'Station 19': Jason George on Making His Directorial Debut and Andy's Gut-Wrenching Trial (Exclusive)

Station 19
Richard Cartwright/ABC

Station 19 star Jason George steps behind the camera for Thursday's episode of the Grey's Anatomy firefighter spinoff, which returns after a weeks-long break.

The hour, titled "Death and the Maiden," picks up with Andy’s fate left up in the air as she pleads not guilty to charges of manslaughter as she awaits trial in her case. Meanwhile, Vic and Sullivan are approached by an unexpected guest that leads them down an expected journey, and the Station 19 crew responds to a row of townhouses on fire, which turns into something far more significant than they could have imagined.

For George, putting on his director's hat for the first time has been a long time coming.

"I'm just excited that I got to enjoy my Station 19 family from a whole different angle. I'm part of the cast. I've tried to take care of my crew. But then being the director of the episode and having them support me in a whole different way, that was the one thing that surprised me the most," the longtime Grey's-Station 19 actor told ET ahead of his directorial debut. "I knew a lot of what I didn't know, so I knew where I'd be scrambling to keep up. The one thing that truly, truly surprised me was how much more I would love my cast and crew when I finished directing. That literally got me a little teary and surprised me, that I would feel differently about them. I thought I couldn't love them more, but it turns out I did."

Ahead of the episode, George spoke to ET about how the opportunity came to be, what he learned the most about directing and what awaits the Station 19 crew as they navigate uncharted territory -- both personally and professionally.

ET: How did the opportunity to direct this episode of Station 19 come about?

Jason George: A lot of stars aligned. I did a sitcom a million years ago and shadowed the director on that show, Mary Lou Belli. She'd worked with me towards directing, but then the show got canceled and that opportunity never came. I started shadowing directors off and on, on different shows, and even shows that I wasn't on. I was having to gear up to do some projects of my own to try and see what I had to say as a director behind the camera. And then COVID hit, so that got put on the back-burner. Then Stacey K. Black came in as our producing director this season because she's directed multiple episodes over the course of the life of Station 19, and I adore her. She said, "You know what? I know you were going to do your own things, but let's just skip to the chase and let's do this." She believed in me and Krista Vernoff believed in me, I think, more than I did at some points. They gave me the shot and I tried to run with it as best I could. My one goal was... I didn't want to let Stacey and Krista and Paris [Barclay] and all my other mentors down. My joke is always that I have no problem with nepotism if it gets you the job, whether it's you being the boss' kid or you went to the same college, that's fine. Whatever gets you the job gets you the job. Keeping the job should be about you actually doing a good job. Whatever my position was at Station 19, I understand that may be part of what got me a shot, but I wanted to kill it. I wanted to do such a good job that everybody understood, unquestionably, "He earned his next shot at directing." I breathed a lot easier when I heard their response, when I got their feedback. I was like, "So I will be doing this again."

This is quite a packed episode to plant your flag as a director. Were there any nerves about juggling the various storylines?

Fortunately, no. My nerves were a month and a half, two months before. I'd wake up, "I made a mistake. Take me off the list. Give someone else a shot." Of course, I never actually made that call, but you have those thoughts where I was like, "I want the episode now because I want to know what's going on." But the thing with me is, it's not about the amount of stuff I have to do. It's about, can I hear the music in it? Does it make sense to me? And fortunately, Rochelle Zimmerman and Leah Gonzalez wrote this fantastic script. The instant I read it, I was like, "I know this story. I don't know exactly how I'm going to do with it, but immediately I have ideas." 

Taking off your director's hat for a moment and speaking as an actor on the show, what can you preview for what's at stake with the show's return? 

We got some juicy, juicy performances. They have served up some stories where all my actors had to dig deep. I mean, Jaina Lee Ortiz brought the thunder as Andy's put through the legal system that's not necessarily inclined to inherently believe survivors, that's known for putting survivors on trial in the witness box. She's literally getting put on trial. So seeing her getting put under pressure and more pressure and more pressure, watching Jaina and how she portrayed Andy trying to survive under all this extra pressure was a joy. Only actors get excited about watching people go through anguish! Jaina is built for being able to bring that across and bring humanity to it.

And then the first responders, there's this great storyline with Travis, [played by] Jay Hayden, and Vic, [played by] Barrett Doss, leading the charge with all this energy of seeing your sister, Andy, go through all this anguish that you can't help her with and it's unjust. Where do you put that energy? They go the extra mile to bring some justice into situations that they find themselves in. In fact, when you're not given all the information in a fire situation, you realize how bad things could go. They're tested as fire first responders, and then it turns into them finding a place to put some of that energy that they can't help Andy with.

Station 19
Richard Cartwright/ABC

Of course, Maya and Carina are navigating IVF and their journey reaches some speed bumps in this episode too. What can you say about their story?

This one had to have you laughing and crying at the same time, and that's a really tough needle to thread. That story was one of the things I was probably most happy about because it takes time to find the right rhythms so you're not too much in the drama and not too much in the comedy. You're laughing while you're crying and crying while you're laughing. And Stefania [Spampinato] and Danielle [Savre] and Grey [Damon] found beautiful, beautiful moments that I think people are really going to enjoy. I took the extra time to rehearse it with them and get through those scenes because once they hit exactly that note, the rest of our day will sail. At one point my AD turned around and said, "You're an hour and a half behind." I was like, "Trust me." Then they tagged it, and from then on our day sailed.

Without getting into spoiler territory, what can you tease about where everyone goes from here?

Andy goes through it in that you've got the legal system beating her up. You've got the policies, the fire department beating her up. And it's like a crucible that boils her down to her most raw, fierce Andy-ness. The most Andy she can be. And that's when she now gets to the spot where she's ready to come back and stop apologizing, stop feeling shamed or stop accepting any blame. And start saying, "I did what I needed to do to survive," and come back at the world. But that doesn't mean that the legal system or that the fire department are going to comply. But watching that journey is so much fun. And watching Maya and Carina trying to figure out, "How do we do this new family thing?" is a joy to watch. It's hilarious, it's painful, it's beautiful, it's joyful. 

Going back to your experience as a director, how did you balance the workload? 

It's all in setting yourself up for success. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. So that was that time to really work on the script and talk and meet with my EP and meet with set decorators and visual effects people and [have] all those conversations. Talk with the writers. That was the time that saved my life. That's the time that's precious. I was like, "Write me down in the episode before I direct. But in terms of the acting, yeah, that's fine. I know how to do that part."

You're comfortable critiquing yourself as an actor even while you have your director's hat on?

I always feel like my superpower is objectivity. I know what's satisfactory without being satisfied. I'm always trying to see if I can do better. But I'll know we can print that take and I'm not going to be embarrassed, and I'm not going to embarrass the show. But if I know I've got another take that is markedly better, that's worth going back for. I'm pretty good about being objective about that, and that's my superpower as a person and as an actor.

It sounds like you're already eyeing directing another episode next season. Is that something you're talking to producers about?

Oh yeah. The night I wrapped, I said, "Sign me up again. Not next week, but sign me up. I need a break. I'll sleep next week, but sign me up again, and soon." 

Station 19 airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

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