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Tyler James Williams Explains Why Being A Child Star Was So 'Traumatic'—And Admits He Still Gets 'Triggered'

The 'Abbott Elementary' star rose to fame as a child star on 'Everybody Hates Chris.'

Tyler James Williams
Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images

Abbott Elementary star Tyler James Williams opened up about how being a child star was a "traumatic" experience for him and how he is still "triggered" by the experience.

In Abbott Elementary, Williams plays Gregory Eddie, a first grade substitute teacher who later becomes a full-time faculty member and develops a crush on co-worker Janine, played by show creator Quinta Brunson.

But before he was a part of the Emmy-winning cast, Williams was the star of his own sitcom playing the titular character in Chris Rock's semi-autobiographical show Everybody Hates Chris from 2005 to 2009.

He was just 12 when he started working on the show inspired by Rock's childhood.

Reflecting on achieving stardom at such a young age, Williams told GQ that the disorienting experience of carrying a show as a young teen was "the weirdest sh*t in the world.”

He explained:

“The time this was happening was the same time the internet was becoming more ingrained in the industry."
"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.”

When interviewer Julian Kimble searched for a euphemism to describe Williams' "traumatic" experience, the actor confirmed:

“It was traumatic."

The 30-year-old, who is from Westchester County, New York, explained how achieving stardom at such a young age took a toll on his mental health.

"I still get triggered by things that are part of everybody else's childhood," said Williams.

Williams also admitted that working on the set of Abbott Elementary presents its own challenges, saying:

"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.”

As a result, Williams said he went to therapy for years.

“Hypervigilance was one of the things that we had to tackle, because I would be listening to everyone's conversation in a room."
“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.”

Williams has used the word "traumatic" before when reflecting on his earlier days on Everybody Hates Chris.

In an August 2022 Yahoo News interview, he said about the inescapable experience:

"They put my face on literally every bus in New York City. Like, literally every single one."
"I was just one of the faces in this crowd, beating the block like everybody else was, and now, yeah, they know exactly who I am, whether they want to or not."
"It was kind of traumatic in the sense of, like, I just wasn't used to that many eyeballs. And at 12 you just feel that as you're walking through a crowd."

At 17, Williams took over the reins of his career after a producer on Everybody Hates Chris told him:

“I'll never see you as anything else and you'll probably never work again.”

That possibility prompted Williams to make a change by honing his skills with an acting coach and turning down roles.

After roughly ten years, Williams accepted the starring role in Justin Simien's 2014 independent film Dear White People, playing Lionel Higgins.

More meaty roles followed, including stints on The Walking Dead and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.

He began working on the hugely successful and popular TV mockumentary Abbott Elementary in 2021 and earned a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Gregory.

Williams endeavors to make things better for his younger co-stars playing the Abbott Elementary kids, especially since he finds their experience on set relatable and very familiar.

Abbott, in general, has been therapeutic for me,” said Williams.

“I needed to know that I could influence it being done differently.”