Tyler James Williams Lifts His Spirits With bell hooks and Tom Ford
Tyler James Williams has had a winning season.
A Screen Actors Guild award that he and his “Abbott Elementary” castmates won for their work on the ABC mockumentary about an underfunded public school in Philadelphia.
A Golden Globe for best supporting actor for his own performance in the series, as Gregory Eddie, a substitute teacher who finds a sense of purpose and permanence in the job.
And, as he took the Globes stage, a standing ovation from Eddie Murphy.
“The award is great — I appreciate it. But that did more for me than anything ever could,” Williams admitted in a video call from Los Angeles.
The actor, 30, has also morphed into something of a heartthrob in the role, which the “Abbott Elementary” creator Quinta Brunson, whom he’d met on “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” wrote for him after they became lockdown pals.
All of the accolades don’t overshadow what he considers his most significant achievement.
“We haven’t seen characters like Gregory and Janine” — a teacher played by Brunson with whom Gregory has a slow-burn kind of thing — “exist on television,” Williams said.
“There’s not a heavy trauma story line. It’s just Black people living everyday lives and seeing the beauty in that,” he added. “Very rarely do we see that recognized in the awards platforms, so that for me is what I hope that win does.”
Still, Williams, who has Crohn’s disease, may have never arrived at this moment had he not had a near-fatal flare-up when he was 23.
“When I came out of the other side of it, I realized I had a choice,” he said. “I could be really busy and try to make a bunch of money. Or I could do things that felt like my heart was just bathed.”
A few days after wrapping the second season of “Abbott” last month, Williams talked about his deep dive into bell hooks’s work, how D’Angelo captured the feelings of his youth and the Burberry trench he can’t leave behind. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
In 2020, when it became apparent that we were going to be locked down for some time, I was getting book recommendations from people. I had just finished “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” and Miss Lawrence, who was a castmate, had recommended “We Real Cool” by bell hooks. I read it and fell in love with her voice, and felt seen in a way I had never felt seen before, and understood things about myself I didn’t know. Then everything she had ever written, I was just diving through. To me they really question masculinity standards, particularly Black masculinity standards, which, with Gregory, I try to dismantle as many of those as I can.
‘Voodoo’ by D’Angelo
I had to be 8 or 9 the first time I heard that album played in my house. And I was like, “Who did this? Who took my insides and made it sonic?” I listen to that album once every day, usually at the top of the day. D’Angelo, he’s kind of everything to me.
It’s a YouTube channel that points out all the tropes and archaic things that happen in our industry, where everything is so austere and we make art. It’s usually how I end my night when I’m in bed and winding down. Just to have some guy somewhere break it all down and dismantle it is really funny to me.
Earl Grey Latte
Due to Crohn’s, I had to stop drinking coffee when I was younger, and I was a big latte person. So I got this great combination of Earl Grey teas that you mix together. Froth up the milk. It feels like a coffee, but you have the flowery notes that are in the tea. In the wintertime, you could do a dash of nutmeg, even some cinnamon, and a single sugar. And if it’s one of those days where it’s like, “This is going to be a heavy lift,” you do two tea bags.
That’s my favorite strain. Also Crohn’s-related, my doctors wanted me to eat more. My appetite response isn’t the same as everybody else’s — I need something to tell me that I’m hungry. And they were like, “Hey, there’s marijuana.” It seems to do all the things we need it to do.
Tom Ford Candles
I was shooting a show called “Whiskey Cavalier” in Prague, right before “Abbott,” and I stumbled on this candle at one of the stores on Parizska Street. There’s notes that are very masculine, but then there’s this soft powder behind it that’s feminine and light. I was like, “This is what I want my house to smell like at all times.”
This movie felt like a story that could happen to me: Two New York kids who love hip-hop could essentially just fall in love over that. It was simple. I’m a huge fan of the ’90s/early 2000s rom-com. I feel like we peaked as a society right there.
There’s something about it aesthetically that has always brightened my day. I’ve tried to get into silver, but it doesn’t really do it for me. There’s something about the way sun hits gold that the world gets brighter. It’s kind of like when you take sunglasses off. Everything becomes more vibrant.
Black Burberry Trench Coat
I don’t buy a lot of things, and my closet’s very small. I just have stuff that I’m absolutely in love with. And Burberry has always done the trench better than everybody else. It’s something that I pull out literally all the time. It goes so perfectly with everything, always. I left it in New York when I came back from Christmas to finish shooting, and I was like, “What am I doing? I have to go back and get this.” I need this everywhere I go.
During the pandemic, my hair was really long. I couldn’t see a barber, so I ordered a durag and would put it on. I would compress over and over and over again and just kind of brush it out because I didn’t have any other choice. By the time we had shot the pilot of “Abbott,” I had been wave brushing for almost a year, and that became Gregory’s look.