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‘Abbott Elementary’ Tyler James Williams On Quinta Brunson Creating Space For Black Creatives: “Somebody Has To Do It”

Williams and his co-star William Stanford Davis also chat about adding to pop culture and how Brunson changed their lives in “more ways than one.”

Tyler James Williams went from being “hated” to loved as he continues to give us iconic memes from his portrayal as Gregory in the Emmy-award-winning series Abbott Elementary. Williams is most known for portraying Chris Rock in the hit series Everybody Hates Chris and has proven his comedic timing is on point.

BET.com chatted with the 29-year-old and his co-star William Stanford Davis about their onscreen chemistry, adding to pop culture, and how the series is breaking the doors for Black creatives to enter the mockumentary space.

BET.com: Gregory and Mr. Johnson are like night and day as co-workers but there’s a lot of love there. How has your chemistry on set helped bring the chemistry between Gregory and Mr. Johnson onscreen?

Stanford: I’ve gotten to know [Tyler] for the past year and I’ve admired his work since watching him on [Everybody Hates Chris] and his incredible work in [The United States vs. Billie Holliday]. He’s such an outstanding and generous actor — his generosity has made me step up in the show/ I’m hoping I get more scenes with him, as we have a few more this season.

Williams: What I love about [Abbott Elementary], and particularly you see this in season one — nobody knows what you are. You can bond and create the show you want to make without outside forces. I think that’s what specifically bonded the whole cast significantly. When we have moments where we see Gregory and the other characters seeking advice, it bonds us in another way. I look forward to the scenes where it’s the two of us. There’s this new dynamic viewers get to see with Gregory, Jacob, and Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson reminds me of my grandfather and my uncles — men that I grew up and it’s nice Gregory has this in this world

BET.com: Gregory has become an iconic character, especially when he breaks the fourth wall. Looking at the social media impact he’s created, how does it make you feel knowing you’re adding cultural moments through the lens of Gregory?

Williams: It’s crazy man because we create work, and all of a sudden, the work comes out, and you see how they digest, reuse it, and repurpose it. It’s brilliant that people find context to things I’ve done that weren't even there then and find different ways to use it — art is supposed to affect people. The point of why we make it is so people can feel affected and tap into something. It’s something that I think will always take some getting used to, but it's I've learned to appreciate it.

BET.com:  The fans love Mr. Johnson, and we were stoked to learn he will receive more screen time for season two. How much fun are you having playing Mr. Johnson, and how does it feel to feel the outpour of love from fans?

Stanford: It’s incredible and a role of a lifetime. I’ve done a lot of different roles and even some janitorial roles in real life — it’s incredible to see how the fans have shown me so much love and how they are pouring into Mr. Johnson. As I told Quinta when we wrapped last year, she changed my life; this character has changed my life in more ways than one. I hope I continue to create and give back to the cast and the fans and enjoy what they see  — not only me but what we do as a group.

BET.com: Janine and Gregory have some romantic tension brewing. Without spoiling too much, can we see the beginning of Janine and Gregory as a pairing?

Williams: We’re going to see the beginning of their dating lives. I think what we’re playing with when it comes to Janine and Gregory, which I love, is timing isn’t always right. As Janine ends her relationship with Tariq, Gregory begins his with Barbara’s daughter, Taylor. In season two, we'll do an outstanding job of leaving the school a bit and seeing how their personal lives overlap with their work lives.

BET.com: The mockumentary space has been dominated by our counterparts for quite some time now, and Abbott is beginning to open doors for other Black stories to be told in this fashion. How does it feel to be a part of that impact?

Williams: Somebody’s got to do it, and if we’re the ones to do it, that’s great. Our content specifically lends to the mockumentary format from our expressiveness, stories, and ability to have a particular spin and look at the world. If this can be used in people’s pitch decks to help them get their stories done, then I’m all for it.

Stanford: Quinta has created a space for more creators, directors, and producers to produce something similar. The success of Abbott has opened up more doors for other shows.

More space and more fun is what need.

Catch Abbott Elementary on ABC Wednesdays at 9:00PM ET.


*This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Ty Cole is a New York-based entertainment reporter and writer for BET.com who covers pop culture, music, and lifestyle. Follow his latest musings on Twitter @IamTyCole.

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