■ The Hamilton star, 38, on playing Aaron Burr in the hit musical, lockdown haircuts and Muhammad Ali
Good morning to you. There’s a tiny bit of buzzing, I hope it doesn’t bug you too much. My barber has come to the house to give me my first haircut in three months.
Wow, how does it feel to be getting your hair cut finally after lockdown?
It means you can focus on other things rather than vanity for a little while but I’ll be happy to look something like myself again… Oh, it’s amazing!
My daughter’s finger painting. [To daughter] OK, then, go wash your hands… OK, my walls will be blue now!
Ha, good luck! On to Hamilton. How do you feel about people being able to watch it at home?
I feel great about it, especially in this time while our beloved Broadway’s dark. To get to be a part of something that is going to screen into people’s living rooms… I’ve seen first hand that Hamilton gives a lot of joy to a lot of people and I’m just so thrilled to be able to represent the theatre right now.
You must be very proud of the show.
I’ll be proud for ever that I was a part of it. It’s something that is culturally relevant, artistically fulfilling and commercially successful. It’s across all those. I think it’s a masterpiece. The truth is, it’s timeless. You can open a Shakespeare text today, pick a page and you can find something in it that speaks to you. We’ll see how this applies to Hamilton, if it is able to rise to the occasion, to speak to the moment that we’re in now because it certainly wasn’t written now. It’s a snapshot of where we were in 2016.
How old were you when you decided this was the path you wanted to take, career-wise?
I was 13 years old. I didn’t know that Broadway existed, tickets were very expensive. But there was something about Rent that inspired me. My favourite quote about art is: ‘Artists spend their entire lifetime trying to get back to the place where their heart was first opened up.’ Hamilton was the thing that put me back in that place. In the body of a 13-year-old, I was just so excited to tell this story.
Do you have any recurring dreams?
One of the scariest ones I have, and I’m not alone, is a dream about teeth falling out. I usually go to eat something and my teeth start coming out and blood starts coming out.
That’s a dramatic one!
I think it’s about keeping secrets. It’s like I know there’s something I need to unburden myself of. So whenever I have one of those dreams I think, ‘What do I need to say? Is there something I need to say to somebody?’
Other than theatre, what else are you passionate about?
I have two great passions. One is the connection of great conversation, asking somebody a question and feeling like I understand the person sitting across from me better, or feeling like I shared something with them that allows them to know me better.
What’s your other passion?
I have a passion for making people feel well taken care of. A few years ago I was going to go do something else and I was looking at other careers, and the first place I went to was the hospitality industry. When I have bad customer service, it’s the most confusing thing in the world, because I think the easiest thing in the world is treating people well.
Do you think you bring that skill to your acting work?
When I look at what I was doing at Hamilton, I was welcoming the audience and making sure they had a great time.
I have a handful of movies in the can that might come out in the next year. I have a movie called Music that I shot with Sia, the pop star — she wrote and directed the film that Kate Hudson, me and Maddie Ziegler star in. I’ve got the prequel about a young Tony Soprano, The Many Saints Of Newark. And I’ve got One Night In Miami, which is Regina King’s directorial debut, based on a true story about Cassius Clay before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
That sounds interesting.
After the first heavyweight championship bout he had with Sonny Liston in 1964, nobody expected him to win so there was no victory party planned. There was a great upset when Clay won. He actually spent the evening hanging out in a motel with his closest friends, who were Nation Of Islam member Malcolm X, NFL player Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke, who I play. It’s well-documented because the FBI were following Malcolm. There were copious notes about the fact these guys were hanging out but nobody knows what was said in the room. But the exciting script is about the big ideas that these brothers might have been bouncing back and forth in this motel.
■ Hamilton is available on Disney+