Here’s Why ‘Abbott Elementary’s William Stanford Davis Is A Scene Stealer

William Stanford Davis is still celebrating his newest promotion to series regular on the second season of the award-winning teacher-focused mockumentary Abbott Elementary. This marks the first series regular role in Davis’ nearly three-decade career.

The St. Louis native, who proudly plays Abbott’s janitor, Mr. Johnson, spoke to BLACK ENTERPRISE about his highly-anticipated pinch-me moment, the value of teachers and janitors, and his childhood school experiences that changed his life.

William Stanford Davis
(Photo: ABC/Matt Sayles)

“I’m still in pinch myself mode,” Davis tells BLACK ENTERPRISE about the move that skyrocketed his career to new heights. “That’s how it feels right now. And I think I will be until the end of the series. This is such an amazing experience. The people I get to work with every day, the crew, the cast, stellar cast, and we’re just having so much fun. It’s been a journey.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Abbott Elementary (@abbottelemabc)

As a guest star on season one, Davis is undoubtedly a fan favorite for his outstanding and scene stealing performance as the cantankerous yet lovable Mr. Johnson.

Following its epic Emmy wins for Season 1, Abbott Elementary welcomed a whole new school year of hilarity thanks in part to its beloved janitor who lives his best life as if none of the cameras are rolling.

“I think Mr. Jackson is a bit enigmatic. You think he’s going to come at you one way and he’ll do a left turn on you, he’ll come in a different way. He’s filter-less. He doesn’t care how it comes out. He’s going to say what’s on his mind at any time,” says the Ray Donovan actor.

He adds: “I know he cares about the school and the kids. He wants them to have the best experience possible. But I think his chief job is making sure the school is safe, warm, there’s no snow out for kids to fall in, hurt themselves in the winter.”

Too cool for school, Mr. Johnson doesn’t just take a mop to the floor and fix what’s broken. He lends advice to teachers, safeguard students in need, and occasionally dons sunglasses.

“The teachers are basically the backbone, but the custodian is like the undercurrent that keeps things going,” Davis says.

Davis has taken his own early experiences with nosy school custodians into the role.

William Stanford Davis
William Stanford Davis in a scene from “Abbott Elementary.” (Photo: ABC/Gilles Mingasson)

“We used to have this custodian and the school clerk were the nosiest people. They knew everybody’s business. And so that’s where I try to deal with Mr. Johnson. He knows everything about everybody and he kind of keeps it close to the vest until he needs to spring it out,” Davis explains.

In addition to comedic relief, Abbott Elementary depicts teachers needing to be resourceful and creative in their classrooms to compensate for the lack of funding for basic school supplies. For Davis, Abbott Elementary is very much reflective of his special encounters with teachers at his former all-Black underfunded elementary school in St. Louis.

From glee club to choir and art exhibits to tag football, Davis said he wasn’t aware of any lacking at his school. He credits teachers, especially his aunt, for going above and beyond.

My aunt, who was one of the closest people in my life to me, was my third grade teacher. And I remember almost every day of that class. And certain teachers will have a different effect. She would bring clothes from my cousins to kids who maybe didn’t have a sweater or something,” Davis says.

Though the hit sitcom intentionally highlights issues facing underfunded public schools, Davis believes that the teachers are devoted to the well being of students.

“The teachers make sure that they get the best that they can get. They care for them, make sure that they got food. They would make sure that they had what they needed so that they could learn. So I think that Abbott is kind of based on that,” Davis says.

William Stanford Davis
(Image: ABC)

At 71, Davis has more than 15 years mentoring the next generation of talent under his belt at both his own company, the WSD masterclass, and at the Actors Studio, where he is a lifetime member.

“Just like teachers. I talked for a while, and I still do a master class every now and then with people who are interested. The first thing I tell them, “OK, you got to have a job. You got to have a way to support yourself. It’s only about the work. It’s only about the work. It’s not about the results. And if you really love this, if you really love it, how can you quit? Can’t quit,” Davis says.

“And do theater, get in a play, work your craft, work your craft over and over and over again. I have the saying that film makes you famous. TV makes you rich. Theater makes you great.”