Jason George has been wanting to direct for years, but it’s with the May 5 episode of Station 19 that the former Grey’s Anatomy star (finally) stepped behind the camera.
“There’s so many things going on this episode. I got served this great episode,” he tells TV Insider of “Death and the Maiden.” Remember, last we saw, Andy (Jaina Lee Ortiz) was arrested after the attacker she fought off died. Now, her fate remains unknown as a trial date is set. Plus, Vic (Barrett Doss) and Sullivan (Boris Kodjoe) are approached by an unexpected guest.
George, who plays firefighter Ben Warren on the ABC show, tells us about stepping behind the camera and previews the rest of the season.
Congratulations on your directorial debut!
Jason George: Thank you. I appreciate it. It was an incredible time. I had so much fun and I just loved that the whole cast and crew was there for me.
And congratulations on Season 6 as well.
Yeah, it’s always gonna be employed. I love that we get to keep the story going.
How did you directing this episode come about?
It’s always been on the back burner. I actually thought about directing — I did a sitcom [Eve] years ago, and Mary Lou Belli mentored me. The sitcom got canceled before I ever got a chance to [direct]. Typically as an actor, you usually tend to get a chance on projects that you’re working on. That’s typically where you have a little bit of leverage. So I’ve been shadowing directors on sets I’ve been on for years. I started shadowing formally on the Private Practice set, Betsy Beers and Shonda Rhimes were kind enough to let me shadow some directors over there.
So I’ve been shadowing off and on for years and heavily doing it on Station 19 and Paris Barclay is a fantastic mentor. And then along comes Stacey K. Black as our new producing director this year. She hires all the directors and she’s kind of like quality control and makes sure they’re all directing the same show. And one of her mentors is Mary Lou Belli. So I think it all just kind of came to a head and she believed in me and fought to get me a slot even though typically nobody wants to be your first time… If you haven’t done it before, nobody wants to take the risk on you, and she took that. I like to think I did her proud. She’s been very pleased so far and Krista Vernoff signed off of me and Krista gave me a great response. I was just elated that I didn’t let them down.
I knew that having been in Shondaland so long, building Station 19 from the ground up, that was part of what got me my shot. I just wanted to make sure that everybody felt without questions, I earned a second shot. I’m like, however you get the shot, get it however you get it. If it’s nepotism or whatever, I got no problem with nepotism, unless you’re bad at it. [Laughs] Keeping the shot should be because you earned it. So far [from what] I’ve heard, I think I’ll be doing more episodes.
How is this episode challenging the first responders?
Andy’s kind of in a fight for her life. She’s on trial and dealing with a legal system that is not designed to inherently support survivors. She’s feeling that right up front and Jaina Lee Ortiz brought it. The first responders end up in a situation where there may be more civilians in a fire than they’re led to believe. So they’re caught off guard. Jay Hayden, in particular, gives a great performance in this one. That was a lot of fun to direct him, and to see Travis get really determined about some things is fun because he’s so light and fun. But when he gets on his — for lack of a better word — righteous tip, it’s mad fun to watch Jay Hayden go there.
How did the episode challenge you as a director?
When you’re acting, you don’t necessarily have to put into words how you put it together. But when you’re communicating what’s in your head to somebody else, you’ve gotta figure out exactly how to put it into words to get them where you need them to be. [That collaboration with] my fellow actors and my DP was so much fun, but that was the biggest challenge. It’s the collaboration that makes it the most fun working with other people. Doing a one-man show would be the most boring thing in the world to me, except for the part where you actually are rehearsing with a director and can collaborate with another human being.
What was your favorite scene to direct?
It was one of the hardest. There is some great stuff with Danielle Savre and Stefania [Spampinato]. That whole storyline is heartbreaking and it’s funny and it’s really kind of lovely. It’s a really tight needle to thread to get something to be both heartbreaking and funny at the same time, and so working with them to just get into the right rhythm and they came with it and it came out pretty beautifully. It was all pretty fantastic, but that was one of the ones where you have two parts of your brain working at once. That was hard to get the rhythm there amongst all the actors.
How is Andy’s situation affecting the rest of 19? They’re a family.
It’s a family and it feels like the system’s coming for your sister. We feel it as a country these days, when you feel like some injustice is being performed to anyone. It reminds me of that Martin Luther King phrase, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, I’m paraphrasing that. And so it’s that, but when it’s somebody that you know and care about, everybody feels an extra need to do what’s right. ‘Cause we can only do so much to help out our sister, anything you can do in the rest of your life that makes things better, you feel like going the extra mile because we gotta do something. You gotta put that energy someplace. And I think you see that in some of the things that happen with Travis, especially and the rest of the first responders.
It’s interesting to see the firefighters in positions like that. We’re used to seeing them just run into a fire and they can handle it, they can save people, but then there are these situations where they can’t do something …
That’s the thing. They’re the people who run in where everybody else is running out. They’re the people who do. Everybody else thinks, they act. But when you get to a situation where there’s nothing that you can do, there’s no direct action you can take, the best you can do is just listen, support, try and speak up, but it doesn’t feel nearly as effective as you want it to be. Watching people who are so action-oriented feel borderline helpless is fascinating. I think our writers have done a great job of setting up that dichotomy, and like I said, you see where they put extra effort into what they can do.
After the drama earlier, how’s Ben’s home life and family going forward?
He lost one of his best friends. He’s inherited his daughter, but he’s not sure if he’s gonna get her. And in order to get her, he has to quit doing the thing he loves that gives his life purpose. The one thing he knows is that this little girl, her life will be better served with the firefighters in her life, with the firefighter family that was her father’s family being in her life. So he’s trying to figure out, how do I make that work? And if you can figure that out, whatever it costs him as a person, you have a decent level of peace. He’s juggling it.
Could another job change be in his future?
With Ben, you never say never. He’s just trying to do as much good in the world as he can do, and he knows what he’s good at. But if he finds another spot where he can do some good, I wouldn’t be surprised if he stuck his nose into it. I don’t see anything on the horizon, but with the way Ben is and these writers, I never say never.
What can you tease about the finale and how it sets up next season?
We’ve been talking a little bit about how much Station 19 is a family. They come together as a family in a beautiful way at the end. And then you find out something’s missing. Ben has decisions to make, and everybody in the firehouse has some decisions to make. And so you’re family, but that doesn’t mean that you’re always all gonna be right there. That’s the part that freaks everybody out. We come together except if we don’t.
That just makes me think of everyone coming together, there was a happy wedding, and then…
That’s kind of life in general, but it’s definitely life on our show. Everything is perfect until it’s not.
Station 19, Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC