Party Down’s Tyrel Jackson Williams is stealing scenes, one TikTok dance at a time
Over a decade ago, a little comedy by the name of Party Down, which centers on a catering team made up of people with big dreams of being successful in Hollywood, was canceled after just two seasons by Starz. After being a cult classic for years, the series got a second life on streaming that solidified its status as a sitcom staple — and eventually set it up for a long-awaited season 3. Now, Party Down is finally back after 13 years, having just premiered on Feb. 24, with the majority of the original cast (sans Lizzy Caplan) returning, including Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Jane Lynch, Martin Starr, and more.
Along with Zoe Chao and Jennifer Garner, Tyrel Jackson Williams is one of the newest additions rounding out the revival of the beloved series. The 25-year-old plays Sackson, one of the pink bowtie-sporting caterers who has his sights set on making it big as a social media star, committed to the point where he carries around a full-size ring light in a duffle bag in order to record content throughout the workday. Despite acting opposite comedy veterans who have blown up since first starring in Party Down, Williams holds his own and steals scenes, while going beyond the stereotypical influencer traits to portray Sackson as being somewhat less out of touch.
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Most people likely recognize Williams from his time as Leo Dooley on Disney XD’s Lab Rats, which ran from 2012-2016, but he has since been carving out a space in more adult-centric comedy with roles in Brockmire and, now, Party Down. In addition to acting, Williams joined forces with fellow young performers Jadagrace and KOI to form grouptherapy., a pop-rap indie music collective based in L.A. Through their music, they explore their shared feelings about the experience of growing up in the entertainment industry.
With the latest season of Party Down now airing on Starz, AltPress caught up with Williams, who spoke about playing a more grounded take on influencers, working with the original cast, and using music as a way to feel seen.
[Courtesy of Colleen Hayes/Starz]
In recent years, Party Down has become a pretty big cult classic. How familiar had you been with the show before joining the revival?
I was really familiar with it without having seen it. When it was originally airing, I was quite young, so I wasn’t really into that kind of TV. I sort of was catching up with it over the years and having it recommended to me endless times by pretty much everyone I knew. When I got the audition for the show, I had to do a bunch of binges to catch up while also reading with the cast and being like, “Oh, yeah, I just saw you turn in this really amazing joke last night and I now need to act opposite you and not be nervous.”
Did you feel pressure going into the show knowing that you were going to be working with the original cast and that there were high expectations?
Yeah, 100 percent. There was a lot. There were very high stakes for me. I’m sure everyone else will say, “Oh, no, he was fine,” but no. I like to think that I hid it pretty well, but it was very nerve-wracking to walk in and be like, “I just need to pretend like I don’t know who these people are and that they’re just my co-worker.”
How did you approach playing a character like Sackson, because he could’ve easily come across as superficial and cringy, but he doesn’t?
I think that’s a testament to [co-creator] John Enbom really wanting the character of Sackson to not be the joker trope that young people are strange and that what they’re interested in makes no sense. Early on, he had a series of conversations with me where he was like, “Let’s figure out what Sackson’s deal is and what his specific brand of crazy is so that he fits in with the cast that’s already there and has his own take on everything that’s going on and everyone else.” That there’s more than just always having his phone out and is always trying to post something. There was more there to him.
[Courtesy of Colleen Hayes/Starz]
You play an influencer in the show, and you have a TikTok and are active on social media. Did you use your experience and familiarity with that world to inform your interpretation of the character?
Definitely. There’s a sort of — I don’t know if this is a universal experience — buzz that you get when you’re active across multiple platforms and getting good engagement, things are going well, and people are commenting nice stuff.
Yeah, you sort of feel validated.
Yeah. You feel validated and also are really aware of how fragile it is — how at any moment it could turn over. There’s that feeling like you’re on top of the world, but you’re also constantly chasing more of the engagement and validation. Sackson just lives there, that’s where his whole life is. He’s waiting for that to solidify into something that he can relax in long-term.
Even though you’re one of the newbies in the cast, you’re such a great fit in the team and the chemistry between you all feels so natural. What was it like joining the ensemble and getting to work with the original cast, like Adam Scott, Ken Marino, and everyone else who came back?
It was so great. It was awesome. It definitely felt like getting drafted in the NBA, like playing in the major leagues. I just had to trust in the fact that I was casted, so I belong and deserve to be there. I was able to play around with these people who are really good at what they do. Over time, it just became that every day; just showing up and playing and being available and of service to everybody else, and having fun bouncing off each other.
There are also a lot of great guest stars, so was there anyone you felt super starstruck by?
It felt like every other day there was someone that I was super starstruck by. Meeting James Marsden for the first time, it felt like I was going insane. [Laughs.] I was a huge nerd growing up, so I can’t even say that I watched all of the original X-Men trilogy, it was more so like it was a part of my personality. Walking onto set and walking up to him, shaking his band, and being like, “Oh, hi, I’m Tyrel,” everything in my brain was screaming like, “This isn’t real, there’s no way you’re shaking hands with Cyclops right now. You’re dreaming, pinch yourself or something.”
He’s such a king! For me, it was Enchanted.
Yeah, that too! It was all of the media I consumed growing up. It seemed like I was running into so many of the people and characters that I cherished. While you’re sitting next to them, you have to be like, “Okay, no, they are not that character. You need to learn what their actual personality is and get to know them.” It’s a really weird thing. It’s one of the things I love and hate about this job.
I want to talk a little about your work as a musician. I read that your group, grouptherapy., was born as a result of the shared experiences of you and your bandmates being young working actors in Hollywood. What is it that you’ve been trying to express through your music?
I think that the thing we’ve been trying to express, and part of the reason why we named ourselves grouptherapy., was we had a pretty singular experience and that we are more comfortable because we grew up more comfortable at work than in any other sort of environment. Because of that, we were blessed with an amazing work ethic. But there’s this feeling that was very difficult for us to be understood, just talking our feelings out. The way that we were able to really express it in a way that felt good and natural to us, and also was relatable to others — I hate the word relatable, but something that was more universal — was through music. That was the thing that was most important to us. It wasn’t the specifics of whatever experience, it was the feelings and the emotion.
It’s kind of like regaining control of the narrative, since you were all kids when you started out in the industry.
Exactly. I forget where I saw this online, but there’s this [meme] somebody had posted [that said], “For all the people who were a pleasure to have in class, how are your anxiety disorders doing now?” It’s kind of that thing, like if anyone who’s been a straight-A student [and] high-achiever when they were younger, that feeling of getting into adulthood and realizing you weren’t an overachiever because you were special or better, you just were more stressed than everybody else.
Since you’re a musician, do you think that if the show gets renewed, Sackson could go down the influencer-turned-singer pipeline that we often see happening?
Oh, my Lord. I think it’s definitely a possibility. When we first started shooting the show, I was trying to hide the music stuff for that reason, because I was already going to be doing all the dancing. So I was like, "That’s enough embarrassment for one season." But it might crop up in season 2. I’m excited to see Sackson go down all of the influencer pipelines. I wholeheartedly believe at some point he needs to start boxing very poorly.