Jesse Williams: "Civil Rights Movement Was More Complex Than I Thought"

The actor and teacher on what he learned starring in The Butler.

Posted: 08/16/2013 08:30 AM EDT
Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams is more than just a pretty face. The actor, best known for his work on Grey's Anatomy, graduated from Temple University with a degree in African-American Studies and later became a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system before he caught the acting bug.

Now, the actor gets to put his education to use as Reverend James Lawson in Lee Daniels' The Butler. The green-eyed Chicago native talks to us about the complexities of the civil rights movement, which he studied extensively in college and taught to his students, and the perspective he has on it as a biracial individual.

"Your experiences inform your perspective," he says. "We think of civil rights from the perspective of Malcolm X, or the Black Panthers, or the Southern non-violent movement, but the reality is more complex than that."

Williams says his knowledge of the subject went deeper than text books when he had the chance to meet the real Rev. Lawson, who he plays in the film. Lawson is a pastor and activist who worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. to spread the non-violence movement during the Civil Rights era. Lawson lives in Los Angeles and is still active in the movement.

To hear more on civil rights and the biracial experience from Williams, watch our exclusive interview in the video below. Lee Daniels' The Butler hits theaters today.

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(Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company)

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