Little Gold Men

Abbott Elementary’s Success Is Just the Beginning for Quinta Brunson

On this week’s Little Gold Men, the creator and star of ABC’s hit comedy reflects on the show’s seven Emmy nominations and what comes next in season two.
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QUINTA BRUNSON, ABBOTT ELEMENTARY, ABC
Dress by Elie Saab; earrings by Mateo; ring by Tiffany & Co.
Photographs by NICK RILEY BENTHAM. Styled by NICOLE CHAPOTEAU.

If you happen to be walking around the Warner Bros. studio lot anytime soon, and you spot a petite woman clad in an Iron Man Halloween costume mask, it might be Quinta Brunson.

It’s not because she’s a huge Tony Stark fan; it’s just one of the side effects of being the creator and star of ABC’s breakout hit show Abbott Elementary, which earned seven Emmy nominations last week. Brunson used to be able to walk around the lot uninterrupted, but since the show took off, she’s found that isn’t as easy anymore.

“I used to love to just take a walk around, drive the cart around, just go to the back lot,” she tells Little Gold Men on this week’s episode. “It helps me think, helps me get inspired—and I have lost that ability this year.”

Brunson is the most recognizable face associated with Abbott, in which she stars as elementary school teacher Janine Teagues, who, alongside her fellow teachers, attempts to do the best for the students in her underfunded Philadelphia school. But Brunson is also the series creator and a writer on the show, which is inspired by her own mother, who was an elementary school teacher.

Just days after the show earned its Emmy nominations (including a nom for comedy series and acting noms for Brunson, Janelle James, Tyler James Williams, and Sheryl Lee Ralph), Brunson spoke with Vanity Fair about how she’s dealt with this level of attention, what’s to come in season two, and whom she’s most excited to see at the Emmys.

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Give a listen to the episode above, and find Little Gold Men on Apple Podcasts or anywhere else you get your podcasts. Read a partial transcript of Brunson’s interview below.

Vanity Fair: Did you watch the nominations?

Quinta Brunson: I wasn’t watching. I was doing a string of interviews for something, and I didn’t really pay attention too much to it. I didn’t want to be anxious about the announcements. My phone just started going off, and I knew that something good had happened. So when I was able to look at my phone, I saw that not only was the show nominated, but I was so shocked at the rest of the nominations. I’m so happy for my cast. I’m over the moon that this show is nominated because I felt we did really, really good work this year, and it felt like recognition that we didn’t necessarily need, but recognition that I really felt the people who worked on this show deserved.

What was it like getting in touch with your castmates who had been nominated?

That’s where the emotional parts came. I was texting with Tyler while it’s happening, and he’s saying congratulations to me and he’s like, “Oh, my God, Sheryl and Janelle got it too.” And we’re just raving about that. He didn’t even know that he had been nominated, and I texted him like, “Tyler, you’re Emmy-nominated!” He was over the moon. Tyler’s done such good work for years and asks for nothing in return. It’s just such a good representation of someone who has done comedy so well for so long. It’s so cool that he did this as a child and is still doing it now and still doing incredible work. I think it proves that comedy takes an innate skill. And then with Sheryl—oh, my God, I was just so emotional. It reminded me of this: I grabbed her hand at the beginning of the first season and told her, “Sheryl, we’re going to give you Emmy-worthy material.” Sheryl’s an incredible actress, an amazing actress. It’s truly a joy to watch the art of acting through her. I was like, “I’m going to write you material that makes you impossible to ignore.” And Janelle just outright deserved it. I don’t know if that’s cocky to say, but I don’t feel anyone gave a better comedic performance on TV.

Abbott Elementary

By Ser Baffo/ABC.

When you look back on this first season, is there a story line that you’re especially proud of?

I’m especially proud of episode 108 because we do a lot in the episode, and one of my favorite things we got to do was introduce that Jacob’s character was gay without making it a coming-out story. That was really important to me. There are so many queer people in my life, and I think that’s a true sign of change. As more people my age come into these spaces, I don’t need these characters to do coming-out stories. They are queer. They’ve been queer since years ago. They’re just here. And I think that that was really important for me to do.

Where are you in the process of season two right now, and how does it feel different than season one?

Well, one good thing with the show being so successful is it really gave me, my producers, the writers room, and the studio network the ability to believe in ourselves. It was easy to get right back into the groove and write what we want to write. So I’ve been here in the writers room every day, unless I have to go do press or something. I’m actually sad I have to leave the writers room next week. It’s so bittersweet. Of course I’m excited to go join the cast, but I really love being in the writers room. I love telling these stories. One thing that’s changed is, you know, last year we had 13 episodes, and this year we were going to get to have a lot more fun. We’ve shown people what we can do in the first season. It feels like we can become more of a situational comedy—we were that in the first season but we had a lot of lifting to do as far as making people fall in love with these characters in this school. Now everybody loves them, and we can have some good old-fashioned Friends-type fun, you know? 

What are you excited about when it comes to going to the Emmys? Anyone you’re rooting for?

I really think Jean Smart is amazing. I’d be honored to lose to her. It’s funny, Tyler and I both were like, “Dude, we’re going to lose to Jean Smart and Henry Winkler.

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