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Quinta Brunson: 'Abbott Elementary' Season 3 scenes inspired by mother

Quinta Brunson created and stars in "Abbott Elementary." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 5 | Quinta Brunson created and stars in "Abbott Elementary." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Quinta Brunson, creator, executive producer, co-writer and star of Abbott Elementary, says her mother continues to inspire her in Season 3 of the series.

The premise of the sitcom is that a documentary crew is filming the struggles of an underfunded school. The show airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on ABC and is already renewed for a fourth season.

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Brunson grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of schoolteacher Norma Jean Brunson. She said she drew inspiration from her mother, such as in an episode about an after-school step class like the one Norma Jean taught.

Brunson said the latest season will feature another episode inspired by Norma Jean, who would allow students to stay in the Brunson home if they needed to.

"My mom could not put her teacher heart aside to not give someone a home for a night who needed a home," Brunson told reporters on the set of the show in Los Angeles. "She wasn't supposed to, but it's not something she could really turn a blind eye to."

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Norma Jean watches her daughter's show and recognizes elements from her own life. Brunson said her mother's reaction to the step class episode was, "You're just gonna steal my whole life, huh?"

Moving up

Season 3 marked a promotion for Brunson's character, second-grade teacher Janine Teagues, who left the classroom for a fellowship with the school district. The district representative, Manny (Josh Segarra), offered Janine the chance to make changes at the district level.

The promotion also took Janine away from first-grade teacher Gregory (Tyler James Williams), with whom she shared a kiss in Season 2. Brunson said she did not intend for Manny to create a love triangle, though fans have assumed Manny is a new love interest.

"We never said that he was a love interest," Brunson said. "It seems to be audience perception so far, so I'm interested to see if people continue to think that."

Even in her new job, Janine still interacts with outrageous Abbott principal Ava Coleman (Janelle James). Ava says things inappropriate for school, but Brunson admits she often funnels her own frustrations into Ava.

"I put it in Ava's mouth and it feels good to have the ability," Brunson said.

Finding students

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Brunson said one challenge of the series is to find child actors to play the students each season.

Every season, a new class of students attends those grades, and there are only so many child actors in Hollywood, Brunson said.

"There's not an unlimited supply and that's what's hard," Brunson said. "We have to do outreach."

One crew member, makeup artist Constance Foe, recruited children from her church.

"[They] never acted before, but it really works for the documentary format," Brunson said. "And they learn here how to be on a set and about this world."

When Season 1 and 2's young extras grew up, they were not fired. Like any school, the "students" at fictional Abbott Elementary graduated to the next grade.

Though Abbott does not focus on grades 3 or above, the former second-graders still can be seen in some of the backgrounds.

"They turn into hallway kids or cafeteria kids," Brunson said. "So, we don't lose them completely, but they become floaters."

Scenes in full classrooms are more complicated than scenes between just two adults, Brunson said. Still, Brunson said they can complete them in two hours or less.

"You get 70 people in the shot and it's harder," Brunson said. "So I think our kids are wonderful and well-behaved, but yeah, kids get a little antsy sometimes."

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