'Chris' star gets used to being loved

Times Staff Writer

When he was on "Sesame Street," Tyler James Williams never strutted on red carpets or walked self-consciously through his school's hallways.

But four months after the 13-year-old actor began portraying comedian Chris Rock on national television every week, Tyler has attended the People's Choice Awards, the Golden Globes -- and he's earned himself a new name.

"I definitely get a strong reaction from kids in the stores, at the mall," he told a gathering of television press gathered in Pasadena on Thursday. "I have a new name now: that kid from 'Everybody Hates Chris.' I mean, I'll be walking down the street. 'Hey, are you that kid from "Everybody Hates Chris"?' It's just what I get."

But he's not complaining. The star of UPN's top-rated comedy has made some adjustments.

Like his wardrobe. On Monday, he looked dashing in an Italian pinstripe suit at the Golden Globes, which he attended with his striking-looking mother. On Thursday, for the press, he dazzled in a white satin long-sleeved shirt.

Life, he acknowledged, "has changed. Especially the way that I look at showing myself outside. I get dressed, but I know that when I'm dressed people are looking at me, so I get dressed really well.

"I can't go out in public looking like anything."

"You think cotton would be enough for the kid?" piped in series co-creator Ali LeRoi. "Nah."

"You've got to take it to that extra level," Tyler explained.

At work there have been some modifications as well, such as learning how to keep a straight face, not always an easy thing to do. His on-camera parents, Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews, tried to help him out with some "professional" tactics that were aimed at training Tyler not to laugh.

"Ways that you wouldn't quite want to happen ... making faces behind the camera during my close-up," Tyler said.

"Kids like Tyler come around only once in a generation," Crews said. "I thank God every day for this little kid being on our show because some kids have it, some kids don't.... It's not about being a little adult, it's about being a kid and portraying a kid, and I think that America gets it when he does it."

On set, however, Tyler sometimes behaves more like an adult than the grown-ups, said Arnold, who has nicknamed him "Little Man." But when he acts more his age, she's there to rein him in, along with the other children: Tequan Richmond, Imani Hakim and Vincent Martella. To that end, she has banned chocolate and cookies from the set.

"I haven't had chocolate for the past six months," Tyler complained.

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