chat room

How Tyrel Jackson Williams Brought TikTok Cringe to Party Down

Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for STARZ

Tyrel Jackson Williams can’t say what exactly helps an influencer strike it big: He calls internet fame a “lightning-in-the-bottle effect.” But his character in the Party Down revival, Sackson, is chasing that acclaim. One of two new cater-waiters on the team — notably, the only Gen-Z addition — Sackson’s area of expertise is foreign to the rest, although the dream- and fame-chasing are core to them all. (He has a heart-to-heart with Jane Lynch’s Constance in which she dissuades him from rule-breaking for “content,” which “isn’t a real dream, like acting.”)

But Sackson will do or be anything to manufacture his success. Every opportunity is immense, and every moment is an opportunity. He’ll hawk a supplement or record his reaction to a cake bite filled with Camembert. He’ll sneak into a client’s off-limits, dual-mirrored bathroom to record a ten-second video, ending his dance with some personal flair: heart hands and spoken gibberish. “Manifest yourself.” It could seem like self-debasement, but consider Kyle’s impropriety in the first two seasons. Consider what show business looks like in general. And, anyway, Henry would say the true self-debasement was in the catering job itself. Williams explained the process of creating Sackson, assuring he wasn’t a Gen-Z stereotype but granting room for, well, cringe.

Shows haven’t always done the best job at portraying Gen Z or what being an influencer looks like. What did you want to portray about Sackson? What was essential to the character?
I think it was really important to me, and it was also very important to John Enbom, for the joke of Sackson not to be that young people are weird — that there’s a take on not only Gen Z and Gen-Z culture, but social media and how that changes people’s perceptions and what they are aspiring for. And how it’s sort of a newer version of the L.A. actor ride that Kyle is on the first two seasons, but it’s worse. There’s even less of a guarantee that anything happens.

Early on it was a very collaborative process with John where we were trying to figure out what angle into the character we wanted to do, especially since I’m a new addition to an already established crew of people who have their own motivations and feelings about each other. So it was finding the way to figure out what Sackson’s deal is, but also how that fits in with everyone else, because everyone else on the show is their own specific brand of crazy. So we needed to find out what Sackson’s crazy is.

How did you match the tone that was already there?
It was honestly a lot of trial and error on set, but everybody also was really sweet and kind. I remember a conversation I had with Ken Marino on the first day. We had done a scene together, and he pulled me aside to say, “If you ever start falling out of the tone, we’ve got you.” I thought of it like bumpers at the bowling alley: They weren’t gonna let me hit the gutter.

You’ve talked about feeling nervous on the set. All of these actors are so respected. What have you picked up from working with them?
The thing that really struck me from working on the set was how everyone was able to have a lot of fun while also getting a bunch of work done. We had to fly through our days because we had a lot of stuff to get, but everybody was having a good time and laughing and joking, and even if we were on crunch time and running out of time in the day and they had a bunch of shots to get, it was never really a stressful environment. Everybody’s just like, “Look, we’ll do our best, we’ll get it. It doesn’t need to be intense” — which I really appreciated as something that I want to try and bring wherever I go.

Was there any room for improv?
There isn’t a lot of space for that, mainly because we have to move really fast. But for the little moments where there is space for it, it’s crazy. It feels like being in the middle of a firing range and people are just shooting stuff all around you, but in a less morbid way.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of that you got in there?
Oh, yeah, yeah, there’s a joke at the end of episode two.

I was going to ask you about that line!
They’d gotten the scene done, pretty much, and the director of that episode was like, “I’m just gonna let you and Ken go. Do whatever you want.” That was, I think, the last take we did before we moved on. It just felt so right and was so funny. That is a cherished memory of mine — that and also the entire luau episode [episode four]. That whole thing felt like showing up to work and showing up to a playground.

Let’s talk about the TikTok dance from episode two. Sackson’s insisting, If I get this video in front of these two mirrors, it is going to change my life. It’s really funny how the rest of the team views that so differently from one of them being in a movie and getting a bit part.
In a weird way, it’s very similar to an actor saying, “This audition could change my life,” because it could. Is the chance really high? No.

Can you tell me about putting together the choreography, about your facial expressions?
I was really into TikTok at the time. I had been avoiding it for so long because I was like, This is my younger siblings’ thing. This isn’t my generation. And I fell into and got addicted to it. So I had a lot of stuff to pull from. But we worked with a choreographer for the TikTok dance and for a few other dancing moments throughout the season. I had worked with him a few times, because the first few versions we did, they were like, “No, this actually looks cool. We’ve got to cringe this up a little bit.” It was a cool process — we would try certain things, and as soon as I would do something and we’d be like, “Ew, no,” it was like, “That! Yes.”

It’s really something to watch, because there’s something so inherently embarrassing about seeing what it looks like to make a TikTok. And you get Ron’s perspective too.
Seeing the dances outside of the angle that they’re meant to be viewed from — it just looks so strange.

For Sackson, he’s sort of doing the influencer thing — the bad influencer thing — but he’s just trying to find the thing that’s going to get him the most attention, then make that his whole deal, personality, experience. He has an understanding that personality is what gives the biggest influencers their platform and their ability to support themselves, but I don’t think he has a solid understanding of who he is, so he’s willing to do just about anything. That makes it very, very fun to play someone who’s just so desperate to get ahead that they’re willing to completely alter who they are.

Throughout the episode, Ken’s character lobbies for James Marsden’s Jack to hire Party Down at subsequent events. After failing (due to his never-ending foibles), he gets a last-minute party request from Megan Mullally instead. Relieved, he tells Tyrel, “God never closes a door without opening a window.” Tyrel responds casually, “That’s how a bear got my uncle.”
Tyrel Jackson Williams Brings TikTok Cringe to Party Down