Steven Spielberg never saw the original Broadway adaptation of his 1986 film The Color Purple, and he has occasionally felt guilty over the past ten years. But he recently saw Hamilton and felt satisfied after watching Renee Elise Goldsberry, who originated Purple’s Nettie back in 2005, rap as Angelica Schuyler in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical.
“How is it possible that the director of the film didn’t see us do that show?” the Tony nominee laughed to The Hollywood Reporter, recalling that Spielberg told her, “I was in Europe making movies! But I’m so glad I had the privilege of seeing you on the stage today. I feel like I made up for that.’”
Yet of the many roles she’s played thus far — in Good People, The Lion King and Rent on Broadway, and The Good Wife onscreen — it’s her role at home, as a mother of two, that she values most. Goldsberry, 45, goes Off Script to talk napping strategies, showtime snacking and leaving Hollywood speechless.
What do you admire most about Angelica?
She has the courage to move forward in situations, as aware as she is of how things will end. She can size up people immediately, good and bad, and love them anyway.
What’s your toughest scene?
My demeanor backstage always changes after “Satisfied.” It’s not necessarily the hardest number in the show, but its significance is so important to my job in the story that I’m always excited the better that it goes. I always have a bit of anxiety beforehand because it’s such a powerful, beautifully created storytelling device.
Renee Elise Goldsberry, center, as Angelica Schuyler alongside Phillipa Soo and Jasmine Cephas Jones in ‘Hamilton.’ Photo credit: Joan Marcus
What have you given up to play this role?
Sleeping eight hours a night! I’m normally in bed by 1 a.m. and up by 7:40 at the latest. I’ve done Broadway runs before, but never for as long and with two young children. It doesn’t matter how late you get home or how wired you are, you still wake up early with your kids. That’s the most important thing you do in a day, whether or not you’re in a hit Broadway show.
What new habit have you picked up?
Naps. I used to not be able to during the day and still be able to sing; my voice would drop. But at some point, you have to sleep. I get my kids up, get them breakfast and get them to school, and then there’s the precious time of making it back for a nap. I start the day again by 12:30 p.m.
Any pre-show rituals?
Getting ready at the last minute. Stuffing my face. On the phone, fighting with Seamless.
What do you snack on during a performance?
After I sing “Take a Break,” I have a bit of a break, and people have been sending cookies and chips to the theater.
Favorite number of the show?
I’ve had the privilege of watching the whole show once, and I love the whole thing. At The Public, we could watch the show from underneath the audience [while offstage], and I’d watch “Yorktown” and “Burn” every night while I was supposed to be in London. In the Broadway show, we’re in a place called “the surround” when we’re not featured. I’m on the second tier as a storyteller and singing backups, watching Chris Jackson sing “One Last Time” and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. go through that last duel.
What do you do on your day off?
Doing anything with my kids, whether we’re at the park or the grocery store. I love being a mom, and the moments when it’s not about me at all and it’s about them, and they’re just glad I’m there. I can’t put them to bed every night at this moment, and I feel in my heart that a kid should be able to take their mom just being there a little for granted. So those moments around the city when it’s, “Go to the bathroom!” “Pick up your shoes!” “Get off the floor!” and “Hurry up!” make me really, really happy.
What’s something special in your dressing room?
A collection of pictures of my family, and posters of the other Broadway shows I’ve done that reminds me that I’ve had other families and this is another of several miracles. Also, the three sisters have a suite backstage, and the hallway that joins our dressing rooms is wallpapered with a collage of fan art that we walk past every day. Altogether, this show has been an exercise in receiving a massive blessing.
Hamilton has welcomed so many stars backstage. What’s something most wouldn’t know about those interactions?
People now come backstage and say, “I know you’ve heard this before but I just have to say…” and we have the advantage of seeing people try to form words, sometimes at a loss, and feeling like they need to apologize for not knowing exactly what to say. That’s the common denominator of all the generations and walks of life: a humility from recognizing that some piece of art exists that has lifted us all up and is a gift. So we’re all having these awkward moments backstage, trying to form words to just talk about what just happened. I find that so special.
A portion of this story first appeared in the June 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.