top of page

William Stanford Davis on the Importance of 'Abbott Elementary,' How he Approaches His Roles

Photo Credit: ABC

Inspired by acting legend Sidney Poitier's unforgettable performance in A Rasin in the Sun, William Stanford Davis knew he wanted to become an actor at an early age. The veteran actor is best known for his roles as Mr. Riggs in TNT's Sci-Fi series Snowpiercer and Mr. Johnson in the award-winning ABC comedy series Abbott Elementary.

In an interview with The Quintessential Gentleman, Davis shares insight into the series, his acting methods and his role as the quirky, outspoken janitor that reminds him of his grandmother.

He describes Mr. Johnson as a conspiracy theorist who believes in everything from UFOs to lizard people. As an actor, he revels in the role and hopes Abbott Elementary will have a more personal approach when developing the characters' story arc.

Davis praises show creator Quinta Brunson's creative genius when he reflects on Abbott Elementary's success.

"We have a good time with Quinta Brunson," he said. "Her fingerprints are on everything you see, from the cracks in the wall to the broken lights in the school, to the dialogue to the people that were cast."

He expresses gratitude for being a part of such an outstanding cast, having a great crew, and being involved in a project that sheds light on underfunded schools.

The impact Abbott Elementary has on audiences hit home when Davis saw children dressed up as Mr. Johnson for Halloween.

"I've been very flattered by it," he stated. "I'm glad that this character is bringing so much joy, so much happiness to people."

Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard

Among the countless storylines featured throughout the episodes, some stand out in Davis' memory. In particular, one involving guest star Leslie Odom Jr. as Draemond.

"He had a great storyline because he wanted to shut the school down," Davis recalls. "He's determined to do that. So that's going to be a recurring storyline throughout the season. He's determined to come in and make everything a charter school. That's going to be a memorable storyline. One of the ones that were just on fire when it was on Wednesday night."

According to Davis, despite Abbott Elementary being a comedy, the show remains true to reflecting the many challenges that underfunded schools face while remaining non-political.

"I think what we try to do is stick to reality," he explains. "We've had a lot of teachers tell us these things actually happened in the classes. We do know that underfunded schools get the dregs of the books and don't get the supplies that they need to get the bare minimum in terms of things like art and physical education."

At the core, the show is about the personal lives of teachers and their commitment to providing a safe, positive learning environment for students. Like the teachers, Mr. Johnson also aspires to do this in his own way by keeping the school clean.

Aside from Mr. Johnson, Potato Pie from the crime drama series Ray Donovan is one of Davis' most memorable roles. Many of the inspiring characters he has portrayed over the years can be defined by a few hallmark traits.

"You always try to find something positive to bring to the table with your character," he said. "Find his humanity, find something to make people fall in love with the character, even if he's a villain, not disparaging the villain. But I've done characters also on stage that were very villainous. And the biggest compliment I've gotten was when I got booed at the curtain call. We go out and people stand around the stage door. People told me how much they hated my character. That means I was really bringing something to the table. And that meant they love to hate when they found something in the character."

In addition to waiting for the third season of Abbott Elementary, Davis has a new project on the horizon.

"I am getting ready to go to Indiana in a few weeks to work on a film produced by The Actors Studio," he informs. "It's produced and directed by actor studio members called The Sullivan Girl. The period piece takes place in the 50s, and I'm looking forward to that. "


QG - Ernie Hudson copy 4.jpg
bottom of page