By Juliet Izon | August 4, 2015 | People
The multi-hyphenate star (actor, rapper, and singer) spills on playing dual roles in Broadway's Hamilton—a story of one of our nation's founding fathers told through a musical blend of everything from rap to traditional show tunes—and much more.
You’re in the biggest show to hit Broadway in years. How did you get involved in the production?
DD: I have known Lin [-Manuel Miranda] for a bunch of years through his group Freestyle Love Supreme, which is an improvised rap and sketch comedy thing. I have been a part of that group for a long time, [about] the time Lin and Tommy [Kail] finished writing the first act of the show. They were going to do a workshop... so, they asked me to come out and read Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson, and I said okay. When they sent me the script I was immediately like, “Oh man, I gotta do this.” I worked on it for five days and it was amazing. Getting to interact with the material and watching Chris Jackson play George Washington, I was totally blown away and told them afterward to call me first. I knew there were probably a lot more experienced people who wanted a shot at this part and I didn’t want to give any of them a shot.
Did you know it was something special when you first read the script?
DD: Yeah, I knew it was a great thing that I really wanted to be involved in. I don’t think I knew it was going to be what it is; it wasn’t tied to the success of the show at all. It was just that I really loved it.
When did you first realize it was becoming a phenomenon?
DD: I don’t know that I ever really realized that because I have never done a play in New York before—I didn’t have anything to compare it to. People kept telling me that this isn't normal. One thing about the creative team is that they’re really good at helping to drown out the outside noise and just let us work. We show up every day and get a ton of notes and minor script changes. So, we get to work and do our thing, and then at night, do the show. We come back the next day and do it all again. It’s very focused and we’re not really [aware] of the noise that’s happening outside of it.
How was the transition from the Public Theater to Broadway?
DD: It’s mostly just the house size and the way you get to interact with the audience. At the Public, the nature of that theater almost feels like you’re performing in your living room—it is so intimate that every choice you’re going to make is going to read [to the audience]. Everyone is kind of right there with you. [On Broadway,] the originality is amazing, people are still right there with you and the audience is just as engaged and involved, but you have to be a little more specific about your choices because of the multiple directions that the people are seeing the show from. There are so many different angles, so choosing things that everyone is going to read is a little more precise.
You play two different characters, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette.
DD: I love getting to play both of them because they exist in totally different ways in the show. I get to play a hero of the American Revolution who is not American. I think that is really cool, particularly in a show about the building of this country by immigrants. So, that’s really fun, and it’s also fun to get to play someone who is one of Hamilton’s good friends.
What neighborhood of NYC do you call home?
DD: Washington Heights. I just moved up there after the Public, so I am still trying to get to know it a little bit. I live across the street from the park and there’s a ton of great food around. There’s music coming out of every stoop—it’s a great neighborhood, and I am excited to explore more and find new things.
Any favorite restaurants?
DD: Oh, man. I recently discovered this spot called The Grange Bar & Eatery, which I’m super into. And there is a total love affair between the cast of Hamilton and The Spot Pizzeria & Deli, which is maybe a proximity thing but the pizza is also insanely good.
What do you do in your very limited downtime? Do you have any projects that you're working on?
DD: Eat, mostly eat and write rap songs. I have always been doing that in the dressing room or on the subways. I am sort of always writing songs. My band is going to have some music coming out in the not-too-distant future, and I’m also working on a solo project.
Finally, give me a New York moment.
DD: I was sitting with some friends on one of those red tables in Times Square, and I saw Iron Man get into a fight with one of those topless body painting ladies walking around. He was livid at her for trying to take a picture with someone who was also trying to take a picture with him. It was this totally insane moment, so I guess my favorite thing to do in Times Square is to sit in the middle of it and wait for something to happen because something is always going to happen. I don’t know that I’ve ever had the same walk through Times Square.
photography by andrew toth