It’s all a blur. One day, Tyler James Williams was the 12-year-old star of Everybody Hates Chris. The next, he was melting hearts in his Golden Globe-winning role as earnest schoolteacher Gregory Eddie on network TV’s best series, Abbott Elementary. If it seems like it happened overnight, that’s because it kinda did. And Williams remembers the exact moment.

“It was the umbrella episode in Season One,” the now 31-year-old says matter-of-factly. He’s referring to the episode in the sitcom’s first season when Gregory stood with Quinta Brunson’s character, Janine, under his umbrella and asked about her longtime boyfriend, “Does Tariq make you happy?” Just like that…he was a grown-ass man. “I remember watching people struggle with it,” he recalls and laughs. “They were trying to figure out, like, mathematically, how did this happen?”

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Williams followed up Everybody Hates Chris with standout roles in Matthew Perry’s series Go On, the 2014 feature Dear White People, and the 2021 biopic The United States vs. Billie Holiday, in which he played saxophonist Lester Young. But he still doesn’t take it for granted that audiences will automatically see him as an adult. “For anybody who starts as young as I did, that’s what you hope will happen eventually,” he says. “That’s a big hurdle that not a lot of people make it over.”

Williams doesn’t have to look far for friends who understand his experience as a child actor. Both of his brothers, Tyrel Jackson Williams and Tylen Jacob Williams, have also been in the business since they were kids. “There’s a certain way we can talk to each other that only we’ll understand,” he says. The New York natives decided to start living together last year and now share homes in Los Angeles and New York, where they foster an environment rich with creativity and conversation. “It’s really supportive to have other artists who think the same way in your household,” Williams says of his brothers. “It becomes more vital the older we get…it’s non-negotiable.”

His work on Abbott isn’t the only thing garnering attention for Williams these days. He’s also emerging as a fashion star, standing out on red carpets and even walking the runway for Balenciaga. It was on the set of The United States vs. Billie Holiday—a job that he calls “one of my most fulfilling projects”—that Williams re-thought his approach to fashion. “I was having a conversation with Miss Lawrence,” he says of his gender-nonconforming costar. “They opened my eyes to what fashion could be. I’m somebody who likes to take risks and I realized this is another way to do that,” says Williams, who cites André 3000 as his biggest style inspiration. “I started showing up in the world differently. It’s an opportunity to push a boundary and say something. That’s what I’m thinking about when I get dressed.”

While all the attention he’s received since Abbott premiered in 2021 has felt like a whirlwind, Williams is well equipped for the ride. “As a kid, when major moments are happening to you, it can be very overwhelming,” he says. “But as an adult, I understand the industry has highs and lows. Things come and go. You just have to stay consistent.”

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