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'Hamilton' Star Renée Elise Goldsberry Becomes A 1-Hit Wonder In 'Girls5Eva'

Performing in the fictional girl band Girls5Eva is not entirely new territory for actor Renée Elise Goldsberry. "I was actually in a girl group that had the same experience ... ," she says. "We didn't make it even as far as Girls5Eva back in the late '90s."

Girls5Eva is about a 1990s one-hit wonder whose members have dropped out of music and have been living in obscurity. But when a hip-hop artist decides to sample one of their old songs, they reunite, fire their sexist manager and decide to write new songs. The show, created by Meredith Scardino and produced by Tina Fey, was just renewed for a second season on Peacock.

Goldsberry says she didn't immediately recognize how relevant her personal experience was to the show. "That's just how blinded we are about the culture that we have grown up in," she says. "Even while I was a part of a show that was spoofing it, I was not aware that this actually happened in my life."

Paula Pell as Gloria, Sara Bareilles as Dawn, Goldsberry as Wickie, Busy Philipps as Summer in <em>Girls5Eva.</em>
Heidi Gutman / Peacock
Paula Pell as Gloria, Sara Bareilles as Dawn, Goldsberry as Wickie, Busy Philipps as Summer in Girls5Eva.

Wickie, Goldsberry's character, tried to launch a solo career, but it never took off. She pretends to be a social media influencer, but in reality, her job is shooting geese at the airport.

"Wickie is desperately in need of a second chance," Goldsberry says. "She is a woman who believes that stardom was destined for her, and she also is under the misbelief that she needed to climb over everybody along the way to achieve her dreams."

Goldsberry played Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, and was also in the Broadway productions of Rent, The Color Purple and The Lion King. On TV, she's appeared on Ally McBeal, The Good Wife and One Life to Live.

Interview Highlights

On finding her voice studying jazz

I feel like sometimes theater casts singers in a role that is limiting because you're always trying to sing like whatever girl originated the song on Broadway, as opposed to knowing how you sing. So I picked jazz because it's 100% about the uniqueness of your voice. It doesn't have to be anything but true to you and authentic. ...

I just wanted to feel that way about my voice. I wanted to embrace what's unique about me and not be thinking something's wrong with me because I don't sound like Audra McDonald — who is amazing, but I'm not her. I wanted to be in a world that would encourage that.

On being a Black actor on the soap opera One Life to Live

If you came onto a soap opera and you were an interesting actor — no matter what role you were playing — if they felt there was some spark to you, the formula was that they would connect you to the main family on the show. ...

If you were a Black actor on the show, they weren't making you related to the main family. No matter how good you were, all you could really do on the show was be a lawyer or a doctor and just be kind of a two-dimensional good character in the world because they were being very responsible with their ethnic actors and they would make you good. But how boring is that? ... So the challenge I learned was: How do I embody this role, being this lawyer, and find any vulnerability, anything interesting? ...

When they finally filled out my life and my family and gave me a love interest, it was a reward for finding something ... more dimensional.

On being cast in The Color Purple while she was pregnant

When I was in The Color Purple, I was designed to be there for just a couple of months, and they were building dresses that could grow on me so that I could leave right around six months of pregnancy. But right before I left, I lost the baby. It was a very devastating second trimester loss. I stayed for an extra month after that just until they could recast me and left the show.

I think it's interesting because I kept living and had children and my life went on. But part of me always felt like there must be some sadness and pain [remaining] with that company and the producers for The Color Purple because they were a part of that. ...

When I was standing on the stage accepting a Tony for Hamilton, I didn't think it was an accident that it was the 10-year mark for Color Purple revival. When I looked out at the audience, I saw those producers sitting in the audience, and I wanted to say, "Look, we made it. It's OK." I get emotional thinking about it. But it was a beautiful thing because I think sometimes victories can happen in your personal life and you want to just share them.

On playing Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton

I knew the role was special. I knew there was just magic everywhere. The magic was distracting. It was hard for me to even focus on doing my job in the play because I was looking around at all the magic around me on the stage. It was like nothing I had ever encountered.

On performing "Satisfied" in Hamilton, which includes a big emotional arc and a fast rap

It's a lot of words, and it's a rangy song. And emotionally it's even greater, but it's constructed so beautifully that I found it so easy. The hardest thing for me to do with that song in the beginning was to not be crying at the end of it. ... It moved me so greatly that it was hard for me to sing the end of the song.

But the rap, which is what I get so much credit for, was always easy for me because it's written so commonsensically. ... This is such a smart woman, and in a moment she just sees it all clearly. It's a dissertation.

On women of color being pitted against one another in the industry

I remember being on a plane decades ago, auditioning for One Life to Live — I had a screen test, and I was being flown out from Los Angeles to New York for this huge opportunity. There was me and two other Black girls on this plane, and only one of them would speak to me. And the other one was like all off to herself, like being very intimidating, and she was probably scared to death. But out of the three of us none of us got the job, but me and the girl that I talked to on that plane, we're still friends like 20 something years later. She's still one of my best friends.

Lauren Krenzel and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ann Marie Baldonado is an interview contributor and long-time producer at Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She is currently Fresh Air's Director of Talent Development. She got her start in radio in 1997 as a production assistant at WHYY and joined Fresh Air in 1998. For over 20 years, she has focused on the show's TV and film interviews. She became a contributing interviewer in 2015, talking with comedians, actors, directors and musicians like Ali Wong, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cho and Jeff Tweedy. In 2020, Baldonado hosted the limited-run podcast Parent Trapped, about the struggles of parenting during the pandemic. She talked to Julie Andrews about encouraging creativity in your kids, and comedian W. Kamau Bell about what to watch with them.