Jesse Williams on His High-Concept Marijuana Ad: "Art Meets Responsibility"

MedMen's two-minute Spike Jonze-directed ad has the 'Grey's Anatomy' actor playing a slew of characters — like a hemp-growing George Washington — in a series of frozen-in-time vignettes illustrating the long, complicated history of cannabis in America.
Courtesy of MedMen
'Grey's Anatomy' actor Jesse Williams stars in MedMen's two-minute Spike Jonze-directed ad, "The New Normal."

MedMen's two-minute Spike Jonze-directed ad, "The New Normal," has Grey's Anatomy actor Jesse Williams playing a slew of characters — like a hemp-growing George Washington — in a series of frozen-in-time vignettes illustrating the long, complicated history of cannabis in America.

It's a trippy spot, but the true mind-blower is how it was made. Williams and "true collaborator" Jonze staffed up the ad, which can only be seen online and on cannabis-friendly TV outlets like Dish, Bravo and the Food Network, with loads of people who had been incarcerated for marijuana offenses or been tangled up somehow by the authorities and "predatory drug laws," explains the actor and social justice activist.

"[Jonze] solicited my ideas," says Williams. "And my idea was to staff this thing with people in all categories — actors, PAs, grips, caterers, everyone — who had been negatively impacted by America's drug laws. We wanted this to be done [by people] directly connected to the subject. This is where art meets responsibility."

One of his first calls was to Shaka Senghor, executive director at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a nonprofit founded in L.A. County and serving cities across California that focuses on formerly incarcerated men and women and helps them to re-enter society with positive results. They also got help on the set from other organizations like Homeboy Industries, which provided on-set catering. “This was critical from the jump because [this project] was not an anthropological mission. We want this to be for Americans by Americans and by the subject matter directly connected to the material.”

A version of this story first appeared in the March 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.