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Abbott Elementary Star Tyler James Williams Knows What Child Stars Go Through: NPR

Tyler James Williams and Quinta Brunson co-star as teachers on Abbott Elementary School.


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Tyler James Williams and Quinta Brunson co-star as teachers on Abbott Elementary School.


Actor Tyler James Williams stars as a buttoned-up first-grade teacher on the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary School. For Williams, this is the latest role in a career that has spanned more than 25 years.

Williams started out as a child actor, notably as a young Chris Rock on the television sitcom. Everyone hates Chris. He says the role put him in the public eye in a way that felt traumatic — especially since he was going through puberty at the time.

“One day I was a kid in New York walking the streets of Manhattan to audition,” he says. “And the next day, my face was on every bus in town.”

Although he struggled with the pressure of being on a hit show, Williams says his role in Everyone hates Chris helped solidify his desire to become an actor: “Being able to experience what I loved very early on on set, consistently, day after day. I had a taste of that. There was no going back “, he said.

Abbott Elementary School is a mockumentary centered on a team of eccentric teachers at a struggling Philadelphia public school. Williams worked with series creator and co-star Quinta Brunson to develop his character, Gregory.

“I think from the moment we talked about it on the phone, Gregory became a collaborative effort,” he says. “We very quickly had a conversation about the importance of showing an active black man struggling and trying to do a really good job raising the next generation, because these are the men I grew up with, and These are the men she grew up with.”

Interview Highlights

On the simplicity of its Abbott Elementary School character

I love that her story isn’t rooted in a sense of trauma or massive conflict that’s very specific to her race. …He’s a guy with a job who’s just trying to do a good job, who happens to be black in a black school with black kids. I know I long for stories rooted in everyday conflict.

Being a former child actor – and working with child actors on Abbott Elementary School

I can see them processing. …I was asked the other day, what does “swinging a goal” mean? In television, “swivel lens” means you move closer to the camera lens. So you had this wide shot and you go into this kind of tighter shot. And they hear that every day and they wonder: what does that mean? …

I can say that some people will try to continue this for, I suspect, a good part of their lives. So I just want to make sure that they feel as comfortable and welcomed and that they leave with as much information as possible about this potential world that they could enter and that they have fun. If they’re not having fun, we have no reason to do this.

On receive a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease

I had been living sick since I was about 19 years old. I realized how sick I was when I was hospitalized at 23. And I had a surgeon look me in the eye and say, “You need emergency surgery.” , we have to do this now, otherwise your insides could explode and you could die.

Living with pain before your diagnosis

It was non-stop. It has become my normal. And that’s when we talk about Everyone hates Chris, this is the part most people don’t know, this series almost killed me. We had to figure out what the direct link was because the doctors who diagnosed me (said)… “You’re one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen.” …And we realized that one of the triggers was stress. So the stress I felt fighting for my career, putting on a show at 12 years old, was slowly scarring the inside of my intestines, as it was inflamed because my body didn’t know what to do with the stress. …I threw up about three times a day. Trying not to eat when I knew I had to work, because I knew eating could ruin something and I didn’t know what it was.

On his health now

I haven’t had an incident where I had to go to the hospital in years. At this point I’m taking medication, but I also think I’ve changed the way I live. For me, a lot of it was a diet. There were certain things like, I just couldn’t have any more. I haven’t had a drink since I was 23. I haven’t had coffee since I was 23.

On stay away from social media and try to block out the negative and positive things people say

The trap that most people fall into – and I’ve seen this happen over and over and over and over again – is that they start listening when it’s positive. But in the end, it was always reversed. … We have to block everything. You need to understand how you feel about yourself. And I think that’s one of the things that has held our industry in a vice-like grip is this idea of ​​what the audience is going to think before they create the art. But do You I like this? If you like it, make it and put it out there. This may not be the case. They could shoot him before they even see him. It is very good. That’s not why you did it. I learned to turn off noise – good and bad.

Lauren Krenzel and Joel Wolfram produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.


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