‘Abbott Elementary’ cast on Emmys: ‘Do not underestimate Quinta’

“Abbott Elementary” received top marks from Emmy voters.

The ABC series in mockumentary style, created by and with Quinta Brunsonfollows a group of passionate teachers at a mostly black elementary school in Philadelphia, each with their own strategy for dealing with County budget constraints, the TikTok distractions of the students and the high turnover of their colleagues. Brunson, the daughter of a kindergarten teacher, grew up in the West Philadelphia public school system and named the series after a distinguished middle school teacher, Ms. Abbott.

To deserve strong reviews and reviews In its 13-episode first season, the freshman comedy garnered seven Emmy nominations Tuesday, including for comedy series, lead actress Brunson, supporting actor Tyler James Williams, and supporting actors Janelle James and Sheryl Lee Ralph. “Abbott” – this year’s most nominated television series – was also nominated for writing (its pilot, written by Brunson) and casting.

It’s a historic achievement as Brunson becomes the first black woman to receive three Emmy nominations for the same comedy series (lead actress, screenplay and comedy series) in a single year. “Creating this show was the greatest gift and to have it recognized in this way is the dream. It’s a joy to share with the amazing people who watched our first season,” she said in a statement. “Most importantly, I want to thank the teachers. Thank you for being our inspiration.”

Shortly after the announcement, The Times spoke to Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams and Janelle James – who play buttoned-up teacher Barbara Howard, jaded deputy Gregory Eddie and self-centered principal Ava Coleman respectively – about their first Emmy nominations and some of the most dynamic working as child actors on television. Below are excerpts from the talks.

A woman in a tracksuit at a PA system

Janelle James as Ava Coleman in Abbott Elementary.

(Scott Everett White/ABC)

Congratulations on your first Emmy nominations! How do you feel?

Janelle James: I didn’t need coffee today! [laughs] I’m excited. I wasn’t watching [the nominations announcement], but the phone let me know that something really good or bad happened, and that a lot of people don’t call you with bad news. The life of a comedian is working in relative obscurity for a decade and then getting it all at once, so this feels like the culmination of all the work I’ve done mostly for free and for drink tickets and half a sandwich. And even though I’m a comedian, the scripts seem weird to us, so I’m so glad the writing of this show got credit as well.

Sheryl Lee Ralph: I’m in a place I’ve never been in my life. Wow I’m so happy, so grateful, so grateful. That’s all. I love what I do, I love being an actor, and I do it for love, not for the likes. I’m in Jamaica and my son woke up early this morning to tell me and I almost fell out of bed. And I really realized what it means when people say “my phone blew up” because it literally blew up.

Tyler James Williams: You will need another phone because it will just burn up! [laughs] It is a honor. It’s shocking to me – for a 13-episode midseason show on network TV, nobody really expects us to do that well. I’m in LA right now – we started production on Monday so I’m in the pipeline, just not as luxe as Sheryl! — and I was so excited for Sheryl and Janelle and Quinta that I didn’t even see mine. Somebody had to tell me.

What do you admire about your co-star’s performance?

Williams: Sheryl is one of the most versatile actresses of her time. The industry changes and trends, and acting styles become popular and go out of style. Sheryl claims she is the constant, she is timeless and she can adapt to anything. I’ve watched her actively adapt to the mockumentary style and thrive within one episode. We all hope that we could be so diverse and that our instrument can be valid for so many years.

Ralph: Oh Tyler, you make me cry, thank you. Tyler is such a pro, he can tell you every inch of what we do. He knows about the cameras, the lighting, the direction, the sound. He can even explain you the intricacies of the numbers we get back from this show. I say, “Lord have mercy, he’s a walking, talking TV encyclopedia.” Go baby, go!

And I love his character, Gregory. He has a complicated relationship with his father; He’s behind in his development as a human, but he’s trying. And there was a moment when Gregory wasn’t supposed to dance, but his students wanted to. And Gregory looks at the little boy like he’s looking at himself and he starts to dance a little bit and the boy starts dancing and then everybody rocks out. He gave his younger self permission to just drive and dance. It’s hard to expect all of this in a seemingly simple moment.

Williams: Thanks, it means the world. I feel the same about a moment where Sheryl somehow manages to thread the needle of being the consummate professional that Barbara Howard is, while at the same time having to love those around her. She takes a double look – two cameras in two different directions – and they’re two of the most nuanced and, I think, funniest looks of the season.

This moment is so layered and especially complex for a pilot when you call the shots and Sheryl manages to give us a glimpse of not just who Barbara is but how she’s feeling, how she’s feeling, in that moment [Brunson’s character] Janine how she doesn’t have time for that but she knows that if she doesn’t deal with it now she will have a bigger problem later. Having such clarity of a character in a pilot doesn’t happen like that. I won’t lie, I’ve watched it over and over again.

A teacher on park benches with her students

Quinta Brunson and the young cast of Abbott Elementary.

(Temma Hankin/ABC)

I love that Abbott Elementary also received a casting nomination, which applauds the chemistry between the adult cast and these wonderful children.

James: For many of these children, this is their first time on television. They’re not all Hollywood yet or whatever. They were just kids having fun, and I often felt the same way. And they are not difficult at all. They love me. We have fun.

Williams: From the start Quinta said she didn’t want actor kids, she wanted kids who moved and acted like kids who didn’t really know the cameras and were still getting used to them somehow. Which is a crazy choice as a producer because it could potentially mess up your whole day. Casting was able to find that nice middle ground between kids being green and still being able to be natural, but also being able to be around that camera and not slowing down the workday and shooting that show.

I’m saying this as someone who started very young: Ideally, if someone comes up to me in 20 years and says, “I got my first job at Abbott Elementary,” and that’s what brought them into this world, that’s all that we may request. In many ways, casting for this show could build the next generation of Hollywood.

Ralph: I listen to them talk to each other all day and they’re a couple of little pros in the making.

Brunson made history as the first black woman to receive three Emmy nominations for the same comedy series in a single year.

Ralph: Breaking records, baby, and rightly so! And this is the beginning for them, Hallelujah!

James: she earns [it], so I’m not surprised. I’ve seen her fall asleep standing up, and then they say “Action!” and she’s back in character. She does a lot and, as Ava Coleman says, she does it well.

Williams: In the course of this experience I’ve learned one thing I hope everyone will take note of: Don’t underestimate Quinta Brunson. That’s the worst thing you can do. If she says she will do something, it will be done. She came out as a juggernaut with her first show, and that speaks to how smart and talented she is and how she’s honed her craft. Most of all, this was just an idea in her head; She had the vision for this show and what it could be if no one else had it.

Ralph: If that had been 20 years ago, there would have been people who could easily have said, “That’s just a coincidence.” That’s not a coincidence, that’s the real thing.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-07-12/emmy-nominations-2022-abbott-elementary-reactions ‘Abbott Elementary’ cast on Emmys: ‘Do not underestimate Quinta’

Sarah Ridley

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