Grey's Anatomy star Jason George dishes on move to firefighter spin-off
The world of Grey’s Anatomy is expanding once again with a firefighter-set spin-off that features flagship fixture Ben Warren trading his scrubs for a spot in the firehouse.
Launching out of a March episode of Grey’s, the 10-episode drama follows a team of dedicated firefighters — including father figure Captain Pruitt Herrera (Miguel Sandoval), charismatic charmer Jack (Grey Damon), and leading lady Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz) — who put their lives on the line during high-stakes rescue missions. How will Ben (Jason George) handle his new profession?
“It feels like Ben’s perpetually starting over,” George tells EW. “This was a guy deathly afraid of fire, and now he’s going after it for a living.” To be honest, he should probably be more afraid of the reaction that his wife, chief Bailey (Chandra Wilson), will have to his big move. For more scoop, read our full interview with George below. (And check out our Q&A with showrunner Stacy McKee here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you first hear about the possibility of moving from Grey’s Anatomy to the spin-off?
JASON GEORGE: It’s kind of crazy. I got the first call probably back in July sometime. I remember I was literally throwing my kids and my nephews around in a pool back on the east coast, and I got a call and they’re like, “Would you be willing to take a call from Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers at 5 this afternoon?” I was like, “Are you allowed to turn that down?” [Laughs] When they talked to me, they gave me an idea creatively of how this would work and how it would make sense, and it really sparked my interest. You see the opportunity and it ended up being something that I got more and more excited about as time went on. The frustrating part was the closer it got, the more I got excited, but I still couldn’t talk about it, because it wasn’t out in the world yet.
Did you suspect that this could happen considering Ben was so game to save people alongside the firefighters in the season 13 finale?
Not in the least. What was funny was, I genuinely had no concept that was in the cards.
Were you worried at all that moving to the spin-off would mean bad news for Ben and Bailey?
Yeah, that was a concern of mine. They told me, “Well, you’re probably right to be concerned, because I’m sure Bailey is going to be concerned,” so I think we’re still in the middle of working out what that means. I’m as much a fan of the show as anybody, so I’m figuring it out myself.
Once Ben really is focused on this new job, how do you think that might either make things difficult or maybe even spice up their marriage?
This goes one of two ways — either it stresses them out, perhaps breaks them, or they find a way to work through it. If they find a way to work through it, who doesn’t like a dude in a firefighter outfit? There’s no downside of being married to a firefighter, except for the fact that you wake up every day scared they might not come home. But as long as they come home, I figure things are pretty good once they get home. I think that part, the spicy part, comes in just fine because every day a firefighter walks through the door, the person waiting for him at home is probably pretty excited, and the uniform looks all right, too. I certainly believe that there’s going to be stress no matter what, whichever way it goes. If it breaks them up, then I have no idea how it’s going to be, because this is one of the firetrucks that brings patients to the hospital on Grey’s Anatomy. It could get really awkward in that case. I’m as interested to see how this turns out as everybody.
Ben has been training for this, but how might he struggle taking on this new profession?
It feels like Ben’s perpetually starting over, but the cool part is that’s one of the things I love about Ben, because he’s excited to pursue new things and go up to new challenges. This was a guy deathly afraid of fire, and now he’s going after it for a living. That says a lot about him as a person. That said, Ben tends to have two speeds, stop and light speed, and sometimes that’s not always a great thing going so hard and so fast at something. He’s smart enough and talented enough that it usually works out for him, but as we’ve seen, sometimes there’s a question mark there. That’ll be interesting to see how that works out for Ben.
Ben has changed jobs a number of times. What’s to say he won’t change his mind about this, too?
To be perfectly honest, nothing. As an actor, you know every job you have is going to end someday. That’s not so much different than the rest of the world, we just don’t have illusions about it. The average person changes career paths two or three times in the course of their life. Ben happens to be somebody that is perfectly comfortable with the idea, “Yeah, let’s switch things up.” Most people don’t change careers because they want to get settled and feel stability, and Ben has no problem being in a shifting situation. Could he change his mind again sometime? Yeah, but I tend to think he doesn’t do stuff like that until he knows — for a lack of a better word — he’s mastered this thing. He goes after it until he can say, “Yeah, I did that. Nobody can question the fact that I did that and was capable of it and was legit, so now I’m good.” He was a bomb anesthesiologist, he was a star resident, who, through the ins and outs of all of it, was still kicking some serious ass at the end of the day. Now he’s like, “Let me go prove myself.” Any firefighter he comes across will be able to say, “Yeah, you did that.” That’s when he might be okay with changing up again.
How do you feel the spin-off is thematically and tonally either similar or different from Grey’s?
This is what I’m digging about the concept is, it is in the Grey’s universe, so there’s going to be a lot of elements that fans will completely recognize and love, not the least of which is, there’s always going to be humor and feels. You’re going to feel some kind of way, clutch the pearls, get misty, drop a few tears every once and a while. That will feel very familiar. What I love with these relationships is that firefighters are a dysfunctional family. They are not blood relatives, but they are family hands down, almost beyond anything else. They eat dinner together, they live together every 24-hour shift; literally, they’re a family for those periods when they’re on shift, a family that also happens to completely and utterly have their lives depending on each other in a way that virtually no other job does. There’s so much that’s familiar to Grey’s fans, but when Ben is in the OR, he needs his team and friends that are his extended family to back him up so he can save this person’s life, but out in the field as a firefighter, he needs his team to save his life or he needs to be there to save their lives. They’re backing each other up as well as saving other people’s lives. You screw up, you don’t lose somebody that you met an hour ago, you screw up, you lose your best friend, your brother, your sister, and that’s an extra level that hasn’t been introduced in the Grey’s universe yet.
Because he’s just joining the team, do you think there will be issues of trust?
Yeah, trust is earned. To a degree, it just comes with time. He shows up and he’s brand new. He may know intellectually everything to do, but he hasn’t been there long enough for it to be absolute and complete reflex yet, so that’s the stuff that may get interesting. That’s the stuff that takes time, so it’s going to be fun to see how those relationships develop over time because some people trust easily, some people don’t. Like I said, it’s a dysfunctional family, and that’s going to be a really fun thing seeing this character that Grey’s fans have watched for years drop in a new circumstance. They’re still going to see some familiar faces, because this is the ambulance and firetrucks that pull up to Grey Sloan. So you’ll see him with folks that he knows and has real history with at times, and then you’ll also see the folks who are like, “Look, I don’t know you yet.” That’s the fun part to play. I just feel blessed to be able to play this character that I’ve really come to love, but flip it on its head and try a new thing. It’s like getting all the cake and you get to eat it too, because normally for actors you have to completely leave a job and the family you’ve built over a few years to get that new actor adrenaline rush of starting a new gig.
Have you heard how much crossover there will be between the two shows? When Private Practice did it, it was more of a major event, whereas shows from the Chicago franchise do it more weekly, but smaller cameos.
I don’t know if I’d use the Chicago shows as the analogy for us. My understanding is, Ben will be popping up in Grey’s Anatomy some and some of your favorite Grey’s Anatomy folks will be popping up in the spin-off. When it was Private Practice, the show was located in Los Angeles, so by definition, it had to be an event when they came up to Seattle or vice versa. This one can be an event, but it also doesn’t have to be. The fun part is, the writers have an embarrassment of riches, they can play it any way they want it at any given time. They could have a mega event that goes across both shows, or they could just drop off a person for a little bit and go have a beer. “Hey Avery, this is my friend from the firehouse.”
Grey’s has been setting up the spin-off mainly through Ben Warren running around training with his shirt off. Did that make you at all stressed to bulk up for those scenes?
A brother just wants a little more warning, that’s all. [Laughs]
Can you tease when and how Grey’s will really introduce the spin-off?
In the back half of Grey’s, there will be at least one episode prior to the spin-off airing that you’ll get to meet some of the characters from the spin-off. I’m sure they’ll do it in grand Grey’s style, as they’re want to do. And then these shows will coexist on the air and let the mixing begin. It’s almost like when you start dating somebody, you’re bringing them to meet your friends sometimes and they’re bringing you to meet their friends sometimes. It’s almost how it feels. I walked into my trailer at Grey’s and there were my firefighter boots and I thought, “This is weird.”
The Grey’s Anatomy spin-off will first launch in an episode of the flagship slated for March before debuting sometime in the spring. Read our Q&A with showrunner Stacy McKee here.