With ‘Abbott Elementary’, Former Child Star Tyler James Williams Goes Full Circle


Tyler James Williams has spent almost his whole life in front of the cameras. His first role was at the age of four, and he went on to regularly appear on Sesame Street before landing the lead role in TV sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, at the age of 12. The show ran for four years, and after stints on Nickelodeon and Disney shows, he transitioned to adult roles in series like The Walking Dead and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

But since joining ABC’s breakout hit Abbott Elementary, Williams has been able to dig deep as Gregory Eddie, an awkward but well-intentioned new teacher at Abbott who had hoped to be a principal someday. The show earned him his first Emmy nomination last year, and he won a Golden Globe in January, but the 30-year-old actor says it was the cast’s recent SAG Awards ensemble win that was the most impactful. “It just hit differently because all I ever wanted to really do was to contribute to the community of actors that I respected,” he tells Little Gold Men.

Abbott’s 13-episode first season was drenched in awards and accolades, but the second 22-episode season, which is now airing, has expanded the story lines of most its characters, allowing Williams to dig deeper into Gregory’s Relationship with his father and his long-simmering work crush on his colleague Janine (played by creator Quinta Brunson).

In a way, Abbott brings Williams full circle. Along with the main cast that includes Brunson, Janelle James, and Sheryl Lee Ralph, the show features several dozen child actors who play the precocious students at the Philadelphia school. For Williams, it’s an opportunity to see his own journey reflected back to him. “I find myself getting so much out of that part of it because I’m recognizing things that were happening to me,” he says. “When a certain kid has a very specific question because they’re figuring something out, because they’re learning something in that moment, it allows me the opportunity. We would all love in our lives in some way to be the person or give back the thing that we needed when we were kids.”

Vanity Fair: I’ve loved seeing Gregory and all the other characters really get fleshed out in the second season. How did you want to expand his story this season?

Tyler James Williams: I think the majority of season one Gregory was very “anti.” There was this feeling that he was going to be there kind of casually for the short term. For season two, I wanted to see him concretely making the decision and learning how to be a teacher. You’re limited by a character who doesn’t want to be a part of things, and once that character begins to embrace those things, you not only get more to play with, but I learned a lot about Gregory in those moments when his positions were more flexible and less rigid.

Are there people in your own life that inspire your portrayal of him?

Yes, Gregory is an amalgamation of all the men in my life that set my standard for manhood—both of my grandfathers, my father, my brothers, my uncles. I come from a family of really dedicated, hardworking men who really loved and were dedicated to their families and raising the next generation. That level of sincerity and high stakes definitely lingers under everything Gregory does.



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