Tyler James Williams interview: ‘Abbott Elementary”
Tyler James Williams is finding that his character’s journey on ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” mirrors his own as an actor. When we first meet Gregory in the mockumentary series, he’s settling for a substitute teaching position at the titular elementary school, despite wanting to be principal. But as the first season goes on, he adapts and realizes that teaching may be his destiny after all. Similarly for Williams, who burst onto the scene as a child star as the lead of the sitcom, “Everybody Hates Chris,” the actor feels more comfortable in his current position. “I’m so much happier as a supporting actor than I ever was as the lead,” says Williams in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby. Watch the full webchat above.
As Williams describes, it is fulfilling to watch someone else’s vision come to life, as it now has for creator and star Quinta Brunson, who plays Janine. The pair worked together a few years ago on a sketch for “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” giving them a familiarity that helped them develop that will-they-won’t-they connection between Gregory and Janine. What also helps, as Williams points out, is that as a fellow actor, Brunson knows how to speak their language when she’s in showrunner mode. “I think she wants people who are happy and create a great workplace environment and understands that there is no value in withholding,” he explains. “There is no merit in keeping things far away as actors, as writers and as a creator, and I think that’s something that, as a creative, from one creative to another, is very valuable.”
Williams loves the idiosyncrasies of Gregory that we learn about over time, such as his shockingly bland and picky eating habits. “I love how not adventurous he is and how okay he is with that,” he affirms. “He just doesn’t like food, which is just objectively kind of funny.” The actor points out that Gregory is often eating from a container of dry pita chips with no flavor whatsoever, the kind of specific quirk that he loves in a character. “Even in that whole dancing episode of his body’s moving, but his face is not, those are the aspects of Gregory that I really love.”
“Abbott Elementary” was such a hit with critics and audiences that it will return for a second season on ABC. Williams is hoping for more fun character pairings in Season 2, namely Gregory with Jacob (Chris Perfetti), Principal Ava (Janelle James) or Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis), the custodian. “We have a cast of heavy hitters that each character works well together,” praises Williams. “Stick me with anybody in this cast, I’m happy.”