When actor Jason George isn’t busy saving lives as Dr. Ben Warren on Grey’s Anatomy, he finds other ways to help. He champions diversity in the entertainment industry, guides at-risk youth, and raises funds for cancer research. He’s also a classically trained stage actor, who’s landed over 50 guest roles on primetime television, including nine series, such as Mistresses, Eve, Eli Stone, and multiple films and plays. So chances are good you’ve seen his face somewhere.
When not filming a series or on stage, the married father of three serves on the National Board of SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). He chairs their Diversity Advisory committee, which helps protect performers and supports diversity as part of the unions’ negotiating teams for primetime television and film contracts. He’s also a melanoma advocate. Last year he partnered with the Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF) to host the Miles for Melanoma 5K Run/Walk to raise funds for research.
Recently, ABILITY caught up with the actor at a symposium called “Engage: Navigating Hollywood’s Shifting Landscape” in Santa Monica. George spoke openly about disability and inclusivity in the entertainment industry, what he loves about acting, and his role in a new spin-off from Grey’s Anatomy in which he plays a firefighter in an as-yet-named TV series slated for 2018.
Lia Martirosyan: Tell us about the symposium.
Jason George: Engage is about inclusivity and diversity in media and television and how to get work in the industry, especially behind the scenes. It’s a comprehensive look at how to get employed, the kinds of employment there are, and what the changing trends are, especially when it comes to inclusivity and diversity.
Martirosyan: Disability has been left out of the equation when talking diversity in media. What have you experienced?
George: Disability in general hasn’t been included in the conversation about inclusivity. It’s only recently that it’s really started to move the needle. I do a lot of work with SAG-AFTRA around issues of diversity and inclusivity, and I’ve got to say that the Performers with Disabilities Committee has done phenomenal work moving the needle and getting this conversation happening in the industry. It’s amazing how much energy it takes to get that big old boulder rolling just an inch, which they’ve done. It’s starting to roll now and people are having that conversation.
I think what I’m most excited about right now is that so many people are talking about equality and inclusivity and trying to make sure that nobody is left out. When you point out to somebody that they’re leaving out 20 percent of the population, they pay attention. They wake up. I think it’s not been nearly as hard a conversation as it would have been 10 or 15 years ago. People suddenly go, “Oh, you’re right. You’re right. I hadn’t been thinking about that. I hadn’t been including performers with disabilities in my projects. I haven’t been hiring writers with disabilities. I haven’t been looking for producers with disabilities.”
It’s pointed out to them, sometimes in a shaming way, but in terms of, “This actually will help improve your bottom line. People always want to see themselves on camera.” There doesn’t need to be a point. Most powerful is when you see a person on camera with a disability, and it’s not the point of the story. That’s happening more and more. Not enough, let’s be clear, but it’s happening more. At the end of the day I think people are starting to realize that if you say you stand for equality, it has to be equality across the board. It can’t just be equality for people who look like me, are my gender, think or love like me. It has to be equality for everybody. Either you fight for everybody, or you’re really just fighting for yourself and people like you. So I think that’s the message that needs to get out there more and more. It’s that simple. The simple note of, “Don’t forget about these folks who are, by the way, the biggest population of people who are forgotten in the country.”