Chris Perfetti knew very quickly while reading the pilot script of “Abbott Elementary” that he had to be a part of it. The actor plays Jacob, a socially awkward history teacher and good friend to fellow elementary school teacher, Janine (Quinta Brunson). Perfetti knew that he would be jealous if another actor got the part, as he recalls. “I sort of have this litmus test for when I’m reading something for the first time — I try to, if I can read things in a public place, to see if I’ll laugh out loud,” says Perfetti in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “‘Abbott’ definitely passed.” Watch the full video webchat.
In Perfetti’s discussions with Brunson, who is also the sitcom’s showrunner, they likened Jacob to the best friend or sibling who is well-intentioned, sometimes to a fault. “He’s an overachiever and a nervous wreck and, more broadly, he kind of functions in my mind as like a Shakespearean clown,” explains Perfetti. While he admits that he isn’t too similar to Jacob in real life, he came to understand him pretty quickly. “I felt like I could see the road ahead, and I knew who that person was in the world.”
But Jacob is more than just the best friend archetype who’s a little too eager to prove how much of an ally he is. One of the more fascinating developments later in the season is the casual revelation that Jacob has a boyfriend, despite no previous mention of his sexuality. Perfetti praises Brunson and her writers for introducing this character element naturally. “I think it’s a mildly political statement to not make a big thing out of it and to just say that there are queer teachers, and there are openly queer teachers,” states Perfetti. The conflict of the episode comes from Janine being thrown off that Jacob has a boyfriend and she didn’t know about it, not so much that he’s gay, a key aspect that Perfetti believes was handled in a smart way.
It has been a very positive experience for Perfetti to be part of such a positive and representative show as “Abbott Elementary,” which has enjoyed success from both critics and audiences. “To think that people are getting something out of what we’re doing, especially, something that is, in my view, contributing so positively to the zeitgeist and representing people in a way, telling a different kind of story, just so positively and so hilariously, if I dare, that’s incredibly cool.”
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