'Kimmy Schmidt' Star on Series Finale Journey

Tituss Burgess, who broke through with the Netflix comedy series, talks to The Hollywood Reporter about some of his most memorable moments on the show and what's next for him.
Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

[The following story contains spoilers for the second half of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's fourth and final season.]

Over four seasons on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tituss Burgess' Titus Andromedon became a fan favorite for delivering memorable one-liners and musical moments like his first-season "Peeno Noir" video  and third-season re-creation of Beyonce's Lemonade video "Hold Up," yellow dress and all.

But Burgess — who has been nominated for four Emmys, three Critics' Choice awards and a Screen Actors Guild award for his work on Kimmy Schmidt — has a different experience from his time filming the Netflix comedy that stands out to him: "Probably the first day of filming, when Ellie [Kemper] and I were in Times Square belting 'Circle of Life' at the top of our lungs and no one cared, and I just thought, 'Wow, this is amazing. I've always wanted to be shooting a TV show, singing a song, walking through the streets of New York, and it is nothing like I thought it would feel.'"

Viewers see the pair singing the Lion King hit again in the Kimmy Schmidt series finale as the moment comes full circle, with Titus belting out "Circle of Life" on Broadway in The Lion King as love interest Mikey (Mike Carlsen) watches from the front row with tears in his eyes.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Burgess says Titus' happy ending reflects lessons learned as he looks back on the final six episodes of Kimmy Schmidt, including Titus' #MeToo moment with Mr. Frumpus, and reveals his approach to his career going forward.

How do you feel about the show ending?

All good things must come to an end. Four years is a perfect time for what was essentially a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior situation in terms of how we approach life, and we all got together and the strides that we made and the things that we learned, and now it's time to spread our wings and fly. Kimmy's not going anywhere. With the streaming service the way that it is and the talk of a movie, we'll be ever present. So there's not really anything to miss just yet.

What was your reaction to the ending, both of Titus being in The Lion King and him getting together with Mikey?

Everything is as it should be. World peace is underway. I think Titus finally getting what he wanted and getting the guy that he wanted isn't so much the plotline that everyone seemed to want but more it shows the emotional arc and the trajectory that they started him out on has come full circle, and he's learned what he has to learn to get the things he wanted to get, so I think the more sharper points to make are that those lessons of Kimmy [Kemper] and the subsequent life lessons and strange circumstances that he found himself in were not just for comedy's sake, but they finally paid off.

Titus spent the whole season basically trying to make Mikey jealous, but he doesn't really go to Mikey and say that he's still in love with him. Why do you think he's reluctant to reveal how he feels until the very end?

It's not that he held off on how he felt, but he wanted to set Mikey free, so you can't just come crawling back. In the middle of having set Mikey free, he then realizes that it doesn't get any better than Mikey. You can't just go crawling back and expecting that this man, who has gone on with the rest of his life, to just suddenly say, "Oh I'm so glad you came back," so he thought, "Well, the only way to make him see that I too am the best thing is to try to make him jealous."

This season viewers see more of what happened with Mr. Frumpus, and Titus ends up telling his story about that audition, and that's almost the show's real #MeToo storyline this season, even though Kimmy had that experience at work at the beginning of this season. When you were filming that scene with Mr. Frumpus in a previous season, did you think that you would ever come back to that, because it was before the #MeToo movement and everything?

No, I mean I never know what's going on with this show until they tell me. But I think [showrunners] Tina [Fey] and Robert [Carlock] have their fingers on — they're always paying attention to what's going on in terms of what's in the press and what's timely in the world, and then they create plot points and storylines that are presented in the most subversive way. And I think it's appropriate that Titus is the one experiencing a #MeToo moment. Had they given it to Lillian [Carol Kane] or Jacqueline [Jane Krakowski] or Kimmy [Kemper], I don't know that it would've had the same weight. Women have been at the forefront of this movement, but to sort of exacerbate the seriousness of the movement and how common it is, what better way than to give it to the most unlikely of characters, so that you actually pay closer attention to it, because I think it might not have had as much gravity, had it been one of the female characters.

We see Titus in the Mr. Frumpus episode struggling to come forward. What do you think it is that ultimately prompts Titus to go public with his story?

Well, not unlike his realization about Mikey, we're so late in the season that it doesn't take as long for Titus to grasp and learn his lessons, and quite simply it was just the right thing to do. It all ties into the type of person he wants to be and the type of person he wants Mikey to fall in love with, because he's working overtime to be a good person, to be an upstanding citizen. I think that motivated his decision.

He doesn't end up going to the Tonys and wearing shorts. Do you think he felt like he'd done what he needed to do, and it almost felt inappropriate to celebrate it?

Sure. Yeah. I think, like I said earlier, it dawns on him that everything doesn't have to be a publicity stunt or a look-at-me moment, that sometimes doing the right thing is just enough.

What's next for you?

I've got a bunch of stuff coming out. I'm starring in a movie opposite Eddie Murphy called Dolemite Is My Name, coming out this year, and the musical that I wrote, The Preacher's Wife, is fast-tracking for public consumption very soon. 

Going forward, do you see yourself focusing on TV? Film? Theater?

I see myself focusing on wherever there's a deficit, wherever there's a need for some real content. People sort of assume that I am this sort of frivolous, Titus-like person in real life, and I'm not. I think very long and hard before I make a move, and for me it's always art over commerce. That's probably why I'll always not be a millionaire or whatever. But I care about people, and I care about people's mental and emotional health, and that is how I decide my projects. Whether it manifests itself in the way of comedy or drama or music or whatever is inconsequential, but how it manifests itself is the way I will turn. So I don't necessarily look to focus on any one thing; I just look to see where there's a deficit, and that is where I start.