Broadway is shutting down until 2021, but its most popular musical, ‘Hamilton,’ is coming to television, premiering on Disney+ on July 3rd. Okieriete Onaodowan portrays both the Revolutionary War spy Hercules Mulligan as well as the future president James Madison. We talked about how the show is more relevant than ever, given the events of the past few months.
They just announced that Broadway won’t open until 2021. What does that mean to actors?
It’s scary, that’s our livelihood. We thrive on people coming together and telling stories. In sports there are sponsorships and other ways to make money, but actors make their money by people coming into the theater. It’s most important to be safe, of course, but I’m curious to see the resilience of artists and how they will respond and put content out.
When you researched the two characters you play in ‘Hamilton,’ what surprised you the most?
With Hercules Mulligan, not too much. With Madison though, just how small and sickly he was factored into the development of the character. And early on in his campaign he realized — he didn’t understand campaigning. He thought, I wrote down everything I need to say, why do I have to knock on doors? There’s something refreshing about that. Look at my policies, not how well I shake hands.
Now that ‘Hamilton’ will be available for such a wide audience, how does the show fit in with all the events of the past few months?
The whole world watched George Floyd murdered for ten minutes. Everything should be filtered through that. It highlights the systemic racism that’s been with this country since its inception. In Madison’s and Mulligan’s times, Blacks were considered three fifths of a person. When it says “liberty and justice for all” they were not considered human beings. Hamilton wrote legislation, he wrote about how he thought America should be governed, and these people were fighting to change the country the way they saw fit. That’s what protesters are doing today. And when people are done protesting they should write about what we need to create sustainable change.
How have you been passing the quarantine time?
Before George Floyd, it wasn’t the worst. I was on hiatus from the show Station 19′. I was talking with family on the phone — instead of the usual “mom, I have to go” it became “talk about whatever you want” for an hour. But now it’s about empowering people, sharing information, using my platform to keep things going. Nothing should be the same. People should go down their own rabbit hole — google information they’re seeing, checking out videos and looking things up and asking, “is this true?” Instead of just repeating things, do the work. Stop posting information if it’s not supported.
Have you been enjoying any particular drinks during the shutdown?
Here’s something — a lot of people are stuck at home, and joy needs to be found. I’ve been enjoying Diamante Tequila. And I’ve been playing with tart cherry juice and Johnnie Walker Black. Maybe add in a little lime margarita mix. I know it sounds strange.
Have you made up a name for that cocktail?
I have not. You can make one up.
Now that we’re getting used to seeing shows in our homes, do you worry about people coming back to the theater?
There’s something you can’t take away from us gathering. We order in food, but we still go out to restaurants. And even if Hamilton is in everyone’s living room, there’s nothing like being there. You can watch someone crying in a movie, but when it’s a woman crying across from you on the subway, there’s something about being in the room where the energy shifts.
Is there a particular ‘Hamilton’ performance you remember for its energy?
Mike Pence came to our show once, and there were some booing, but there was a lot of people cheering. The people who love what he stands for and they love our show? I don’t think they’re walking away with what I think they should be. But the show that really resonates for me was the one immediately after the 2016 election. The performance was the only thing we could put our minds into — express ourselves through the words — it was very clear the energy we were sending. And whoever saw that performance, saw a hell of a show.