Jessica Williams Explores Weighty Concepts in “Shrinking”
To know of Jessica Williams is to be continuously impressed by her. She distinguished herself early in her career by being The Daily Show‘s youngest-ever correspondent at just 22. She is widely lauded as a talented actor and comedian and wrote, produced, and cohosted the popular podcast 2 Dope Queens. You may also recognize her from her role as Eulalie “Lally” Hicks, the confident and bright Ilvermorny Charms professor from the second and third installments of the Fantastic Beasts films. Now, Williams is charming us further with a starring role on the Apple TV+ comedy series Shrinking.
Shrinking, Williams explains in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, was a timely and appropriate project choice. Starring alongside Jason Segel and Harrison Ford on the show, Williams plays Gaby, a therapist wrestling with the loss of her marriage as well as the death of her closest friend. Having lost her long-term boyfriend in 2019, Williams intimately understands this type of grief.
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Williams is also familiar with therapy, noting on an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert that she has been seeing the same therapist in New York for roughly the past nine years. “My brain is always going, and I try to treat it like a car. I want to do the maintenance while we go, as opposed to if the car just sort of breaks down and I try to fix it in the end, it’s a lot more expensive.” Her personal experiences with therapy were one of the things the show’s creators asked her about when they first approached her about the role, as well as what informed Williams’s character choices. “With Gaby, I wanted her to be the kind of therapist that people wanted to seek out and find,” Williams said of her character. “I think she’s really colorful, very expressive.”
Her impressive background in improvisational comedy didn’t hurt either. Williams described many of the show’s episodes as being written in response to daily news, requiring the actors to occasionally play catch-up to keep pace with the intense shooting schedule. The showrunners would also encourage the cast to first shoot a scene as written, but then take over based on their own comedic sensibilities. The fast-paced, improvisational environment was one that Williams found immensely satisfying.
It feels like playing, and it feels kind of dangerous. A lot of times we’re just trying to make each other laugh. As long as I’m responding truthfully, that’s how acting becomes therapy. I have to be present in order to do a good job.
It would appear that she is succeeding in this endeavor. The first season of Shrinking has received impressive reviews from various outlets, including a rating of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, earning it a “Certified Fresh” label. The consensus seems to be that the show’s humor and earnestness lighten the overarching theme of grief in a way that evokes both joy and catharsis.
And after all, who couldn’t use a little of that?