‘Abbott Elementary’: Janelle James Calls Playing Ava ‘Exhausting’: ‘It Gave Me Insight Into What Truly Cheerful People Feel Like’

Abbott Elementary star Janelle James portrays the hilarious yet ridiculous principal of an underfunded Philadelphia-based public school, Willard Abbott Elementary. During a recent interview, James admitted she finds it “exhausting” to portray Ava, who she finds peppier than her. However, she noted that flirting with Tyler James Williams’ character, Gregory Eddie, comes more easily.

Janelle James smiling as Ava Coleman in 'Abbott Elementary'
Janelle James as Ava Coleman in ‘Abbott Elementary’ | Prashant Gupta/ABC/Getty Images

Why Janelle James finds it ‘exhausting’ to portray Ava in ‘Abbott Elementary’

Comedian Janelle James plays the absurd principal in Abbott Elementary, Ava Coleman. Speaking to The GATE in January 2022 about her role, James referred to her character as “ridiculous” but admitted that’s why she auditioned for the part.

When asked if she enjoyed playing Ava, the comedian called it “fun” while also “exhausting.” According to the Saint Thomas native, she finds the principal peppier than her. Therefore, to accurately portray Ava, she “had to basically stay in that character all day.”

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James described the process as tiring but realized “it gave me insight into what truly cheerful people feel like.” She continued, noting it’s difficult to “fake” being constantly upbeat, pointing out that “a lot of energy goes into those good mornings.”

However, when it comes to “complimenting” Tyler James Williams’ character, substitute teacher Gregory Eddie, the comedian admitted that came much easier for her.

James also talked about what she enjoyed about playing Ava

Answering a question about Ava’s frisky comments toward Gregory during Abbott Elementary, James explained she doesn’t have to “dig deep” for the flirting as she had to for the constant cheerfulness.

Pointing out that she’s naturally a flirt, the Black Monday writer noted it was “fun to play.” When it comes to her favorite part of portraying Ava, the actor explained the character incorporates a lot of “physical comedy,” which differs from her decade of standup comedy experience.

Therefore, James liked having to run around and “scream” as Ava. Additionally, the actor noted the “amazing” opportunity she has to work alongside actors she’s watched on television, including Williams and Sheryl Lee Ralph, who portrays kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard.

Although James’s past includes performing in a couple of Netflix series, hosting a top comedy podcast, and writing for Showtime’s Black Monday and sitcom Central Park, Ava is her first main role.

Ava is the principal of Willard Abbott Elementary

James stars as the absurd and self-involved principal of Willard Abbott Elementary. Although she misuses funds at times and seems more focused on receiving attention for her ideas than seeing if they actually work, Ava cares about her staff and students.

For example, she landed the school a feature in a documentary and helped second-grade teacher Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson, who also writes and produces the sitcom) create a video to fulfill her wishlist.

Even though her efforts to help Mrs. Howard crossed the line; it still worked as the kindergarten teacher received many much-needed supplies for her class.

Additionally, she isn’t the most qualified as she mainly received her position due to blackmail. Regardless of her absurdity, Ava has become a fan favorite. Abbott Elementary airs Tuesdays on ABC.

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