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Jesse Williams on ‘Take Me Out’ Nudity Leak: “Theater Is a Sacred Space, and Everybody Doesn’t Understand That”


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Jesse Williams says that he’s “not down” about having images and video of him performing while nude in Broadway’s Take Me Out, but that actors “do need to keep advocating for ourselves” when it comes to protecting their own safety and performances on theater stages.

While speaking to the Associated Press at the Tony Awards: Meet The Nominees event on Thursday, the actor opened up about how he’s felt since the images of his performance were posted and circulated online.

“I’m not down about it. Our job is to go out there every night, no matter what,” he said.

While he said he “can’t sweat” what happened, he did add that “we do need to keep advocating for ourselves. And it’s wonderful to see a community push back and make clear what we do stand for, what we don’t.”

“Theater is a sacred space, and everybody doesn’t understand that,” he added. “Everybody doesn’t necessarily respect or regard that in a way that maybe they should, or we’d like.”

Directed by Scott Ellis and written by Richard Greenberg, Take Me Out stars Williams as Darren Lemming, a biracial Black gay center fielder who must handle the response from the public and his team after he comes out as gay. The show also stars Patrick J. Adams, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Michael Oberholtzer, with Ferguson and Oberholtzer both scoring Tony nominations on Monday alongside Williams for their performances.

The former Grey’s Anatomy star and a number of other cast members appear nude in several scenes set inside the fictional baseball team’s locker room. Williams called the show’s use of nudity “honest” and something that “makes sense” in the context of Greenberg’s play. “It’s not salacious. It serves the story. It puts the audience in an interesting position to relate, to empathize with, the characters.”

Before the leak, Second Stage had instituted a no-phones policy requiring ticketholders place their phones in locked Yondr pouches upon entering the theater to prevent filming of the actors for their safety. Audience members could then unlock their phones as they exited after the show.

That policy will continue, with the theater announcing it’s adding additional security and an infrared camera system facing the audience, to be monitored in real-time by the Second Stage security team during the shower scenes to avoid the use of cameras. Second Stage is also “actively pursuing takedown requests” and has asked that the public refrains from distributing any previously posted images of Williams.

“Taking naked pictures of anyone without their consent is highly objectionable, and can have severe legal consequences,” the theater said in a statement posted to its Twitter on Tuesday. “Posting it on the internet is a gross and unacceptable violation of trust between the actor and the audience forged in the theater community.”

The footage leak of Williams prompted a response from Actor’s Equity, which denounced in the “strongest possible terms the creation and distribution of photographs and videos of our members during a nude scene,” as well as several castmates. That includes Ferguson, who tweeted that he was “appalled by the disrespect shown to the actors of our company whose vulnerability on stage every night is crucial to Take Me Out.” 

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