HomeTVJanelle James Reacts in Character to Emmy Nod: ‘This Is Expected’

Janelle James Reacts in Character to Emmy Nod: ‘This Is Expected’


To many television viewers, Janelle James has become synonymous with Ava Coleman, her bumbling but brashly confident elementary school principal in the hit ABC workplace comedy “Abbott Elementary.”

The real-life James, a veteran comedian who for years slugged it out on stand-up stages around the country, isn’t so bumbling. But on Wednesday she had cause to be just as confident, after receiving her second Emmy nomination for playing Ava, her breakout role. She is familiar now with the choreography of the awards show: the campaigning, the events, the dressing up … the media interviews.

“After the last Emmys, you kind of start getting ready for the next Emmys,” she said, joking. “But it’s still a huge deal.”

Having recently woken up to several calls informing her of the nomination — once again for best supporting actress in a comedy — James discussed by phone the sitcom’s success, expanding her comedic persona and the personal growth of the delightfully self-aggrandizing comedic foil that is Ava. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

I’m going to ask you the question that I’m supposed to ask as a journalist: How did it feel to hear you were nominated? But if it’s not too early for some improv, would you mind answering as Ava, not as Janelle?

This is expected. You know when I started the show at the school, I knew in my heart that this would be the outcome. Sure, it’s for the children, but I’m the glue that holds it all together. So for people to focus on me, you know, it’s all the better because then I can shift the focus, down the line, to the kids who really … deserve it.

Thank you for humoring me. So — back as Janelle — tell me about your experience at last year’s Emmys.

That was a wild experience for me. I had never been to the Emmys before and really did not understand what the whole process was. It was a totally new experience, and my best friend, Hadiyah Robinson, who I started in this business with, was next to me and we were truly just geeking out about seeing all of these famous people.

Do you ever find yourself channeling Ava into your own life?

Before this role, I remember being younger and more fabulous, pre-comedy, pre-standup and really making a conscious decision to downgrade in looks and fabulousness in order to maintain my sanity in a male-driven industry. I was doing the whole “comedian in a black T-shirt and jeans” thing. This role — the whole getting gussied up — has reminded me that I do like those things, and that is a part of me. I’m trying to bring that back.

This show went quickly from being the new comedy on the block to being well entrenched in pop culture. How did that happen so fast?

That’s great — that means we’re already part of the zeitgeist and the lexicon. People feel like they know us, and I feel like that’s the sign of a true sitcom: something that you watch with your family and something that feels like it’s been part of your life the whole time.

What are your hopes for Ava in future seasons?

Maybe more Ava outside of the school, what she does when she’s not working. We set up the fact that she’s interested in learning and maybe teaching down the line. I hope we continue down that path — Ava’s education reawakening. And more of the same. More high jinks, more lines, more laughter.

Content Source: www.nytimes.com


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