Everybody loves Tyler James Williams: award-winning actor comes to the College, shares career, life advice


Tuesday, April 4, the Sadler Center Commonwealth Auditorium filled with cheers and applause as students welcomed Golden Globe award-winning actor Tyler James Williams to the stage. For some audience members, Williams’s appearance as the Atwater Lecture Speaker was a nostalgic ode to their days of watching him as Chris on “Everybody Hates Chris.” For others, Williams’s appearance offered an insight into the new hit show “Abbott Elementary” and a chance to feel like they were chatting with Gregory Eddie in the Abbott teachers’ lounge. 

“I grew up watching Tyler on ‘Everybody Hates Chris,’ Disney Channel, ‘Lab Rats,’ ‘Let It Shine’ [and] ‘Abbott Elementary’ now,” Sarah Ibrahim ’25, an audience member and longtime fan of Williams, gushed.

Ibrahim further expressed her awe at the College of William and Mary being able to attain a visit from a celebrity like Williams. 

“I thought it was really cool,” Ibrahim said. “I feel like a school like William and Mary is kind of small, so you wouldn’t expect somebody like a big artist or actor that’s up and coming or was part of our childhood to come here. I mean, at least I didn’t.”

However, Williams did well bridging the gap between actor and audience. He quickly set an approachable tone by responding to the star-struck student cheers with a relaxed “hey,” easygoing wave and excited smile. 

“It’s a pleasure to be here,” Williams said. “I’ve liked seeing everybody, it’s a beautiful campus as well.”

Williams thanked Alma Mater Productions and the AMP student moderators Ashanti Jones ’23 and Kyle Lewis-Johnson ’25 for having him. Jones and Lewis-Johnson asked Williams questions about his career, his childhood and advice he has for students looking into a career in acting. The two also notified the crowd that there would be time for audience questions at the end.

Lewis-Johnson and Jones began by asking Williams about his reflections on beginning in the film industry as a childhood actor at the age of four and what advice he now would give to his younger self. Williams noted that starting so young made him even more focused in his expedited career. He further added that it is important to understand the context of time, especially as a young adult. 

“When you’re young, it feels like you have to do everything right now. You don’t. Just take your time and enjoy the journey. I know people say it all the time, but it’s not about the destination, and it sounds cliche, but really, destination-oriented working and thinking sucks the joy out of everything. If you’re just here to have a good time and see where the journey takes you, it’s much more enjoyable,” Williams said. 

Williams shared his experience taking a brief pause after pursuing many projects early into his career because he wanted to refocus on the type of acting he is most passionate about doing. 

“The majority of the beginning of my career that I think people know about felt really out of control, felt really unstable,” Williams said. “I knew what I was doing in front of the camera, but I wasn’t really sure what I was doing behind it.”

Jones noted that a lot of students in the room could probably relate to that feeling of instability in their early twenties, earning an affirming laugh from the audience.

“I empathize with that a lot,” Williams said. “Whenever I see people in that part of their lives and their journey, I remember the pressure and how much weight it felt like. You had to do everything right, and you had to figure out your entire life right now. What most people won’t tell you is that you don’t. And you’ll be fine.” 

Williams next discussed the craft of comedy compared to other genres of film and television acting. He named Eddie Murphy as his role model in comedy and acting, describing Murphy as the “blueprint.” Williams further noted how comedy can often be overlooked in how difficult it is to master, as there is a clear litmus test of how well you are performing. 

“If you didn’t laugh, it wasn’t good,” Williams said. “That’s just it.” 

Mika Taylor ’23, AMP’s director of marketing who made Williams’ introduction video for the event, noted how his relatability and craft in his comedic and non-comedic roles helped connect her to American culture while growing up abroad. 

“His roles bring me a lot closer to the U.S. because even though I’m an American citizen, my dad was in the military, so I’ve lived overseas my whole life,” Taylor said. “So all of the roles that he’s played … really encapsulate the American experience in a lot of different sectors.” 

Williams further spoke to this notion of the average American experience. He said that the message he tries hardest to convey through his characters is that the average is beautiful. 

“I never wanted to romanticize something that people could not obtain,” Williams said. “Going into Abbott, the thing that pulled me in the most when Quinta and I talked about it, was that we wanted to romanticize the average Black male experience. I didn’t see enough of that when I came up. I think it’s telling the stories of people who look like me, your brother, your cousin, the guy from church, the guy who works at the corner store — telling those stories and showing how beautiful those can be.”

Williams circled back to discuss the break he took in his acting career after he finished filming “Everybody Hates Chris.” Williams took the opportunity to give career and life advice to the students in the audience.

“Just because you’re on a road, it doesn’t mean you have to proceed down that road,” Williams said. “If you don’t like it, get off, adjust and then come back.”

When the floor was opened to audience members to ask questions, one student asked about Williams’s role as Gregory Eddie in “Abbott Elementary” and what he hopes the show will demonstrate to Americans about the U.S. public education system.

“I’ve always said that if this show does anything, hopefully it, one, inspires more people to teach and, two, changes the way the country looks at teachers in the grander sense and also in the smaller sense,” Williams said. “When people approach their teacher, or they drop their kids off to the teacher, you treat them just a little bit nicer because now you understand what they go through on a daily basis.” 

In the hour-long event, Williams also revealed that he has a playlist he listens to for each of the characters he plays. He also spoke about how gratifying it is for him to know that audience members can see the characters he plays in themselves. To this point, Williams noted the importance of upholding creative integrity in acting and selecting roles you truly believe in. 

“Never follow the money and always remember that the audience needs you to maintain a sense of integrity,” Williams said.


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