Tyler James Williams Talks Rising Fame, Success, & “Dear White People”

Tyler James Williams, the little boy who stole our hearts and had us laughing ’til we cried is now all grown up. He’s back on the big screen in a way we haven’t seen him before. We sit down with him and get his opinions about the film, the Raven comment controversy and why he was happy ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ ended.
Kontrol: What were your feelings going through something controversial like this film? How did it feel that people got it?
TJW: It was great. It was the first time any of the actors had seen it. We didn’t know how it turned out. It was relieving to get our message across. We wonder how people would receive? If it was good? Getting people laughing opens the door. It creates a unity and penetrates. So it doesn’t feel like it’s being shoved down your throat.
Kontrol: How was it coming from ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ to this film?
TJW: They’re two completely different types of comedy. This one is more grounded. There was much more of a responsibility with this one. There was a voice and gravity that came with this voice. There’s something deeper that you had to take into account and carry that weight with.
Kontrol: Do you miss ‘Everybody Hates Chris’
TJW: No, we knew it was coming to an end. There wasn’t much more they could do. Even Chris realize it. During the 3rd or 4th season, his voiceover was deeper than my voice. That evolution didn’t make sense. You have to view it like high school. It was something you appreciate for what it was. But no one really wants to go back to high school.

Tyler as "Lionel Higgins" in "Dear White People"
Tyler as “Lionel Higgins” in “Dear White People”
Kontrol: How did you prepare for this character?
TJW: Making sure my thought pattern lined up with Lionel. Breaking down opinions of my lines and everyone else’s lines. This was something different that I hadn’t for a character in done in a long time.
Kontrol: Describe how it was on set during that party scene?
TJW: Intense. We were shooting for hours. We started at 2pm didn’t wrap until 10am. We were also in Minnesota, and they weren’t the most professional people. It was the delirium that made them get into it. Several times me and Teyonah had to step outside to catch a breath. But then we turned around and use it. You have to go there.


Kontrol: Can you talk about your own character? He’s African American and gay. Also a writer and couldn’t find his own place? What made you want to play him?

TJW: All of these made me want to play this character. When I read the script I expected all
He was the other, black but given the issues with the gay community. He didn’t identify with one group. Perfect that he didn’t know his voice bc that’s something all writers do. Never saw his perspective coming. I wanted to play him bc it was someone I hadn’t before.
Kontrol: Did you have possible concerns about being typecast as an outsider?
TJW: I pick roles according to what I haven’t done before and if there’s a story to be told. Seeing less and less people typecast, bc of training. Seeing people doing different things bc they’re learning. Never a concern about that, I can know what roles I will play.
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The cast of “Dear White People”


Kontrol: Your opinion on Raven saying she’s not African American..
TJW: In some ways I feel the same way. It’s very close minded and ignorant to say I’m something dealing with only my genetic makeup. I don’t see how that defines a human being. I don’t negate being black and relating to issues of the black community. But that’s not who I am. When people ask who are you? I feel like saying I’m black and my father’s child are the same thing, only one holds more gravity. Identifying as the color of your skin is so minimal. That’s what I liked about Lionel, he didn’t want to be identified as one thing. Raven wants to be Raven. When you identify as black there are certain things you can and can’t do that are delegated by the black community. People took it as she wasn’t identifying with the black community. On a deeper level it’s true. What is being black? It’s not what it used to be. Raven was saying I am what I am. Like it or not.
Kontrol: What do you hope for people to take out of it?
TJW: I don’t want them to get anything from it. I want them to contribute to the conversation. Don’t talk about the film. We didn’t make money, it wasn’t glamorous. We want people to talk about these things. To stop yelling and talk to each other. The conversation is  not finished in the film continue it.

Tessa Thompson
Kontrol: At Sundance Tessa Thompson talked about going into the indies. Are you in that mindset as well?
TJW: I’ll go back and forth. Big budget projects allow you to do Indies. It gives you a chance to particulate in something that matters. Tv is great money. Working for major networks allow you do what you want to do and not take something because you have to.
Kontrol: Working with Justin and your experience.
Justin was very poised. He had the script for ten years. So I assumed he would have a death grip and wouldn’t allow us to change anything. But he trusted his actors to allow them to give an interpretation of his work and I think that was a sign of maturity. I worked with a director who has been doing this for years and still didn’t grasp that. It was his way or the high way. He didn’t understand it was a collaborative effort. Ultimately that made me say whatever you do Justin just send it to me and I’m in. It’s very few people I say that with.
Kontrol: The director dealt with the debate about validity of reality tv. How did you like that the director delved into that?
TJW: Oh I loved it. Simply because I see so many conversations that seem contradictory. It was people I followed on twitter a while back. They would say if you do this then I’ll follow you. So I did. Then I’d see them do something totally contradictory. They would say how wrong the Ferguson event is, but then would say how right so and so was for snatching someone’s weave out. Those are completely conflicting statements. You can’t say both. You can’t say as a community we can be violent and that’s ok. Then say the fact that we’re viewed as violent is wrong. You can’t live this oxymoron and still be angry.
Kontrol: You’ve been in Atlanta for a second now. We know it’s been for the ‘Walking Dead’ is there anything else specific you can tell us about that?
TJW: No, I can’t say. It’s one of those contracts where ‘we’ll sue you for what we thought we would make.’
They’re breaking records every Sunday so I guess it works. The character’s name is Noah that’s all I can say. I can’t anything else.
Wow. After talking with Tyler James Williams, it’s apparent he’s much wiser than just his 22 years. Make sure you go see the film ‘Dear White People’ this weekend to watch his powerful transformation of Lionel on the big screen.

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