After breaking out as Dr. Stephanie Edwards for five seasons on Grey’s Anatomy, Jerrika Hinton has seen her career grow with each new TV role, starring alongside Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins on the HBO family drama Here and Now before moving on to the Jordan Peele-produced grindcore series Hunters as co-lead opposite Al Pacino and Logan Lerman.
Her role as Millie Morris is not only her most significant so far, but also some of the best work she’s done on screen, bringing to life a lesbian FBI agent whose investigation into a series of murders leads to her discovery of the Fourth Reich and a vigilante group of Nazi hunters in the 1970s America.
“I was immediately attracted to Millie… I was excited about what I could do with her, where I could take her. And I was hopeful -- because of the talent on the page -- I was hopeful that the people involved would be interested in taking her in a strong direction,” Hinton says of initially getting involved in the show.
The end result is a layered performance about a queer Black woman who is a devout Catholic working in the Bureau. “I latched onto a lot of these dualities within her,” she continues, adding that “she’s having her own coming-of-age story in the same way that Logan's character, Jonah, is.”
That’s largely seen in her coming to terms with her sexuality through her relationship with her live-in girlfriend, Maria, and coming out to her dying mother, Viola. In a particularly emotional moment late in the season, in episode eight, Viola reveals that she knows her daughter is a lesbian. “I see you. I see you,” Viola tells Millie, who is in tears.
While trying to speak about what went into that performance, Hinton becomes emotional. “It’s so moving to be seen by someone you love, by someone you ache to be seen by,” she says, adding, “That scene is so meaningful to me. I love that they wrote it. I love the way that they wrote it. I love how much is unsaid. I love how little Mille says in that scene.” She recalls telling herself while filming it, “You get out of the way and let the words do everything.”
And it’s those kinds of scenes that bring some much-needed levity to the series, which mixes so many genres and embraces the blood and gore alongside the tears and compassion it has for its characters and their personal journeys. “That’s not something you see often done well,” Hinton says.
The show, which debuted in February, also confronts real-world issues, like racism, bigotry and social injustice, which is even more timely today amid the current protests against social and racial injustices in America and the surge in support for the Black Lives Matter movement. When asked about what Hollywood can do to move things forward, Hinton says it’s time to see real change and not just lip service.
“This historical notion of Black people and especially Black women regularly getting the sh*t end of the stick when it comes to pay in this industry -- and across all industries -- we as a whole and I personally am so sick of it,” Hinton says, explaining that marginalized voices are regularly having to fight to be valued in the same way as their white counterparts. “I know myself is an asset to every single room I walk into. I am an asset to every company, every show.”
She adds: “I hope that pay parity is something that becomes more commonplace in the industry… It’s got a long way to go. It really does.”
Hinton’s comments about pay parity for people of color in Hollywood is not that dissimilar from what many women went through years earlier, calling for equal pay in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the creation of the Time’s Up initiative, which fought against systemic sexual harassment and disparity between genders in the workplace. What she is bringing up now crosses over with the Black Lives Matter movement, which has already resulted in the removal of some racist people within the industry and seen renewed focus in a call for more diversity, inclusivity and representation in front of and behind the camera.
“If believing that this time is different is what’s going to allow [people] to stay engaged in the conversation, then yes, believe that this time is different because that’s the only way it’s going to be,” Hinton says.
In addition to changes in Hollywood, what projects and people are recognized during awards season, like the 72nd Primetime Emmys, is an opportunity to change the landscape. Both Ramy Youssef and Cynthia Erivo echoed those sentiments while recently speaking with ET about the upcoming awards, and Hinton herself has come around to the idea of how it can open a door that was previously closed before.
“I recognize that these awards are a tool for the toolbox,” she says. “They potentially allow me to be engaged in conversations that I might not have been invited to beforehand and ideally they allow me to to assist in opening this world for other people that need to be a part of it.”
ET’s “Standout Performances” recognize the best of the 2019-2020 TV season. See more of our favorites below: