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Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) likes to keep the details of his personal life close to the vest on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. When the Mercy West transplant first arrived at Seattle Grace, he kept the fact that his grandfather was a world-famous surgeon under wraps as he sought to build a name for himself on his own.
This week, Jackson’s mother Catherine (Debbie Allen) makes a splash when she stops in at her son’s hospital to perform a groundbreaking surgery that has all the residents fighting to get on the case. But while Cristina (Sandra Oh), April (Sarah Drew), Alex (Justin Chambers) and Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) are all eager to impress her, Jackson is less than thrilled about the workplace family reunion.
“We have a very warm relationship but it’s definitely a point of wanting to be his own man at this point without so much – not so much interference, but no suggestions or ideas from his mother,” Allen tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Jackson doesn’t want me to be totally involved in his personal life.”
Allen also warns that Catherine “wants greatness” for Jackson and will challenge his decision to go into plastics and study under Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) instead of following in her family’s footsteps and going into neuro.
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“Jackson’s just trying to find his own space — his own path — not following family history and legacy,” she says. “Jackson is really standing his ground.”
“That’s what good parents do — they seek out opportunities for their kids, they push, they prod, they pull and sometimes they’re right,” Allen notes. “Sometimes they’re wrong and hopefully they listen at some point.”
“I don’t know if Catherine is the perfect mother, but she’s very focused on her boy,” Allen says. “She cares about him and wants very much to see him succeed and that he’s on a path that’s worthy of who he is to become.”
Meanwhile, the circumstances of the surgery – a penis transplant! – will provide Catherine with several opportunities to grill her son’s colleagues in her quest to not only find the best staffer to assist but also to search for details about Jackson’s relationship with Lexie (Chyler Leigh).
“I’m trying to find out who this girl is and he’s not wanting to let me know or to be involved at all,” Allen teases. “[Catherine is] just trying to find out about the girl; she’s trying to find out from him, she’s in the OR trying to find out about her, she trying to find out where ever she can but she’s not very successful in that effort.”
Allen, who has worked with the cast as a director in the past, notes that she and Williams did an improvisational scene where Jackson reminds Catherine of just how she’s tortured his girlfriends in the past in a scene between the two where the elder Avery attempts to persuade her son to open up about his relationship with Lexie.
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“She has a wonderful conversation that she’s tried to let him know that she’s changed and she’s ready to meet anybody,” Allen says. “But he’s not quite buying it.”
Between the surgery and her meddling, Allen warns that Catherine will find time to poke her nose into another former Mercy Wester’s love life.
“April is someone that she has a relationship with, and she sees that April needs to live a life,” Allen says. “She encourages April to be a full woman, a full person; she has to be more than just a doctor to be successful.”
“When you live life, then you have more to express,” she notes. “So she just encourages her to do that in a very fun way.”
Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.
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