Abbott Elementary, the ABC smash hit following a ragtag group of teachers at a Philadelphia public school, has captured a loyal audience for a few reasons: razor-sharp writing, a cast filled with beloved actors, and a subtle heartwarming message. The show’s characters have cemented the show as a hall-of-fame sitcom. Gregory Eddie, portrayed by Everybody Hates Chris alum Tyler James Williams, is a fan favorite thanks to his stoicism and commitment to bettering his community.
That’s something Eddie and his vessel — Williams — have in common. Ushered by his work on Abbott and his childhood in Yonkers, New York, Williams has found a passion in using gardening to improve Black neighborhoods around the country.
“When space is used intentionally, people feel like they’re cared about,” the actor said in a recent interview with Blavity, speaking on his Yonkers neighborhood, filled with vacant lots with Williams was young and later developed. “I saw the way it changed the people in the neighborhood and in the community. When there are these kinds of vacant spaces that have been forgotten about, quite literally, people feel forgotten about.”
Seeing the way transformed lots changed his community is something Williams carries with him in his philanthropic efforts. In April, the actor collaborated with Mrs. Meyer’s for the brand’s Lots of Compassion Initiative, which aims to revitalize vacated spaces through gardening.
Williams explained that upgrading vacant lots can positively impact a neighborhood mentally and financially.
“When people invest money in a space, and they make a space look beautiful, it changes the property value of those who are in the area,” the Emmy winner said. “Communities would do that on their own if they were given the resources to do so.”
The 30-year-old spoke with such a deep appreciation for gardening — listening to him felt reminiscent of Eddie’s repressed obsession with the practice. And Williams told me that’s not the only thing he and the fictional character have in common.
“There’s a lot that’s similar, whether it be by coincidence or by design,” he said. “You know, I think a lot of people think of acting as somebody becoming somebody completely different, but in actuality, it’s finding the commonalities between you and that character.”
The New York City native explained he approaches each character he plays with that in mind — not focusing on what makes them different, but what makes them the same. When it comes to Eddie, he added they both have the “need to want to do good in the world and feel like he’s actually doing something.”
“I reached a level of success when I was really young,” he continued. “I’m not really chasing that success anymore.”
Williams is chasing work that moves people.
“For me, it’s feeling what I’m actually doing something affecting change in some way positively. Eddie’s doing it with this one particular school, and that can change the lives of kids, you know, that just spread out across the world. I’m trying to do it on the platform that I have,” he said.
Moving through his career with that goal has ultimately shaped Williams’ career and is part of why he’s moved from child acting into adult roles with grace. He told me “strong boundaries” helped too.
“I had to set boundaries in what I would and wouldn’t do by way of like roles,” he shared. “I’m not just going to do anything just to do it.”
Williams is certainly not just doing Abbott to do Abbott. He admires so much about mockumentary comedy, especially its central love story.
“I think one of the things I’ve always loved about Janine and Gregory is that Janine and Gregory, we can all see, can work,” he says of his will-they-won’t-they romance with Janine Teagues, portrayed by series creator Quinta Brunson. “They just kind of have to grow into the people that they need to be first.”
Fans saw Teagues choose herself over a relationship with Williams’ character during Abbott’s second season finale on April 19. Though most were disappointed by her decision, Williams said the characters must grow before getting together.
“I think Gregory is still dealing with a lot of acceptance issues right now,” he said. “I think he’s still trying to make the right move versus make the right move for him. Part of why I like Janine’s choice is because I don’t necessarily think he’s ready either.”
Once Gregory stops “people pleasing” and lets go of the “high standard in his head,” Williams thinks the two lovebirds may have a chance. But until then, Williams said fans can expect to see the fallout of Janine’s decision in Season 3.
“We’ve seen the immediate aftermath of the conversation in the room with the heart but not the long-term effects of it,” he explained. “That’s something definitely to expect in [Season 3]. Gregory is gonna have to deal with what more than likely feels like a rejection.”
Williams thinks it will be challenging for Eddie. Navigating his friendship with Janine, and the rest of Abbott, will too.
“[His] relationships to not only Janine, but the school, gets a little bit more complicated,” he shared.
No word yet on when season 3 of the show will premiere.