This story is part of GQ’s Modern Lovers issue.
“I couldn’t make this up if I tried,” says Taylour Paige. She and Jesse Williams have just finished recounting the night they met, a story with enough perspective changes and twists to be the meet-cute of the next Shonda Rhimes pilot. Which is to say, it does sound too cinematic to be true. But Willams and Paige are coming up on their third year together now, so whatever it is that brought them together, real or not, seems to be working. This despite the fact that they are, in Williams’s words, “on opposite sides of the spectrum,” even in their approaches to their craft. Both are actors—he as a longtime star of Grey’s Anatomy, she in the upcoming Jeremy O. Harris and Janicza Bravo ﬁlm Zola—and their differences are congruous, a true embodiment of opposites attracting. “We get satisfaction from being fed,” he explains of their dynamic. “If you like to feel full in new ways, it’s a fun learning process.”
But back to that first night, which Williams describes as “this rom-com effect,” and about which Paige warns, “After he tells the story, I can give you the spiritual backstory.”
So, the scene. It’s September 2018. Our leading man stands aloof at his own Emmys party. Suddenly, he’s electrified by an alluring woman walking by. Everything slows to half speed, all other faces surrounding her fall out of focus, and the background desaturates to black and white as she cuts a swath in her vibrant red dress. “I parted the red seas in my red dress. I looked like the emoji,” Paige interjects. “You said you were going to let me tell the story,” Williams chides, continuing on. He has no idea who she is, and he’s compelled to fix that, immediately. “I was in the middle of a conversation with a very close friend, and she walked by. Everything got quiet. I stopped that conversation and said, ‘I’ll be right back.’ I just zoomed in on her. The rest of the night, we were this close to each other, talking, laughing, dancing, and ended up together in conversation until six in the morning.”
Now, the freeze-frame and rewind: “Little did he know,” Paige reveals dramatically, “I had spotted him first.” From Paige’s perspective, the story isn’t the standard boy-sees-girl. At the center is a woman down on her luck, fresh out of a relationship, with “everything falling apart.” Frequent visits to a healer promised better times ahead, including a mysterious “J” figure, an older man in the same industry who will approach her in a dark, crowded space. “I’m like, ‘Coachella?’ ” she says. Months go by, invitations to events Jesse Williams will be at are floated but rebuffed, until after the second or third time. Then Paige remembers the healer’s words, and soon after, she says, “I had a dream that I was sleeping next to him.” Williams clarifies: “The night before we met.” When she went to the Emmys party, in a borrowed red dress, and Williams finally arrived, a calm washed over Paige: “It was just like, ‘There he is.’ Almost like, ‘Where have you been?’ ”
So how did you first tell him about all of this, I ask, without coming off… After all, healers, premonitions, signs like Paige receiving 111 texts and having 11,111 emails the morning after her dream—these are not the kinds of things that Jesse Williams buys into. At least they didn’t used to be. “Jesse can be very literal—facts, facts, facts,” Paige says. “We came from very different worlds,” Williams explains. “She’s very feminine and into spiritual planes, astrology. I’m very practical, fact-based, and masculine.” Still, after a certain point, Williams realized he had to loosen his grip a little. “I was having a wild, unfamiliar, uncomfortable experience, because it was all just happening in a very spiritual way—a way that’s not how I usually arrange things in my life. But I’d been going through a lot of transitions in life, and I had deliberately positioned myself to be open to saying yes, to be available to whatever, more than I had in the past,” he continues. “I don’t often let things happen to me. But because I had decided I was going to be open, I didn’t pull the brake like I normally would. I didn’t try to control, or position, or take a breath, and I just went along for the ride, as scary as that was and has been. She blew in—” “Like a wrecking ball,” Paige finishes, belting out the Miley Cyrus lyric.