For four hilarious seasons, audiences watched Tyler James Williams grow up as the fictionalized version of a young Chris Rock on the hit sitcom Everybody Hates Chris. Now, the 19-year-old is back on primetime TV as Owen on the new comedy Go On, which follows a group of people in therapy grappling with death and loss (check your local listings.)
In an interview with BET.com, Williams talked playing a new TV character, how he avoided post-child actor pitfalls and what his friends hate most about him.
Go On stars Matthew Perry of Friends fame, how's it been working with this new ensemble cast?
It’s been great, we like each other. I am the child [of the cast]. Everyone is constantly making sure I don’t cut myself cutting open a bagel. That’s pretty much what happens. We have a good time. It’s definitely one of those groups that you enjoy going to work with everyday.
After years of playing Chris on Everybody Hates Chris, you’re now building the new character of Owen. What's that like?
It’s been incredibly fun. Essentially, the character Chris was what was happening around him and how he felt about it. With Owen, his event has already happened so it’s all about how he internalizes it and how he shows other people what he wants them to know. So it’s been really interesting getting very specific and then making sure his actions are justified. It’s a much deeper character and a much deeper show. Owen wasn’t written Black at first, that’s what I really loved about the character.
Go On is about therapy sessions that deal with loss. If you lost someone close to you, would you want to be part of your show's particular group?
Definitely. This is a group of people who give a really good perspective of loss. You have someone who lost their wife because of a texting accident, someone who lost their cat, and it acknowledges that there is no difference. Everyone’s had an event and everybody handles it differently.
Everybody Hates Chris still airs in repeats and is very popular with a whole new audience. Do people still call you Chris when you’re out and about?
Yes they do. [Laughs] What’s interesting is we kind of spiked in syndication, people didn’t realize that we wrapped shooting [the series] in 2008. So it’s been interesting taking on other roles and still being remotely familiar to people. But I’m showing them there’s other stuff that I can do.
Having begun your career on Sesame Street at age four, you’re one of the industry’s child actor success stories. What was your secret?
Definitely parenting, my parents did a very good job at making sure we were grounded and didn’t get caught up in the glitz and glamour. But there also comes a point in every person’s life that you have to take responsibility for what you do. After Everybody Hates Chris was over, I said if I want to have a career as an adult I need to get really good at acting. I need to study and I need to work as hard as everybody else does. My acting coach kicked my butt and said, “The rest of the world goes to work from nine to five, why don’t you? It doesn’t matter if you’re on set or not.” So for me it was really about creating that work ethic.
When it comes to money you’ve admitted to being pretty frugal, so just how cheap are you?
It’s pretty bad. Okay, I’ll tell you this. I just moved into a new apartment. We got furniture and because of my expenses on my furniture I’m going to paint the whole apartment myself. I don’t feel like I should pay somebody to do something that I can do. So what if it doesn’t look as good? I’m going to do it anyway. I’m very cheap. My friends hate me.
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(Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for NYLON Magazine)
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