Interview: Ariana DeBose Reveals Which Musical Theatre Characters Inspired Her SCHMIGADOON Performance!

We also talked about her impressive classroom musical number — and we even met her cat.

By: Aug. 03, 2021
Interview: Ariana DeBose Reveals Which Musical Theatre Characters Inspired Her SCHMIGADOON Performance!

Ariana DeBose plays the witty, wonderful schoolmarm Emma Tate in the first season of Schmigadoon!, airing weekly on Apple TV Plus.

DeBose's Broadway credits include Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, A Bronx Tale, Hamilton (Off-Broadway and original Broadway cast), Pippin, Motown, Bring It On the Musical, and Company. She recently played Alyssa Greene in the Netflix film adaptation of The Prom, and she will be seen later this year as Anita in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story.

BroadwayWorld had the pleasure of sitting down with DeBose to hear about all of the great musical theatre characters who inspired her performance on Schmigadoon! We also talked about her impressive classroom musical number - and we even met her cat.

Read the full interview below!

The first two episodes of "Schmigadoon!" premiered globally on Apple TV+ on Friday, July 16. The series continues with one new episode weekly, every Friday through August 13.

A parody of iconic Golden Age musicals, "Schmigadoon!" stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key as a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship who discover a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can't leave until they find "true love." The six-episode season also stars Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada. Martin Short guest stars.

I think Emma probably has my favorite arc of all the characters - I think she's so great. What did you love most about playing her and getting to create that character?

I don't know if I can choose just one thing that I loved most! I feel like there are many things I love about her. I love that she's such a feminist, but also very feminine. She doesn't sacrifice anything within that spectrum, around those things. I love that she doesn't sacrifice her sense of self for romance or man, which is really pleasant to see in a musical genre, right? That feels like it's like the 1940s. Because that is not really what the ladies were doing at the time.

So, I felt like that was really refreshing. And I also just loved that in this town where the characters are so specifically in their lanes, within the tropes and the stereotypes, she's very much her own being. Sure, there's an argument to be made that she falls into her own kind of stereotype, but she is both of the world of Schmigadoon and not.

And I find it to be really compelling, which is why I wanted to take the job!

Emma is kind of an outsider; she's a townsperson, but she also kind of exists on the periphery. I think there's a lot of parallels to be made between Emma and The Music Man's Marian the Librarian. Were you thinking about any other musical theatre characters?

Yeah! I referenced Anna Leonowens from The King and I. But I didn't just watch the movie musical or look at the stage version - I actually looked at Anna and the King, with Jodie Foster. I found [Foster]'s portrayal of the character to be really compelling and complicated. Which, ultimately, any woman worth her salt is compelling and complicated.

I also went back into the Mary Poppins of it all - I really did! I loved the musical, and of course I'm an ardent Julie Andrews lover. And Emily Blunt, too - but I will say I think Emily Blunt's Emily in The Devil Wears Prada to a point had Mary Poppins notes in it, to me.

Oh, I love that.

Which is not something I think most people would say, but I look at things like that! And I drew from little things here and there - I don't necessarily think it would be the obvious. But I think all of those characters do have something in common, and I don't know if I can put words to it, but that feeling, that essence, is what I wanted Emma to have.

I want to talk to you about your amazing musical number with all of those kids in the classroom. Tell me about filming ["You Must Always Try Your Best"], especially during COVID!

Yeah, that was nuts. I think in general if you ask any of my castmates they would say we didn't necessarily have all of the rehearsal we would have liked to have had, but we made it happen, which is a testament to [choreographer] Chris Gattelli and his incredible team.

But those kids, man. Talented bunch! There's something in the water up in Vancouver, Canada! They came in so willing to learn and adjust and change, and they were very on top of it.

[To her cat] Come on!

I have a cat, and he's just desperately wanting to be up here. [She picks up her cat].

I would say that is - again, the most important part is that these kids got this opportunity and they did not take it for granted. It was really cool to see a group of massively talented, ambitious, and lovely children do their thing. And do it so well, despite the circumstances.

If you could play any other character in Schmigadoon, who would you play?

[Laughs] I haven't gotten that question yet!

I feel like it would be a tie between Mildred Layton, and I really want to play Mayor Menlove, but that might be a hard sell.

I think you could do it. Absolutely.

I could try! Or, you know what. I think it would be fun to play Pete. It's just such a great, recurring little character. Who doesn't want to just fall on a sword and break their legs to make people laugh on purpose?

Watch a clip from "You Must Always Try Your Best" here:
Photo Credit: Apple TV