On the phone with Jessica Williams the morning she earned her first Emmy nomination, car horns are heard in the background, and the conversation takes a pause for those approaching her on the streets with well wishes. “I’m picketing. That’s what’s happening,” the “Shrinking” star told IndieWire. “We’re out on the line, baby!”
Playing Gaby, a spirited therapist that works with Jimmy (Jason Segel) at a practice run by Paul (Harrison Ford), has led “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” alumni to being one of the four Black women nominated in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category—the most there has been in any acting category, in any year.
Below, Williams talks about what it means to be part of a historic group of nominees, the best parts of playing Gaby on “Shrinking,” how it related to her work on “Love Life” Season 2, and what makes her former boss, and now fellow Apple TV+ star, continue to be a Television Academy favorite.
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: Congratulations! How does it feel to be nominated for the first time? And I just saw too that it comes with the achievement of this year having the most Black women ever nominated in one acting category.
Jessica Williams: Really? Oh my God, I didn’t know that. You’re telling me that. It’s great. I’m honored, honestly. I’m in great company. I’m literally obsessed with everyone nominated and I feel very lucky. I love Gaby. I feel very lucky that I’m able to play her. What’s great about her is I really got the opportunity to breathe with her and let her come into her own. And that was really an amazing opportunity. I’m very grateful to [creators] Brett Goldstein, Bill Lawrence and Jason Segel for that. They really trusted me with her.
How did you find out you were nominated? Did you watch the livestream?
Oh, absolutely not. I was not watching. My best friend drove up from Long Beach last night and we went out to some bars. My plan was to sleep through everything and, of course, I woke up at 8 a.m., and started at 8:30, so I just was being a brat and said, “Please, nobody have your phones, everybody put your laptops away, don’t look it up. We’re not watching it.” So we were just sitting in the living room quietly, not talking. And then my publicist called me, and it was very funny, I just started screaming.
How did it feel to land at “Shrinking” after playing the field? After your run on “The Daily Show,” we had seen you do everything from hosting “2 Dope Queens,” to starring in films, limited series, etc.
Yeah, it was happening right by my house. I live really close to where we shot it, and it was really good. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It felt like my first LA 9-to-5 job and then on set I felt very supported and loved. Everyone was just working together to try and figure out what “Shrinking” is and who these characters are in relation to each other. So it was very collaborative. It was amazing.
Before we expand on that, one of the past jobs I wanted to ask about was did it at all feel like “Love Life” Season 2 opened doors for you?
Absolutely. I think one of the reasons I got Gaby was because I had done “Love Life” Season 2. I think a lot of the EPs had seen it. That was also one of the best jobs I’ve ever done. I miss that show. I love that show. I wish it was on. “Love Life” really was amazing for that, and I definitely think I got this because of that, because I had then had this body of work. I got to work opposite William Jackson Harper, who’s just a fucking amazing actor, and I got to play Mia Hines, who was also a very complicated and funny person. So that helped show what I was capable of, especially coming from a “Daily Show” background. And the 2 Dope Queens podcast and live show, that background. So it really opened up things for me. I’m very grateful for that show.
Has it reached you that that season has really developed this cult following now?
Oh no, it hasn’t. That means a lot, yeah. I try not to Google anything, but I love it. I just love that show [Laughs]. It was really good and sweet. And I’m really sad that it’s not on anymore.
But what a special season that was. Getting back to “Shrinking,” what can we expect from Season 2? We got to see Gaby be such a good friend to everyone in the first season, but so much stuff happened to her as well through the course of it. I would love to know more of her perspective on losing her best friend while going through a divorce.
Before our strike I got to go to the writer’s room and see what they were kicking around, and we’re definitely getting into all these characters and Gaby a bit more because she did lose her best friend. That’s a really big loss. And so we’re definitely gonna get into that more. I think that’s all I can say, but what I’m most excited about is we really understand now the dynamics between all of the characters. And so we’re just gonna do that again and even more so double down on it.
Have people been chill about Jimmy and Gaby’s relationship? Are you already seeing discourse about it?
I can’t Google myself, I can’t see feedback. That’s just too depressing. I can’t hear it. I just wanna go home and play The Sims on my computer [Laughs]. Mostly, with feedback and stuff, I love my job, but also I’m trying to have a very balanced life, and not have my job be my life. So I’m so sensitive to that.
How has it also been working with Harrison Ford during this moment where he’s really resurging?
So good. I freaking love Harrison Ford so much. He’s such a good scene partner, I’m obsessed. Gaby and Paul’s relationship is—I’m biased because I’m in it—but one of my favorite relationships on the show. I don’t think you get a lot of chances to see a Black woman talk to Harrison Ford the way that Gaby gets to [Laughs]. And so I think they have a really beautiful relationship, and one of my favorite scenes is when he comes through for her at the end of the season and shows up at her job interview.
I know you said you’re shaky about feedback, but have you heard from other Black women therapists about your portrayal on the show?
No, but I think that that’s a really good conversation, about the Black Lady therapist trope. I have not. I only talk to my therapist mainly, that’s the one I keep in contact with. But I think the way to kind of kill that and subvert any sort of trope is to attack it with specificity. Just be as specific as possible, to avoid that.
Do you know if your therapist has watched your show?
She tries to. She doesn’t let me know personally because we have that boundary, which we’re supposed to have ethically, but definitely I think so.
The last thing I wanted your take on is there have been some changes with the Outstanding Talk Series category, but since 2003, either “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” or a series hosted by one of its alumni has won that Emmy, and now Jon, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert are back in it. Why do you think “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” looms so large and remains so resonant?
I wouldn’t even be where I am today without Jon Stewart. And it’s cool, I’m on the line right now and I see one of the head writers from “The Daily Show” that I’ve known forever, and another really amazing writer, and one of my field producers, I’m with him, so it’s like a family, this huge, huge family. But what was amazing about “The Daily Show” is it is giving people vegetables, but they think it’s dessert. There’s always been power in satire, people that are pressed responding to their situation with comedy. It’s really powerful. And Jon—I love all the fellow correspondents and everything. I’m biased because I was one of them. But he really hired some amazing writers and field producers and correspondents. We all got to branch out and bloom. It’s really, really, really cool. And one of my favorite things, he did a really nice tweet that I saw, I guess he was watching “Shrinking” and he just tweeted that he thought I was amazing and I cried when I read it.
That’s so sweet.
Yeah, that’s my first big boss. It was fricking awesome.
Would you say something like “All the Talk Series nominees are my deserving friends,” or is it a “Dance with the one that brought you” situation.
Oh, that’s really funny. I mean, I don’t know. I’m so—
I’m sure Apple would love to know.
I know, right? Like, “What did you say?” Yeah, I definitely watched “The Problem.” I just love that dude. He’s the best.