Wayne Brady on Playing Aaron Burr in 'Hamilton' and Hollywood: "I Feel His Struggle" (Q&A)
The Emmy-winning actor of 'Let's Make a Deal' and 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?' stars in the hit musical at Chicago’s PrivateBank Theatre.
Immediately after hearing Aaron Burr’s first lines in Hamilton, Wayne Brady knew he wanted to rotate into any of the rooms where it happens.
So the Emmy-winning actor — who has starred in Chicago and Kinky Boots on Broadway — didn’t hesitate when the opportunity arose to play the hit musical’s narrator (and “villain”) at Chicago’s PrivateBank Theatre, even though it meant leaving Los Angeles, where he hosts CBS' Let's Make a Deal and co-stars on The CW’s Whose Line Is It Anyway? revival.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity — on TV, you don’t get to relive the same creative piece night after night, and then make your tweaks and try new things,” Brady tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s what I love most about theater: It’s never going to be perfect, but you keep trying over and over again, just like real life.”
Ahead of his last performance on April 9, Brady spoke with THR about dealing with his own Burr-like struggles, performing for his teenage daughter and potentially reprising the coveted role in the future.
What do you admire about your character, Aaron Burr?
I feel his struggle, in terms of being someone who wants to make his mark in this world and go about it in a certain way but is in a profession where perception is everything. Just because your outward persona says one thing, it doesn’t mean that’s who you are, but you get judged on that. And I felt I could feel his pain/glory in the sense of he was great at his job, but he was overshadowed by [Alexander] Hamilton because he wasn’t as flashy as Hamilton.
I’m not a very flashy person — I don’t like to talk a lot, I don’t like to go to parties. Even when I started, I was told that the networking is a vital part of this business, and I know that it is. But I come from a school of showbiz where I get onstage and do what I do, and you should leave going, “Holy shit, that was awesome, Wayne’s great!” as opposed to wanting to read about me in a tabloid or waning me to be on a reality show or end up on TMZ because I punched somebody, which seems to be the way to be on people’s lists and get work and be relevant despite how talented you are. I feel I’ve accomplished my job if you leave the show empathizing with Burr.
What’s the toughest part about playing him?
I love his journey, but it’s super hard to be in that emotional space every night. And it’s different than what I’m asked to do on the daily, whether it’s giving away money on Let’s Make A Deal or singing an improvised song on Whose Line, but I love that. I’m approaching it from the viewpoint of not just doing this amazing piece of cultural art, but also working on myself as an actor and as a man to come out the other side of it even better, for whatever the next gig is.
What’s your pre-show ritual?
I rev up by playing Call of Duty: Zombies. Once I’m at the theater, I have to sing through the music in the first act. It’s self-defense. There are a lot of words and if you miss one word, the whole train goes off the track and everyone is gonna blame the conductor.
What are you doing when you’re not onstage?
I’m either reading my lines in my dressing room or talking to castmates. Ari Afsar, who plays Eliza, and I try to sing along to other characters' songs, especially [“Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”] but we still fail. But by the time I leave, we have to get that entire Hercules Mulligan section right.
Who has been your favorite backstage guest so far?
I was stoked to have my buddy Taye Diggs see it. And I’m so nervous that Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington, and his wife Veronica are coming [in a few days].
But my favorite, favorite guest is my daughter. She loves this show like every other teenager in the country, and when she came backstage, she lost all of her 14-year-old swagger and was just my little girl and jumped on me. We were both crying when I sang “Dear Theodosia.”
What’s something special in your dressing room?
A PlayStation 4, a framed picture of my daughter and her mother on my shelf and books on Hamilton and Burr that everyone gave me for Christmas once they found out I got the role.
Though your run is nearly finished, are you open to playing Burr in the future?
Absolutely. I would love to return to Burr, whether it’s on Broadway or on the road. I would return to Burr in a minute. I feel I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what I can do with this.