‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Who Plays Jackson’s Dad, Robert Avery? Eric Roberts Returns in Season 17

Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 has been the season of returning cast members — and the all-new episode on May 6 is no exception. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) will not only reunite with his ex-wife, April Kepner (Sarah Drew), but also his dad, Robert Avery (Eric Roberts). Of course, many fans remember the end of Japril in season 14. But it’s been a hot minute since Robert and Jackson saw each other in Grey’s Anatomy. So here’s a breakdown of the character and what to expect next.

Eric Roberts plays Robert Avery, Jackson Avery’s father, in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’

Eric Roberts as Robert Avery smiling in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 13 Episode 16
Eric Roberts as Robert Avery in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 13 | Richard Cartwright/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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In case you didn’t know, Eric is the older brother of Pretty Woman actor Julia Roberts and the father of American Horror Story star Emma Roberts. He also started acting long before he played Jackson’s father, Robert, in Grey’s Anatomy Season 13. So there’s definitely a chance you’ve seen the actor before.

Eric starred in a number of popular films, including King of the Gypsies, Star 80, Runaway Train, The Expendables, Inherent Vice, and The Dark Knight. He’s also appeared in many TV shows, such as Heroes, Suits, The Young and the Restless, and Less Than Perfect.

What happened to Robert Avery and Jackson Avery in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 13?

Eric Roberts as Robert Avery holding the face of Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 13 Episode 16
Eric Roberts as Robert Avery and Jesse Williams as Jackson Avery in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 13 | Richard Cartwright/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Robert last appeared in Grey’s Anatomy Season 13 Episode 16, “Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?” The episode further complicated Jackson’s relationship with April. However, Jackson was able to gain some clarity after meeting Robert.

While Jackson and April flew to Montana for a complicated surgery, Jackson wanted to see his dad, who owned a local bar. At first, Jackson was upset because Robert didn’t recognize him. Then when Jackson finally mustered up the courage to speak to his father, it didn’t go exactly as planned.

Jackson froze when he revealed his identity to Robert. He wasn’t able to call out his father for abandoning him and his mother, Catherine Fox (Debbie Allen). Meanwhile, Robert was excited to see his son. He also explained why he left as Jackson held back tears.

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“For me, the whole ‘Avery’ thing, I just couldn’t do it. If it works for you, great,” Robert said. “For me, the galas, the handshaking, it wasn’t my thing. But when I found out what was, you couldn’t drag me away, pal.” 

Then Robert touched on Catherine, noting that she was “born for” the life of an Avery. He also claimed that his ex-wife’s expectations were “crushing.” Finally, Jackson spoke up and defended his mother before walking out. But later, after speaking with April, Jackson said his peace and said goodbye to Robert. He said:

I don’t think there’s going to be a next time. I have a daughter. Her name is Harriet. … My mom’s a wonderful grandmother, and you seem like a decent guy. But you’re not a grandfather. You’re not my father. I figure when you have a kid, you’re making a promise, and I don’t break my promises. That’s the real difference between you and me. Take care, Robert. I’m really glad that I met you. Goodbye.

Sarah Drew teases Robert Avery and April Kepner’s return in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Season 17

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For now, Grey’s Anatomy fans will have to watch Robert and Jackson’s reunion in season 17. According to the synopsis provided by ABC, Jackson will see his father and the visit will “set him on the right path.” 

Meanwhile, Drew revealed both April and Robert will play a “significant” role in Jackson’s new storyline.

“It’s just beautifully written,” Drew told Us Weekly of the Grey’s Anatomy episode. “I think everybody will feel that it is a very special episode in so many ways. It really is focused on Jackson. … It is his story, for sure. Though, April plays a significant part and so does Eric Roberts, who plays his father. So we get to see Jackson go through something big.”

Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 Episode 14 airs Thursday, May 6, 2021.