Quinta Brunson Talks to Us About Her First-Ever Beauty Partnership with Olay (& Her Hopes for Janine in Season 2 of Abbott Elementary)

As luck would have it, we spoke to Quinta Brunson the morning after this year’s Emmy nominations rolled out. Brunson and the cast of Abbott Elementary earned seven (!) nominations for their hit series, where she also serves as creator and executive producer. “I’m so excited and honored. For everyone’s hard work to be recognized in that way feels incredible,” she tells us.

But we were here to celebrate another milestone with the Philadelphia native: the announcement of her first-ever beauty partnership with Olay.

‘Abbott Elementary’ Creator Quinta Brunson Is Changing the Lives of Teachers with a Heartfelt Gesture

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You were just announced as the new face of Olay. How does it feel and what is it about the brand that compelled you to work with them?

It feels a bit surreal. It’s one of those iconic brands where you’re like, “Whoa, really? Me?” Olay is such a staple in my home. It’s never not been in my bathroom—even when I moved from apartment to apartment and to the house I live in now. Or when I’m traveling for work, I always go to the drugstore to pick up some of their moisturizer. It’s been a constant in my life and in my mom’s life, too.

What did your mom say when you told her the news?

My mom is funny because I tell her things and her response is always, “There’s so much going on. It’s too much!” Also, I didn’t send her any pictures or clips from the commercial yet because I didn’t want to leak anything—not even to her. But I think when she sees that, she’s going to be like “Oh my god!” I’ll tell her stuff but when she sees it on TV, that’s when she really gets the scope of things.

To be fair, your mom is right. It has been a busy time for you. How do you unwind? Do you have any rituals that help ground you in your day?

I’ve always loved a good nighttime skincare routine. It’s my moment of decompression and it makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself after a long day of whatever it is I have going on—whether it’s walking around the Warner Brother’s lot getting fumes all over my face or wearing a face full of makeup for hours. I like to wind down by washing my face. It’s actually my favorite part of the day.

How has your relationship to skincare changed from your 20s to your 30s?

Skincare or skin protection has become more important to me. I’m not as concerned with makeup. I’m more concerned with making sure my skin is being attended to.

In recent years, I started noticing that my skin was looking a little different. I’m getting older. I’m also looking at screens all day and I’m tired a lot of the time, so the bags under my eyes were becoming more visible.

Honestly, I considered getting filler for my undereyes because I heard that’s what people do, so I went to see my dermatologist, who was basically like, “Hold your horses. Let’s see if retinol and sunscreen make a difference.”

Now I use the serum, an eye cream and a moisturizer from Olay’s Regenerist Retinol24+Peptide line. I like that it’s just easy to use. I don’t have to worry about the ingredients counteracting with each other and causing irritation—or that it’ll feel too heavy on my face and leave a film. When I wake up, my skin feels smooth and taken care of and it’s really nice.

Switching gears a bit, we have some Abbott fans on staff who had a few questions about the show—specifically about Janine and Sheryl Lee Ralph’s character, Barbara. The two have a sort of mentor/mentee relationship, so we were wondering if you had a similar figure in your life who has guided you throughout your career?

You know, it really is my mom. My mom and I have a very similar push and pull dynamic. It’s the generational push and pull. It’s my optimism vs. her pessimism. Actually, I wouldn’t even consider it pessimism. It’s more that my mom has lived so much more life than me.

The relationship between Barbara and Janine was inspired by my relationship with me and my mom. There are things that she can teach me and has taught me, but also knowing that as I get older, there are things I can teach her as well.

Also, I wanted to show that no one is “right.” I think that in a lot of opposing relationships we always feel like someone has to be right and that’s just not the case. Sometimes it’s not about right and wrong. Two people just may have different approaches to something. It’s really about getting the job done.

That’s what’s significant about Janine and Barbara’s relationship at school. At the end of the day, both characters have the same goal of making sure these kids feel cared for and thinking about how they can do that.

That’s so wise. I wish more people took that perspective within their relationships.

Yeah, and some of it was also inspired by everything I was seeing online. There are so many people just yelling at each other. I want to say, “Guys, what’s going to happen here? What are we going to do about this?”

Everyone wants to be right but being right is not the most important thing. What’s important is trying to work together to accomplish a task.

Where do you hope to see Janine's character go in future seasons? How would you like to see her grow?

I am excited to see her grow slowly…and over time. You know, Janine is 25 in this last season, and she comes off even younger because she’s been in a relationship for so long. And now, she’s about to experience more life, and I’m excited to go on that journey with her.

In the pilot episode, she can’t really find her voice to tell the kids to sit down and listen to her, but it’s something she accomplishes in the last episode of this season. That’s my favorite thing to see on screen: small strides but make them feel like huge accomplishments for the character and for the audience.

That’s something I want to keep doing with Janine because I think that it’s also a testament to girlhood and to womanhood. It’s a testament to people and to personal growth. Sometimes the small accomplishments are big, they’re huge, and I’m excited to show more of those moments with her moving forward.

How do you define success for yourself these days?

Success feels like being a good leader. With the show, I’m currently wearing many hats and I just want to continue to make sure that we have a positive work environment. That people are feeling taken care of, seen, heard and respected. That’s really important to me because when you’re working on something like this, you’re with these people for months. I want people to feel like they can trust each other and trust me. I want them to feel excited to come to the set.

I always hear that it’s something that starts from the top—and I do believe that. It’s one of my top priorities, so if I can do that well, that feels like success to me right now.

Out of curiosity, how do you think Janine would fare if she had to work with someone like Michael Scott from The Office? Do you think they'd get along?

I think Janine can get along with anybody. That’s one of my favorite things about her character. She’s always looking for the good parts in everyone—and tried to work with their quirks.

For example, she has more time for Ava than most of the people in the school because she believes there is some good to Ava, and she’s not wrong. So, I think she could be around someone like Michael Scott and find the good in him. He might test her a little bit, but hey, she’s been tested before. This wouldn’t be the first time.

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Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...