After two seasons of Jacob’s neuroticism and naivety slowly growing on his fellow “Abbott Elementary” teachers, Chris Perfetti said his character “wins a bit more” in Season 3.
“I think our writers and producers, led by the genius Quinta [Brunson], have always straddled that line between laughing at Jacob and laughing with Jacob in a really good way,” Perfetti told TheWrap ahead of the Wednesday season premiere. “I feel like we’re laughing with Jacob a little bit more this year.”
Perfetti noted that he’s used to viewers feeling pity for Jacob, as he has often been the butt of jokes in previous seasons from teachers he adores, like Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) and Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph).
“That will not be an inappropriate response to Jacob this year,” Perfetti said. “But I hope that people get some satisfaction out of what Jacob gets to do this year.”
With each passing season, Perfetti said the creative team hopes to challenge what viewers know about their favorite characters by spotlighting new aspects of their personalities.
“If we’re doing our job correctly, we’re duping you into believing that this is a documentary, and I think the only way you can really do that and make the audience believe that these characters actually exist somewhere in the world is to show every facet of them,” Perfetti said.
Below, Perfetti teased what’s in store for the teachers this season, explored Jacob’s role in Janine and Gregory’s ongoing romance and how Brunson “flipped the show on its head” in Season 3.
TheWrap: Season 3 was interrupted by the summer’s strikes, and had a quick turnaround to get back in production. What was it like coming back to set after being on strike?
Chris Perfetti: It was amazing. Our eyes were still kind of spinning and everybody was like, “Is this real?” because the strikes were such a roller coaster ride. So many times I thought that it was about to be over, then it wasn’t.
“Abbott” was really mobilized and ready to start as soon as we could, as soon as everybody got a fair deal. It was a bit surreal. “Is this happening?” “Are we back?” “Do I still know how to play this character?” But after that first group scene where we’re all together, I feel like it clicked pretty quickly.
Showrunners Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker always talk about pursuing different pairings of characters we haven’t seen before. What’s one character you wish you had more screen time with?
We’re about a quarter of the way through filming our third season, and we’ve already done so many of those combinations. But for some reason, it feels like there are still ones that we haven’t done. It’s a testament to how Quinta drew these characters that any combination of them is a recipe for disaster or, hopefully, comedy. I’m feeling like very fulfilled by what we’ve done already, but I’ve always thought that like the Jacob and Ava matchup is particularly potent.
In the Season 2 finale, Jacob learns Janine and Gregory kissed and your reaction is hilarious. How did you first envision this moment?
I feel very grounded when I’m in scenes with all of this ensemble, but particularly when I’m in scenes with Tyler, I’ve really loved how we’ve fleshed out that relationship a bit more at the end of the second season and even continuing into the third season. When I get to do a two-person scene with just Tyler James Williams, it’s collaboration at its highest form. I feel like I just look into his eyes and see where we’re going to go. There wasn’t a ton of planning but I think if anything came into play there, it’s mostly just my admiration and affection for Tyler as a person. It’s very easy to pretend, as Jacob, but I care a lot about what’s going on with Gregory because Tyler is just such a great dude.
Jacob is inadvertently placed in the middle of Janine and Gregory as they try to push back what happened between them. How would you describe Jacob’s role as they figure out their feelings?
I would describe it as pivotal, consequential. I’ve encountered a lot of people who want to know where that’s going. If we’ve done our job correctly, we should make you squirm about that relationship. It makes me squirm. But I think whatever you’re feeling, multiplied by 1,000 is what Jacob is feeling.
I think he has such a strong investment in both of those people that it not working out, or it possibly working out, is of great consequence to him. I just really enjoy that — it’s a fun art to play. But I don’t think he has kind of like a strong feeling on which way it should go. I think he trusts that they know what’s best.
What can you tease about this season? Any guest stars or storylines you’re particularly excited for?
When we came back to film the third season, it was like we had been shot out of a cannon, and I didn’t really know what to expect — our writers were supposed to go back to work, I think, the day before the writers’ strike began. When I came back, and we started to do these table reads of the new season, I was just so blown away with how funny they were.
I thought that Quinta took the most clever way to explain why we’re starting halfway through the school year. She really flipped the show on its head in a way — she introduces something in the very first episode that I think is going to really surprise people, which seems like classic Quinta to me. I’m excited for people to find out about the special guests that we have this year, and for you to meet some new characters. I think that’s all I can say without getting fired.
We met Jacob’s boyfriend Zach and have seen him a couple times on the show. What can you tease about that dynamic going into Season 3?
Big ups to the brilliant Larry Owens. I’m so glad that he was around to play last year. The way that Quinta handled that whole storyline was really impressive, in terms of not making an unnecessary deal out of it, or spoon feeding that relationship to a network TV audience. I thought that was so smart and somewhat political, and I love her for that. Larry is a phenomenal actor, and he will be back this year.
“Abbott Elementary” premieres Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. ET.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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