to how her character, whom she played for five seasons, was written off the show. In the final episode of season 13, Dr. Edwards -- suffering from third-degree burns after a fire in a Grey Sloan hospital wing -- quit her residency to seek a higher purpose in life. "I actually pitched a version of her journey where she does die," Hinton says. "At the time, I did not understand, but now I deeply appreciate why her ending was the way it was and I think it was important that she did get to walk out of there. My heart grows to think that I did get a hero's end -- that I got to go out in a way that was not just incredibly human and honest, but also inspirational."
Though it doesn't look like Hinton will return to Grey's ("I don't think so, at least not for Grey's," Hinton admits), she has hopes she'll one day return to the Shondaland universe. "Shondaland is too big," she recalls telling Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes. "I enjoy you and I enjoy the world that you create, so this isn't a departure from her universe." In the last several years, Hinton has already worked with some of the most prolific TV producers in the industry. When asked if she feels she's setting the bar high for her future projects, she was candid about her reality. "I'm not concerned with [setting] bars," Hinton says. "I recognize my good fortune, that I got to live in Shondaland and work under Shonda Rhimes, and now I get to work under Alan Ball. My immediate desire is to continue this trajectory."
Here and Now airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Reporting by Stacy Lambe.
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