UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 09 Winter 18 Library
Jason George
Alumni Spotlight

Jason George (College ‘94)

The story of Jason George’s remarkable career in the entertainment field might best start with this line: A funny thing happened on the way to the “bar.” When George, now a star of the ABC megahit show Grey’s Anatomy, and its successful spinoff series Station 19, first arrived on Grounds, his career was all but mapped out. “I had gotten tight with a Supreme Court Justice in Virginia, and his deal was, if you get the grades, I will write the recommendation for law school, then you will come clerk with me, and you will have a career laying at your feet. You just need to hold up your end of the bargain.” During his first year, he and a friend who had an equally certain course charted in the field of architecture, decided they should take a creative course, before, George said, “we both became stodgy professors.” They both auditioned for an acting class that was already overbooked. As fate would have it, only one got in. “My buddy still hasn’t quite forgiven me for that one,” he said. “But immediately there was this spark,” he said. “I will never forget sitting in Betsy Tucker’s office one day. And you know, everybody knows she is the ringer. She is the enforcer, she is the grinder. If you survive her, you feel like you’ve made it. I will never forget what she said to me. She said, ‘You are good at this. You could do this for a living. And I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.’ I thought it was the most confusing, fantastic, exhilarating thing anyone had ever said to me. Somebody had given me permission to pursue the dream that the world tells you that you shouldn’t pursue.” George would receive more permission and more critical mentorship from Colleen Kelly and Richard Warner in the Department of Drama. “I wouldn’t have been in graduate school if Richard had not taken me under his wing. And without Colleen’s teaching me stage combat and teaching me so much about how to be a working actor, I would definitely not be where I am. I think UVA creates great leaders, and the leadership skills they taught me have been invaluable.” 

Those skills came in part, George said, from his time he spent as a Fourth-Year as Co-Chair of Residence Staff, putting him and another student in charge of more than 100 RA’s and GRA’s. While taking the stage those first few times had to be intimidating, it would prove nothing compared to the abject fear George felt last October 6thas he stood in the backstage area near the Rotunda waiting to take the stage before 20,000 people at the Bicentennial Launch Celebration and deliver Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. “I honestly swear to you,” he remembers, “I have not been that straight up scared in at least 20 years. That speech is tried and true,” George said. “If you don’t absolutely kill it, it’s not the words. It’s you. Plus, since so many people know it so well, it’s not like you can drop a line or fake your way through.” Jason George’s return to Grounds that night was part of a larger reconnection with UVA Arts, fortified by relationships with fellow alums like noted producer and Virginia Film Festival board member Julie Lynn. “I then ran into Jody Kielbasa at a couple of events and we started talking about the Bicentennial and a few other things. My wife is a poet and her mentor is the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Rita Dove. So, there was this growing connection between my love of the arts, UVA’s love of the arts and my love for UVA that kept bringing me back into this orbit. When people ask me about the University’s acting program, I talk about the fact that it has produced people like Tina Fey, Sean Patrick Thomas and Sarah Drew (his Grey’s castmate), not to mention major directors and producers. It all proves to me that UVA churns out people who know how to think, no matter what their major might have been.” This growing connection grew even stronger earlier this year when George officially joined the Virginia Film Festival Advisory Board. “I really look forward to being back in Charlottesville and back at Virginia talking about my favorite subjects of film and television, which are my business, but also my passion and my art.” 

Read the next story

Star Wars on Stage