Abbott Elementary: The Complete Evolution Of The Cast

"Abbott Elementary" is an ABC mockumentary series that has just entered its second season. It premiered in December 2021, and quickly became a must-watch. This year, the show was nominated for seven Emmys, and received three wins. The show revolves around elementary school teachers in a lower-income area of Philadelphia who struggle to get the resources they need for their students. Regardless of the obstacles in their way, the teachers tenaciously fight for their students, working together to make the school a more suitable place for learning.

The show stars Quinta Brunson as Janine Teagues, a new second grade teacher at Abbott Elementary who is an exceptionally positive, peppy, go-getting people pleaser. The cast of "Abbott Elementary" includes many actors who had a hand in shaping popular culture. Members of the cast can be recognized from old beloved television shows, movies, and Broadway musicals, or as stand-up comics who make us laugh so hard it hurts. 

All these stars have united on the set of "Abbot Elementary," creating a passionate cast that cares deeply about depicting the real strife of teachers by emphasizing the amazing work they do to create a maximized learning spaces for their students. The show's stars other include Janelle James, Tyler James Williams, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, and Chris Perfetti, along with some exquisite supporting actors such as Zack Fox, Reggie Hayes, Mitra Jouhari, William Stanford Davis, and Orlando Jones. Some might be more recognizable to you than others, so join us as we explore the transformation of the cast of "Abbott Elementary."

Quinta Brunson as Janine Teagues

Quinta Brunson wears many hats as the creator, producer, and star of "Abbott Elementary." In an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Brunson explained her inspiration for creating the hit network TV show. Her mother was an elementary school teacher, and Brunson grew up going to the same school her mom taught at, allowing her to see firsthand some of the struggles teachers like her mother faced. "It is not a nine to five," Brunson said, elaborating that after school lets out, teachers still have to grade papers, make lesson plans, and learn new development material. Trevor praises Brunson for "showing the human side of being a teacher," by having all the characters on her show feel so lived in.

According to Mic, Brunson first got her start in 2014 when she posted a funny skit on Instagram that went viral and launched into a self-produced series called, "Girl Who Has Never Been on a Blind Date." This garnered the attention that landed her a job creating content for BuzzFeed, and eventually got Brunson a role on the 2019 HBO series, "A Black Lady Sketch Show." Brunson always loved comedy, as she expressed in an interview with Essence: "I was always more of a person drawn toward humor. Humor is kind of conceptual, the shared emotion and that's where I always lived." Her humor continues to keep us laughing from week to week. Brunson's humor won her the award for Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series at the 2022 Emmys.

Janelle James as Ava Coleman

Janelle James plays the spunky, often self-centered principal of Abbott Elementary, Ava Coleman. James was primarily known for her stand-up comedy prior to the show's premiere. According to The New York Times," Abbott Elementary" is the comedian's first reoccurring role in a series. Janelle James's comedy has had a significant impact on the show's success as she was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series. James was drawn to "Abbott Elementary" because of its script. She told the New York Times, "It was funny. I'm a comedian, so that appeals to me."

James told the New York Times that her stand-up career started about 15 years ago at an open mic in Memphis, where she fell in love with standup comedy. In 2016 she gained fame when she opened for comic Chris Rock (The Root). Since then, she released her comedy album "Black and Mild", appeared on Netflix's 2018 "The Comedy Lineup, wrote for ShowTimes 2019 television series "Black Monday", and appeared in Amy Schumer's show "Life & Beth," (IMDb). Much of James's standup revolves around her three sons. 

In an interview with The Root, James talked about her dream of growing her comedy career: "Every man who's making money has let me open for them. I'd like to be that man, at some point." With the popularity of James's character on "Abbott Elementary," that "some point" might be now.

Tyler James Williams as Gregory Eddie

Tyler James Williams plays Gregory Eddie, a substitute teacher who initially has ambitions to leave Abbott and get a job as a principal, but falls in love with teaching and decides to take a full-time position as a teacher at the school. At the Emmys, Williams told People that he felt he and his "Abbott Elementary" co-stars knew the show would be a hit when they filmed the pilot. Williams was right — the show was a hit and at the Emmys, he was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series. 

According to ABC, Williams's acting career began at the age of four when he landed himself a role on "Sesame Street." However, he is best known for his titular role in the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated television series, "Everybody Hates Chris," which won him an NAACP award for Outstanding Actor In A Comedy Series. 

Williams reminded People that the first time he attended an award show, he was only 13 years old. Since the finale of "Everybody Hates Chris," Williams has made guest appearances in "The Walking Dead," "Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders," "Key & Peele," and "House M.D.," among others. "Abbott Elementary" is his first big recurring role since he was a child star.

Sheryl Lee Ralph as Barbara Howard

Sheryl Lee Ralph plays Barbara Howard, a veteran kindergarten teacher whom Janine idolizes. This year saw her first Emmy nomination and win for the category of Outstanding Supporting Character In A Comedy Series. At the 74th Emmy Awards, Ralph was in a paralyzed state of shock when her name was called and her cast mates helped her to the stage. Once Ralph stepped onto the stage, it seemed she finally processed what was happening — at least enough to sing "Endangered Species" by Dianne Reeves. According to The Wrap, Sheryl Lee Ralph is only the second black woman to win an Emmy in this category. (Jackée Harry was the first.) Ralph told People, "I had no idea that people would see the subtleties in the work. It's very easy for people to miss the layers that you put in sometimes as an actor. And they saw it all" (via The AP). 

Ralph has credits in every type of media. She starred in the original Broadway production of "Dreamgirls" in 1981, a performance that earned her a Tony nomination. She's starred alongside stars like Denzel Washington in "Mighty Quinn," Robert de Niro in "Mistress," Danny Glover in "To Sleep with Anger," Eddie Murphy in "The Distinguished Gentleman," and Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act 2" — to name a few. Her television credits include "Moesha" and "Instant Moms." After decades in the industry, Ralph more than deserves her Emmy win.

Lisa Ann Walter as Melissa Schemmenti

Lisa Ann Walter plays Melissa Schemmenti, a second-grade teacher who practices tough love, values fairness, and embodies all things Philly. According to an interview with Danny Pellegrino on "Everything Iconic," Walter's mother was a D.C. public school teacher, which connected her to the character of Melissa Schemmenti. She felt like the part was written for her and fell in love with the script instantly. Walter admits that after shooting the pilot the cast was confident in the show: "There was such a chemistry, such an energy that we didn't want to talk about it because we didn't want to jinx it."

Before "Abbot Elementary," Walter was known mostly as a stand-up comedian and film actress. She's been involved in several popular movies, working alongside actors like Tom Cruise in "War of the Worlds," Jim Carrey in "Bruce Almighty," and Jennifer Lopez in "Shall We Dance." 

However, Walter is probably best known for her role as Chessy in 1998's "The Parent Trap." One of the most iconic moments in the movie is when Chessy fights back tears after realizing the twins switched places, and she is actually talking to Annie, who she hadn't seen since she was born. Walters told Us Weekly that the emotion in the scene was pulled from the memory of leaving her 5-week-old daughter when she had to go on the road as a stand-up comedian.

Chris Perfetti as Jacob Hill

Chris Perfetti plays Jacob Hill, an awkward, nerdy history teacher who is Janine's friend and peer. In an interview with W Magazine, Perfetti discussed his excitement upon reading the "Abbott Elementary" pilot, as it passed his litmus tests of both making him laugh out loud in a public space and painting Jacob as such a compelling character that Perfetti would be jealous if someone else took the part.

Before "Abbott Elementary," Perfetti was immersed in the world of theater, starring in multiple Off-Broadway productions. In 2012, Backstage interviewed Perfetti after his debut in the critically acclaimed Roundabout Theater Company production of "Son of the Prophet," which according to Stage Agent, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Perfetti landed the role right out of college playing Charlie, a character that Backstage described as "charmingly sarcastic." His alma mater SUNY Purchase recounts Perfetti's career on the stage; he played Bomber in the 2012 revival of "Picnic," Ariel in "The Tempest" in 2015, and in 2018 worked with the Public Theater in "The Low Road."

Outside of theater, Perfetti's credits include the web series "Submissions Only," NBC's unaired 2012 comedy "Next Caller" (The Hollywood Reporter), "Crossbones," and "Looking." "Abbot Elementary" is an important pivot in the actor's career as he is a full-time member of the award-winning cast on the critically acclaimed show.

William Stanford Davis as Mr. Johnson

William Stanford Davis guest-starred in Season 1 of "Abbott Elementary" as Mr. Johnson, the school's eccentric janitor. Davis has since been hired as a series regular for the first time in his career at the age of 70, according to AARP. The actor has already appeared in the first two episodes of the show's second season.

William Stanford Davis reminisced to AARP about his elementary school experience growing up in St.Louis and attending an all-black school: "[The school] was considered underfunded, but the teachers put together a lot of effort to make sure we had the best experience possible." Hmm, that sounds familiar — seems like his real-life experience has been reflected in the fictional school of "Abbott Elementary"!

In high school, Davis was in a band called the Fabulous Paramount Revue. However, seeing Sidney Poitier on the big screen is what caused him to fall in love with acting. His credits include appearances in "Sister, Sister," "My Name is Earl," "CSI," "Lincoln Heights," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and HBO's 2020 reboot of "Perry Mason." 

Zack Fox as Tariq Temple

Thus far, Zack Fox has only been a guest star on the show as Janine's boyfriend and aspiring rapper Tariq Temple. The role is fitting for Fox, an emerging rapper and comedian. He dropped his first single "Square up" in 2018 which went viral. However, it is unknown whether Fox will return as Tariq in Season 2 of "Abbott Elementary" now that (spoiler alert!) Tariq is Janine's ex-boyfriend. Our fingers are crossed that he will make an appearance so we can get more fun raps, like Tariq's anti-drug rap in the episode entitled "Work Family."

According to Complex, Fox's career started with comedic viral Tweets under the alias Bootymath. However, around the time he dropped his first single, he dropped the alias. Currently, he is in collaboration with Awful Records dropping his viral song "Jesus Is The One (I Got Depression)" in 2019 and then his album, "Shut The F*** Up Talking to Me." His music highlights his knack for comedy with sardonic lyrics that The Fader describes as "an ode to the promise of cartoonish, spontaneous physical fury." In his interview with Complex Network, Fox shared that he thinks of himself more as a musician than a comedian — but he certainly makes us laugh either way.

Reggie Hayes as the superintendent

Reggie Hayes guest-stars in "Abbott Elementary" episodes "Open House" and "Ava vs. Superintendent" as the Superintendent. In the episode "Open House," we learn that Ava holds her position as principal because she blackmailed the superintendent after catching him cheating on his wife. Later in the episode, during the school's open house, the superintendent informs Ava that her blackmail has become irrelevant because he divorced his wife and married his mistress. The episode "Ava vs. The Superintendent" is about Ava's last chance to prove competency in her position as principal. To save her job, Ava must ace a presentation to the school board. It is rumored that Reggie Hayes will be returning in the second season, so we'll have to watch and see if, when, and how his character pops up.

Reggie Hayes has guest-starred in several television shows, from appearances in "Blackish" in 2019 to "NCIS" in 2015. Hayes got his notoriety from starring in the 2000s television series "Girlfriends" as William Dent, a lawyer who gives the main character, Joan Clayton, dating advice and perspective on men. However, when the show ended in 2008, the actor struggled to find work. He told the Chicago Tribune, "I had starred on this long-running show but I wasn't ... [one of the actors] from 'Friends" who had doors opening for them after their show ended. Pretty much, I was just another guy." Hopefully "Abbott Elementary" will serve as a door opening for him.

Mitra Jouhari as Sarah the art teacher

Mitra Jouhari guest-stars as Sarah, Janine's cool, artistic, and toxic college friend who takes a job as Abbott Elementary's art teacher. Sarah doesn't even last the whole episode before the teachers get fed up with her disregard for the students' needs. The character serves as a challenge for pushover Janine, who is forced to finally stand up for herself. While Mitra Jouhari's role in "Abbott Elementary" is small, it serves as an emotional arc for Janine — and for Jouhari, it's just one of her steps as a star on the rise.

Mitra Jouhari is a writer, comedian, and actress. She has written for a number of shows, including "Big Mouth," "High Maintenance," "Miracle Workers," and Comedy Central's  "The President Show," for which she won a GWA award. However, she's best known for creating and acting in Adult Swim's "Three Busy Debras," along with Sandy Honig and Alyssa Stonoha. According to Cincinnati Magazine, her career started with an internship on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. We're betting "Abbott Elementary" won't be the last we'll see of this writer/actress/comedian.

Orlando Jones as Mr. Eddie, Gregory's father

Orlando Jones guest-stars in Season 1 of "Abbott Elementary" as Gregory's unsupportive father who wants him to be anything but a teacher. His character considers teaching to be the equivalent of "babysitting" and wants Gregory to get "a real man's job." Jones only appears in the episode via a video call, but the character hugely influences how Gregory feels about his job, bringing importance to the role — not to mention that his appearance drives Gregory and Janine to be closer.

Orlando Jones's acting credits include roles in the shows "American Gods," "Madiba," and "Sleepy Hollow," and the movies "Evolution" and "Drumline," among others. He even appeared in two episodes of "Everybody Hates Chris" alongside Tyler James Williams, aka his on-screen son in "Abbott Elementary." According to his website, his career has spanned over the course of 30 years and continues to grow in various diverse roles. It has not been stated whether Jones will be returning to "Abbott Elementary," but the father-son relationship could be something fun to explore in future episodes.