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Shrinking's Jessica Williams Praises How Bill Lawrence Allows Actors To Own Their Characters

Contrived or not, these days, Hollywood is pushing for more diversity. In TV shows and films, audiences see a lot more variety on the screen with people who are different, internally or externally. And while not every attempt has been executed well, there's at least a shift towards authentic casting, allowing actors to inform their characters in an accurate manner.

At least that's the case in Apple TV+'s new dramedy "Shrinking." Created by the minds behind "Scrubs" and "Ted Lasso," the series follows grieving widow and therapist Jimmy Laird (Jason Segel). After losing his wife, Jimmy begins having trouble concentrating on his work and eventually begins blurring ethical boundaries with his patients. Surrounding him are friends who are trying to help him cope personally and professionally. One specific colleague is Gaby (Jessica Williams), a therapist working alongside him who's bright, vivacious, and funny. Her boisterous optimism, however, masks the pain she feels from divorcing her partner. She's an interesting and complex character whose purpose isn't just for comic relief.

And she happens to be played by a Black woman, which became an important part of the character. In fact, according to Williams, the actors were encouraged to own their characters, bringing authenticity to the roles.

Jessica Williams was encouraged to improvise

In an interview with Variety, Jessica Williams sat down to discuss "Shrinking." Gaby's honest take on being a Black woman working alongside white men was noted, with Variety asking how Williams felt about the writing for those scenes. According to Williams, Bill Lawrence, one of the show's creators, made it clear that the characters belong to the actors, and any input was incorporated. "They said they were gonna write it towards me, and I'm a Black woman. A six-foot-tall Black woman. That informs my worldview in a lot of ways," Williams intimated. "And being six [feet] tall, I'm more inclined to hunch over and bend to people. But right before our first table read, Bill Lawrence said to all the actors, 'You're in charge of your characters. I defer to you. If you feel something's not right, we'll change it.'"

Apparently, what may seem like inclusive writing is likely Williams improvising, something that was encouraged. "One of the first lines I improved was when Jimmy [brings a client to a boxing ring], and Gaby's like, 'You took a young Black man to go fight people in this cultural atmosphere?'" the "Fantastic Beasts" actor explained. "Bill was like, 'Please add stuff like that all the time.' So anything where I'm talking about being Black is probably something I added myself."

And it looks like allowing Williams to take the reins is paying off because she's receiving plenty of praise, mostly for her excellent comedic timing. The Chicago Sun-Times particularly extolled Williams' performance, saying, "Jessica Williams is a scene-stealing force as [Gaby], who is such a funny, strong, complex, interesting character she could have a spinoff of her own." And a BGR writer called Jessica Williams his favorite part of "Shrinking."