John Legend on 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' the Perils of Live TV and His Dream Role

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT -John Legend as Jesus Christ - Publicity-H 2018
James Dimmock/NBC

The multihyphenate, who is one Emmy trophy away from becoming an EGOT winner, talks about the hardest part of playing the son of God for NBC's live concert.

John Legend is one Emmy trophy away from joining the EGOT club (those artists — 12 so far — who’ve won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). And now he has a chance to earn the coveted title thanks to his lead performance in Jesus Christ Superstar, NBC’s live showing of the iconic 1970s musical that aired April 1.

The 39-year-old singersongwriter, whose most recent big-screen appearance was in 2016’s La La Land, spoke to THR about the challenges of singing songs that aren’t his own and whether he’ll ever take his talents to Broadway.

What was the hardest part of taking on this role?

The initial challenge was just learning a bunch of new songs that I didn’t write myself. I haven’t had to do that for most of my career because I’m so used to writing my own material and spending a lot of time working on the songs in studio before I go out on the road. So performing an entire show of someone else’s music isn’t something I normally do. And my schedule threw an extra wrench in my life because I had an Asian tour right in the middle of the rehearsal schedule. So we had to start rehearsing early and then take a three-week break and do 10 shows in Asia — that’s taxing on you physically.

On the day of the show, did anything go awry?

It was about as close to flawless as I can conceive of. I’m sure somebody in the crew knows of something that didn’t go right, but I didn’t see anything. We had a hitch in dress rehearsal where somehow there’s a stool that Mary (Sara Bareilles) and I sit on, and at the end of “What’s the Buzz,” before we head into “Everything’s Alright,” one of the legs broke during dress rehearsal and so we had to stand up. In that moment, I thought, “Well, something like that’s probably going to happen tomorrow too,” but it didn’t happen during the show.

After the show, did you get any memorable feedback?

I read a lot of the feedback, I read some of the reviews. I was kind of buzzing for a few days afterward because I felt so good about how everything went, and then once I read a lot of the feedback, it was so positive. Obviously you can’t get 100 percent of the critics to love it and 100 percent of the fans on Twitter to love it, but the overwhelming sentiment was so positive. But the most important feedback was from [the musical’s] composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyricist Tim Rice — they emailed me a few days later and told me how grateful they were for how we put our heart and soul into it and how proud they were. They said, “It’s the best reviews our show has ever gotten.” I was happy that they were happy.

Your wife, Chrissy Teigen, was also live-tweeting from the show. Did you know she was going to be doing that? Did she give you an additional feedback after your performance?

I knew she probably would and honestly, I knew that NBC would love her to do it, but I didn’t want to put the pressure on her to have to live-tweet if she didn’t want to — if she just wanted to enjoy the show. But she likes live-tweeting and so it certainly helps build a buzz around the show. She's my favorite person to follow on Twitter. I may be biased, but I think there’s a lot of people who share that sentiment around the world and so I'm glad she live-tweeted it. And she was happy, she was so proud of me afterward, and sometimes she likes to make sure I don’t get too high on myself, but in this particular moment she was unequivocally proud and excited for me at the end of the show.

Is there any other person you would love to portray in a movie or show?

I’d always thought about doing Marvin Gaye, and I still think about that. When it comes to doing Broadway or something like that, I think the most likely scenario would be doing something like what Sara did with Waitress and writing something original that I would sing. If the right idea comes along, the right material, then I’ll try it. I’d probably do it with [La La Land and Jesus Christ Superstar producer] Marc Platt.

A version of this story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.