"Abbott Elementary" Star Tyler James Williams Says Child Acting Career Was "Traumatic"
He's been in therapy to deal with the fallout of the fame that came with Everybody Hates Chris.
Today, Tyler James Williams is 30 years old and in his second season of playing first grade teacher Gregory Eddie on the hit sitcom, Abbott Elementary. But the acclaimed comedy is hardly his breakout role. From the ages of 12 to 17, the actor was the lead of Everybody Hates Chris, playing a fictionalized young version of comedian Chris Rock. As he's transitioned into adult stardom, an outsider might think of Williams as a child star success story, but his journey has been more complicated than that.
In a new interview with GQ, Williams reflected child stardom, which he characterized as "traumatic." Now, as an grown-up actor starring on a show that also employs children, he's dedicated to making sure they have a safer experience. Read on to see what the star had to say about his early career.
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Williams says he feels "triggered" often because of his young fame.
The GQ journalist notes that they tried to come up with a word other than "traumatic" to talk about child stardom with Williams, but the actor responded, "It was traumatic. I still get triggered by things that are part of everybody else's childhood. Every time someone comes up to me, regardless of what it is they recognize me for, what that says to me in the moment is that I'm seen. I have to be on, immediately, because someone's watching."
The Golden Globe winner also shared that the specific era in which he became famous for Everybody Hates Chris made the situation even more intense. "The time this was happening was the same time the internet was becoming more ingrained in the industry," he said. "So as I'm going through the most awkward years of my life, everyone sees it. I think my voice was cracking nonstop during seasons two and three. I was trying to find myself in front of everybody. And everybody had an opinion and was getting used to getting theirs out."
He also feared that Everybody Hates Chris might have been the height of his career. (In fact, he says that a producer on the show told him he'd "probably never work again.") He took time off and was more selective with his roles because of that.
He works through the trauma in therapy.
Williams shared that he has been going to therapy for years to tackle his issues.
"Hypervigilance was one of the things that we had to tackle, because I would be listening to everyone's conversation in a room," the star said. "I could hear my name being brought up from two, three tables down. I could see how many people clocked me when I walked in the door. And that's not healthy."
In an earlier interview with Bustle, Williams explained that the toll of child stardom isn't always visible. "We're not as chaotic as I think most child actors get the [reputation for] being, but that doesn't necessarily mean we adjusted well," he said of himself and his two younger brothers, Tyrel and Tylen Williams, who also acted as children. "We had a lot to work through, and a lot of therapists got a lot of money from me."
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He's also dealt with physical health problems.
Williams has been diagnosed with Crohn's disease, the symptoms of which can be made worse by stress. He has been hospitalized and had surgery to have part of his intestine removed in his 20s. In his Bustle interview, Williams said that the pressure that he was under in his career exacerbated the problem.
"That was the uphill fight and what feels like the fight of my career and life," Williams said. "Because [acting] is the only thing that I love like this. I lost six inches of my intestines to that."
He supports the child actors on Abbott.
Abbott Elementary largely focuses on the teachers and administrators of the Philadelphia public school in which it's set, but of course, there are child actors playing the students. Williams explained to GQ that working on the series has been a form of catharsis and that he's also made a point to make sure his young co-stars' experience is more positive than his.
"Abbott, in general, has been therapeutic for me," he told the magazine. "I needed to know that I could influence it being done differently."
Though he's made the leap into an adult career—and on one of the biggest shows on TV, at that—Williams still isn't totally comfortable with being in the public eye. "I'm an introvert at heart, so it's still difficult," he said. "I think it's something I learned how to cope with, but never learned how to embrace."