Kelsey McNeal/ABC via Getty Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, the 39-year-old actor, who recently partnered with Old Spice as part of their "Smell Ready for Anything" campaign," says while he's "given up" on guessing exactly when the show will conclude, he doesn't think the end is necessarily in sight.
"I remember six years ago being like, 'Yeah, two more years makes sense,'" he says. "And then two more years, and then two more years. And I made a joke earlier that Grey's is like betting against Tom Brady — you just don't do it."
"Obviously," says Williams, who plays charming plastic surgeon Dr. Jackson Avery on the hit ABC series, "people are riveted." And, as he points out, that's no small feat: "If it was easy to keep a show going on this long, this many hours, this many episodes a season, this many seasons, everybody would do it."
Kelsey McNeal via Getty Jesse Williams in Grey's Anatomy
Williams also credits the inclusion of a diverse cast and crew, most notably a large female presence, for the show's longtime success: "It's a real formula there, it's no mistake."
"Our directing producers, our directors, we — like many things with Grey's — have shown the world that despite the system telling you you can't have diversity, you can't have Black people, or lesbians, or Asian folks, or women running anything, or gay character storylines or trans stories, we do all of those things and we've been number one for a very long time," Williams says. "So Shonda [Rhimes] has created an animal and Krista Vernoff's doing a hell of a job of leading the way for us."
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At the close of the midseason finale in December, the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital were experiencing an overload of COVID-19 patients while Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) herself was fighting for her life against the virus. So what's to come when the series returns with new episodes on March 11?
"We ended it with a hell of a cliffhanger and we've got a range of ... life or death scenarios that hang in the balance," Williams says, going on to tease what fans can expect between Jackson and Jo Wilson's (Camilla Luddington) unexpected romance.
"Jackson and Jo are trying out this weird dynamic, this weird relationship, where that could be totally cathartic and therapeutic, or it could be a toxic mess that we could see coming a mile away," he says. "And figuring that out is going to be really interesting."
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Off camera, in his partnership with Old Spice, Williams has created pep talk videos where he shares his own personal battles and the self-talk he's used to get his confidence back on top where it belongs.
"It was an opportunity to poke fun at myself, be self-deprecating, talk about some of the things that I've been insecure about, Williams says. "But also with all the serious stuff that's going on in the world, it was an opportunity to be light and to try to be funny."
Courtesy of Old Spice Jesse Williams
He adds: "I thought it was a good example to show that, you know what, I'm actually insecure about a bunch of things that I've been doing. And I do need to be motivated. I do need a pep talk. I do need to manifest what I want for myself and speak things into existence. And whether that's something really lofty career-wise or something as simple as my morning routine, I want those little cornerstones that help me have confidence."
Fans can join Williams in creating and sharing pep talk clips on Instagram, using the hashtag #SmellReadyForAnything.