The best advice Jerrika Hinton ever received came courtesy of a former co-worker, who told her to “keep doing what you’re doing and keep fighting that good fight,” recalls the Dallas-born actor. “[She told me that] fight is an important part of how you’ll find your way in the industry.”
It’s a mantra that has stayed with Hinton as she has carved out her acting path. She chooses roles based on her interest in the story and the feeling that she can stand behind it, she says, as well as whether the people making it “seem like good people”. Best known as Stephanie Edwards in Grey’s Anatomy – a role she played between 2012 and 2017 – Hinton, now 38, appears in the new Amazon Prime Video series Hunters, playing FBI agent Millie Malone.
Set in New York in the late ’70s, the show follows a diverse vigilante crew of Nazi hunters as they seek to put a bloody end to a horrifying genocidal plot concocted by former high-ranking officers hidden in the US. “I was immediately amazed by how David Weil [the show’s creator] was tossing together all these different tones and textures, almost creating a whole different genre,” Hinton says of her first impression of the script. Al Pacino stars (alongside Hinton, Logan Lerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mulvany, Tiffany Boone and more) in the intense drama, while Jordan Peele (director of Get Out and Us) is executive producer.
“Millie works for the FBI and is a devout Catholic. Those two tentpoles were a big piece of the research puzzle,” Hinton says of the deep-dive she did into the nuances of her character and the context within which the show is set. “There was a lovely woman I met, who is a retired agent and was one of the first black women to work in the bureau where she was stationed, and so getting to speak with her about her real-life experiences was amazing. So, too, was learning more about Catholicism, and about the points in history that would have resonated for my character and might inform the choices she’s making today.”
Inspired by true events but not based on one specific group of Nazi hunters, the show covers themes that retain relevance, believes Hinton, traversing time and context. “I think if you take any story about revenge, hate, seeking justice, what it means to be a villain, what it means to be a hero, and set these points at any stage in history, then you’re going to find parallels. So it’s not just relevant to today because of where we are in our global political theater, it’s relevant because these are relevant [themes], no matter the time.”
Justice is a concept that Hinton has explored through her long-term support of the Innocence Project – a non-profit organisation working to reform the criminal justice system to prevent injustices, and to exonerate wrongly convicted people through DNA testing. “Organizations like that do very important work,” she says. “You know, these institutions that we place our faith in – much like Millie does – are not infallible, so it’s important that organizations like that exist.”
Hinton speaks passionately and with acute understanding across a wide variety of issues that she cares about. While she still “grapples with the level of responsibility I have [and] how vocal I am about what causes I support,in terms of being socially responsible and socially conscious, I think that’s just my responsibility as a human being.”
The arts are a powerful tool for change because “we are a storytelling species, and have been since the earliest time,” she says. Hinton’s methods of storytelling span beyond acting – she is also a writer and photographer (you can see her A Project in Portraits series, which began with her taking pictures of her loved ones and branched out from there, on Instagram). “Why choose when you can have them all?” she says of her different creative pursuits.
“I love to hit as many senses as I can at once,” Hinton affirms of finding and evoking meaning in her work. “[I aim for] full immersion and approach things almost with the spirit of a novice: ‘What is there to learn here? Let me stay open.’”
This industry does a really strange thing to you. In many ways, it seeks to make you less dependent on your own instincts. I know how to dress myself, I know what my sense [of style] is, and so I’m going to bring that into these spaces”
In a move unsurprising for somebody who exudes a warm and comfortable air of self-assurance, Hinton has stopped using stylists, instead choosing her own closet for this press tour. “This industry does a really strange thing to you,” she says. “In many ways, it seeks to make you less dependent on your own instincts. I know how to dress myself, I know what my sense [of style] is, and so I’m going to bring that into these spaces rather than rely on some external factor that may not get that sense of me.”
Hinton sums up her style as comprising one of three personas on any given day: “I’m either a cashmere tomboy, somebody’s art teacher, or I’m a southern Gullah witch!” she laughs. On the day we meet, she’s opted for the second, wearing a pleated tangerine Issey Miyake shirt over a draped dress from minimalist American-Vietnamese label Kaarem and blue velvet Aquazzura boots.
Her confidence in trusting her instincts and making her own decisions spans her sense of style, the causes she supports and the way she has chosen to steer her career. What has she discovered gives her a feeling of power? “Acknowledging the truth, that is the biggest thing,” she says, “and, to add a sartorial side, joy and comfort also make me feel powerful, co-existing simultaneously.”
Hunters is released on Amazon Prime Video on February 21, 2020
The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown