Listen to Williams’ Jan. 2021 episode of S&A’s ‘Opening Act’ podcast above.
The veteran actor has joined a new ensemble cast to tell the funny, yet not so funny, woes of a group of elementary teachers as they grapple with the ups and downs of working within the public school system. From the lack of funding to the bare minimum when it comes to classroom supplies, the new ABC comedy will make you laugh, but it also challenges the issues plaguing underserved and underfunded school systems that were built to educate urban city youth.
Williams said yes to the role of Gregory Eddie, a substitute teacher who finds himself in a classroom position that is supposed to be temporary until he can land his dream job as principal, with the goal of changing views on male teachers.
Williams first became a household name when he stepped into the shoes of Chris on the beloved sitcom, Everybody Hates Chris, which aired in the early 2000s on the now-dissolved home to some of our favorite Black shows, UPN.
“I think what will always be purposeful for me after having success really young, is that I stopped chasing the fame and all of that,” Williams recalled. “I got really purposeful asking myself why am I here, and the consistent thread is giving voices to those who don’t have a megaphone.”
With Gregory Eddie, Williams aims to give a voice to Black male educators and show Black men in a way that can be nuanced and has never been seen before.
“You can still have an emotional spectrum and be cautious, but then also be super passionate about what you’re doing and you can be involved in rearing the next generation of children in a softer way while still being, for lack of a better word, masculine and strong at the same time,” he explained. “I always want to give voice to characters that I needed to see when I was young and that let me know that I was okay with existing and could be who I was.”
It’s more than just representation for Williams, it’s about championing for stories that need to be shared.
“That’s what my career is going to look like and has looked like,” he shared. “I want to give voices and embody characters who either I needed to see or don’t get represented enough, not for the sake of representation by itself, but because the stories need to be told. I think there hasn’t been enough validation of Black male teachers and I think we live in a society where for Black men, in particular, there’s this high standard of how much income you need to be bringing in, or what’s actually a cool job or not, and we’re not validating the experience of rearing the next generation of people and being an active part of that.”
One of Williams’ first major acting credits was for his role in the hit show Sesame Street at the age of four. Now that the roles are reversed, and he is the adult on set responsible for the lives of children, he reflects on being who he needed on set at an early age.
“I think the ability to understand that they’re enough authentically,” is one of the things that Williams says he made sure to remind the children on set.
“Quinta did a really good job of wanting to get kids who were kids,” he continued. “They were kids who were just in a regular school system months before we started filming and there are some who want to transition now and actually become actors.”
At this moment, right now, he wants those children to know that they are more than enough.
“For me, the important thing is for them to remember that authentically, you are enough, you don’t have to change. You don’t have to go full career right now,” he explained. “You could do this simply because you love it. The most important thing for me is that a lot of times the industry can attempt to change you and tell you that you’re not enough as is. If they can know that now, that’s probably for the best.”
As he prepares to approach a new decade of life later this year, Williams wants to continue to use his gifts to share stories, even if it means being on the opposite side of the camera.
“I’ve always been really focused on embodying people in characters that I haven’t focused as much as cultivating them on the other side, from its inception,” he explained. “I’ve had a nice and successful run in front of the camera and I want to start developing a bit more behind it.”
As he prepares to leave his 20s behind, Williams has a new outlook on what he wants this next chapter to look like.
“I think as you know, all of us 92’ babies that are turning 30, and our world is significantly different than we thought it would be, are all reevaluating what happiness and success mean because what we were sold isn’t necessarily the world that we’re in. I just want to continue to redefine that for myself as the world changes and not hold myself to a standard that my previous younger self said 30 was going to feel like.”
Watch Tyler James Williams as Abbott Elementary‘s Gregory Eddie on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. EST.