'Grey's Anatomy': Jesse Williams Says Spring Premiere Is 'Pure Madness' (Exclusive)

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The Grey's Anatomy spring premiere may have been pushed back slightly, but Jesse Williams promises it's worth the extra week of waiting.

"It's pure madness," Williams tells ET's Katie Krause of the March 11 return, while recently promoting his new ad campaign for Old Spice, of which he's a spokesperson. "I've got to say, we have found a way to have really highly concentrated, dense episodes towards the middle of the season with a lot of this incredible combination of loss and joy and progress in these characters' lives. But when [we] come back, yeah, it's going to be fairly terrifying and exhilarating."

Last we left the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) was seemingly on the mend following her COVID-19 diagnosis but was merely on a "COVID high." After reviving a patient, she found herself in even worse shape, collapsing in the doorway of the patient's room, her lungs are shot and on a ventilator, the latter something she was vehemently against. Since that December episode, Meredith's outlook for survival looks terrifyingly bad.

"There's a lot of personal journeys and there’s a lot at stake losing your grip on what’s real and what's stable in life, and dealing with the pandemic on the show has been really cathartic for viewers to feel," Williams says. "Yes, it has value in imagining elsewhere, but there’s also value [in] understanding. A show like this is news for some people -- and I don’t mean that everything is a fact -- but it is a way to get a human side to statistics to stories and to nameless, faceless stories. These are actual people that have loved ones that were born that his sister and a mom and a brother and they’re struggling with it they’re not just a stat or a demographic so that’s important."

Williams, who's played Jackson Avery on Grey's since season 6, admits even he's feeling uneasy about how Meredith will fare when the show returns.

"I am a little nervous too," he says, but maintained an optimistic outlook on her coming out of this battle against coronavirus even stronger. "There's got to be hope. As far as I can see, there's hope. She’s a really hilarious broad; I call her because she is one of the last of the broads that we have. In a lot of ways, we've all got a lot invested in this and she kind of represents both the sheer terror and the very real and reasonable feeling we have of what's kind of been washing over this. But also our fight, our 'stick to it[-ness],' our preparedness and it really does put into perspective, live your life now."

"Form your relationships now and people remember how you make them feel," Williams adds. "I don’t think there’s anybody in TV history that’s made people fill as much as Meredith Grey."

Grey's Anatomy
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Even though Williams hasn't shared scenes with any of the returning OG Grey's stars, like Patrick Dempsey or T.R. Knight, he's personally holding out hope for former cast members like Eric Dane, Jessica Capshaw and Sandra Oh to pop up this season. 

"She’s such a beast. She's such an incredible actor," Williams says of Oh. "Eric Dane, I had a lot of fun working with. We had such a great cast. I really enjoyed all of them and would love to get a chance to work with them again. All of these people we're talking about are both incredibly funny and incredibly powerful as dramatic actors and they can switch in and out of that in a way that is pretty unmatched."

As Williams' co-star Camilla Luddingtonhinted in December, he confirmed there's a return more shocking than McDreamy's in the season 17 premiere. "I would think so," Williams muses. "It's all relative and who you're invested in, but I think so."

He did share his own thoughts on what he's most looking forward for Grey's fans to experience when the second half of the season kicks back up in a month. 

"I am most excited for our fans to see us be really brought to the brink by what’s happening in our world. Really have empathy for the folks around us that it’s impacting and much harsher ways than it might be for us," he previews. "I would like for it to be a cohesive experience that brings us together, brings us level of understanding for our brothers and sisters around us and also showing us being able to pull the hell out of this thing stronger and make us really think about what is it that we want to be doing with our lives. It ain’t promised. How do you want your days to go? And start there."

Circling back to Old Spice, Williams pokes fun at himself in the new ad, where he declares he's going to stop taking his shirt off on TV. 

"It was an acknowledgment that that’s been a part... that I’ve been on a show and that’s part of the bread and butter of it or it was early on," Williams explains. "I’ve always encouraged Grey’s to recruit younger guys so they can take over that mantle and I can move on. So it was taking a shot at that but in some of the alternative takes, I did I joke about it’s about story and what makes sense for the story. It’s not frivolous and makes no sense. You take off your shirt to wipe something up and there’s a napkin available, that’s ridiculous. But having some fun with the reality of things and situations that we find ourselves in to get the job done."

Williams also shows off a sillier side of himself in the new spot, a point that he felt was important to show amid difficult times.

"I really understood the value of the perspective out of the gate because this has been a hard year for everybody. And we do find ourselves in a funk and not getting out of our sweatpants moving around the house and not having structure and finding a hard time getting self-motivated and doubting ourselves and needing to rebuild something solid to be able to remember what our dreams are and remember what we want to get accomplish and what should we be doing with our time," he says. "It’s easy to talk about it and now that you have the time, what are you doing with it? Particularly for folks who identify as male, it’s hard for us sometimes to be honest about that and express that doubt and that insecurity and that vulnerability, so I thought it was a cool opportunity to demonstrate a pep talk to do what you need to do to be your best self, do what you need to do to get yourself excited -- if it’s that cold shower, if it’s that particular -- in this case -- smell. Ready for anything, something to feel confident, I know I smell good, feel good even if I’m barely leaving the house it gets me motivated."

"I have found in my personal life value in manifesting. You’re speaking things into existence," Williams notes. "Seeing the finish line, not just 'I’m going to try to do this,' [but] 'I’m doing this, I’m going to finish writing this book.' Getting in that rhythm. I thought that was a good opportunity to throw that in the mix for folks and also yes, to be silly and playful and take some shots at myself. That was important too."

Grey's Anatomy returns Thursday, March 11 on ABC. For more, watch below.

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