A therapist will often begin a session by asking how a patient feels today. For Jessica Williams, the answer on Wednesday afternoon was multilayered.
“I feel like I’m dreaming,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s crazy. It’s really weird. It’s so cool. I’m so lucky.”
Williams — an actress, comedian and former “Daily Show” correspondent — received her first Emmy nomination for playing Gaby, an effervescent behavioral therapist in the Apple TV+ show “Shrinking.” Gaby shares a Pasadena, Calif., practice with Harrison Ford’s character, Paul, a therapist facing a Parkinson’s diagnosis; and Jason Segel’s character, Jimmy, a therapist who is grieving the death of his wife. (Gaby and Jimmy also end up in bed together, a move few therapists would sanction.)
“It’s a crazy day today,” Williams said, speaking from a rowdy Writers Guild of America picket line outside Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif. “I have to stand in solidarity.” In the interview, Williams spoke of Gaby’s verve, heart and refusal to adhere to stereotypes. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
When I entered “Jessica Williams” and “Shrinking” into the search bar, it auto-populated with “outfits,” “water bottle” and “jumpsuits.” How does it feel to be a style icon?
That’s amazing. I love it. That’s the biggest honor. Very affirming of the jumpsuits.
Is the nomination something you’ll need to talk about with your therapist?
I’ve been off for a few months with her, because I’ve had her for so long. This makes me want to call her and connect. I’m just happy to be in the category with these badass ladies. And I’m so proud of the show. You have to have great writing, a really supportive cast, a really supportive crew, really cool jumpsuits. And they really have to let you fly onscreen. As a Black woman, I feel really lucky because, a lot had to go right.
And they found a tall enough love interest for you. That’s nice.
Yeah, it’s always like, who’s taller than her? It’s like six people. When you see me in something, and the other person is tall, you should not be surprised if a romantic story line is there.
Romantic? I don’t know if it’s a great idea to sleep with a colleague who is still grieving his wife.
It’s a really bad idea! But that’s what I like about “Shrinking.” It’s a show that talks about how grief isn’t linear. It’s about the messiness, the boundaries being blurred. That’s what’s fun about it. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
You’ve spoken of being aware of the archetype of the Black therapist and wanting Gaby to complicate that.
The Black therapist can be a watered-down version of the mammy — the Black nanny or housekeeper that’s around in a “Gone With the Wind” way that people just download emotions onto. One of the reasons I was so excited to do the show is because I had the opportunity to attack Gaby with specificity. Specificity kills tropes and stereotypes. Gaby, she sings Sugar Ray in the car! It’s about not putting Black actors and actresses in a box. It’s trusting us with our characters and allowing us to bloom on camera.
Are you someone who can take the win? Can you enjoy the nomination?
In general, I usually poke at the win and pick up the win, but I don’t want to do that with this. I just want to sit in it and let it settle. Try to let myself enjoy it.
Are you going to do anything to celebrate?
Picketing, which feels good. Then later, we’re going to go to my favorite bar that does extra dirty martinis.
What would Gaby, the therapist, say to you right now?