BWW Interview: From Bill Gates to King George III- HAMILTON's Rory O'Malley Reflects on His Royally Wacky Spring
Just weeks ago he was preparing to make his Broadway return in NERDS. Now he is starring in the hottest show on Broadway.
Tony Award-nominee Rory O'Malley recently began his reign as King George III in the Broadway musical Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 W. 46 St). Mr. O'Malley steps into the role that was previously played by Jonathan Groff, Brian d'Arcy James and Andrew Rannells.
How did he end up here? O'Malley explains in the full interview below!
So how was your first week?
It's been totally surreal, just going from a super fan of the show to the king in a matter of days is a dream come true, you know? I feel like a little kid again because the show made me feel that way as a fan... like when I loved every single note in LES MIS and had to know every single word of PHANTOM. Those shows, when I was young, inspired me to get into theatre and I feel like this show was doing that again. I think it's made a lot of people fall in love with musical theatre again and to be asked to be a part of it is crazy. I mean, when I got the call I'm surprised my head didn't explode.
How did it all go down? First it was NERDS and now this... how did you end up here?
That's what I keep asking myself every ten minutes. [Laughs] So basically what happened was that when NERDS so unfortunately came to an end abruptly, I went back to LA, where my husband and I have been living. I thought, "Well you know, that was really sad, but something will present itself in the future, and you never know what's that going to be." Well I got back to LA on a Saturday and got the call about HAMILTON on Tuesday. I just couldn't believe it. It's just... every actor who's been around long enough knows that when something bad happens in this business, it's always for a reason. Really the hardest part is waiting to find out what the reason is. It's being patient enough and having the stamina to keep showing up for every audition or opportunity in between. And then when it happens, it's great that I didn't get all those other auditions because now something amazing is happening. But it takes time and you have to have faith and patience to see that. So to have something within 48 hours present itself in that way is crazy. It's still hard for me to put into words how I feel about it.
So I just flew back to NY two days after that and met with Tommy Kail and Alex Lacamoire and they asked me to be the King. And it is an honor. Every job you get can feel like an honor, but this one is certainly different. I am such a fan of the show and I have been listening to it on repeat since the moment the cast album came out. And Leslie Odom is a very good friend of mine from college- we were in the same class at Carnegie Melon. I've been watching this show and I'm just so proud of him and just so moved by the entire experience. So to get to be on the stage with him in this show is... I don't how to verbalize my gratitude for this moment. It's very special. To be in this show at any time, in it's first year, and Leslie is in it, and Lin is performing this masterpiece that he's created... I don't know? I think that everybody watching the show can probably understand how I feel.
So you're King George The III The Fourth. I'm assuming you saw Jonathon Groff in it. Did you see the other two gentlemen as well?
Well I saw Brian d'Arcy James at the Public. That was the fist time I saw it and he was genius, absolutely amazing. And I saw Jonathan do it 16 times in two weeks before I went into the show. I was just blown away and absolutely floored with what he did with the role. I didn't see Andrew, which sucks. I'm so mad I didn't get to see him. I was working in LA at the time and I know that he was brilliant. He's a close friend, he really talked me through the process of jumping into the biggest hit Broadway has seen. So, it's been nice to have a friend who already experienced this, who's already walked into the show and killed it.
It has to be one of the greatest roles to play ever. I mean, you get to make this huge entrance and sing this awesome song then peace out for a while, and then come back and do it all again...
You cannot wipe the smile off my face. I'm just worried that the cast and company are going to think that I am a total lunatic, because I am so happy, you know? I'm just beside myself, which is what this role is and how much fun it is to go out there and sass it up for those audience members and to play with them. It really is a thing with the audience. Every time I go out there, they're my acting partners. It's just like playing, it's amazing and the entrance is phenomenal. There's no way for me to screw this up because it's written so well, and I just have to stay out of the way, and do what's on the page in the music, and it's all there.
It's amazing even that in the pre-show the King tells everyone to turn off their cell phones and says "Welcome to my show." So I get the first line in the play, the first laugh, and it sets up who this character is so that by the time I walk out onstage, you already are expecting me.
Have you figured out what you're going to be doing with your time offstage?
For now I'm just going over lyrics and making sure I don't screw it up, because you can't screw it up, there's no excuse. But Groff gave me a list of books and he got me a book that he loves and left it in the dressing room for me. And he was so generous and so kind, which I'm sure everyone would expect from that guy. He was a total sweetheart and really made me feel at home right off the bat. He introduced me to everyone in the cast and said, "This is the part backstage when I talk with this person and then I walk over here and usually there would be a passage from this door at this time." So it's a lot of the backstage stuff that he really showed me the ropes with. He had a routine and he let me in on that routine and we hung out in his dressing room a bunch. I think I'll appreciate that forever.
That's great, because I feel like sometimes when people go in they don't always get that time with the person that came before them.
Yeah, I said to Jon, "I know that this just the person that you are and you don't know any other way to be, but you are so kind to welcome me into your backstage life here and walk me around and introduce me to people." I really miss him. I know everybody who worked with him on the show misses him even more.
Well now they have you!
Yes. It's fun because seeing Brian d'Arcy James come back for the coronation, and to have Andrew FaceTime from LA for it... it made me realize that I was joining something that I will always get to be a part of, the same way that I can go to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre and say hi to everybody at MORMON and feel like I'm at home. Even if I don't know everyone in the building now, I feel know that's a home for me, and I'm so thrilled that now I'm at the Richard Rodgers and now HAMILTON is my family too.
This show has obviously seen some crazy celebrities backstage, there's a long list already. Is there anyone that could come now that would just really freak you out?
Oh god. It feels like we're hosting the Oscars, because the people in the audience... I can't believe it. I mean, it's been one week and I already met Tina Fey and Sam Smith, and last night I met J.J. Abrams. He was talking to Lin and Lin said, "Oh this is Rory, our new King," and I said "I saw Star Wars three times! I was there at midnight!" like a lunatic. I'm sure that's the last time we'll introduce the new King. [Laughs] I can't even come up with somebody amazing because it's gonna surpass that with the actual people that are coming.
I mean, the possibilities are endless.
I mean it felt that way a lot with MORMON, like it's weird to be dropped into a show where all of these things are happening. With MORMON it was like a gradual thing that we had gotten used to. This is crazy that after the first show is Dave Matthews and his family! And he came up to me and said "Hey, I saw you in THE BOOK OF MORMON," and I was like, "Thank you, Dave." One of my best friends from high school was there and I was kind of speechless, and he was like "Mr. Matthews, this guy had all your albums, we both did in high school." And I was like "Yeah..."
I love politics, so anybody from the government that comes is always going to make me really excited. I have been told the section where the president sat in. The second I had gone on, I was not getting the right angle of where to go on from our director, so Patrick, the associate director, said "This is where the president sat, Rory. So face the president when you do this." And from then on out, I know exactly where to look!
And you guys just launched #EduHam this week!
Yes, at the Wednesday matinee we did the show for 1300 NYC public school kids. And they were some of the best audiences that I have ever performed for. Honestly, to get to meet those kids... It's amazing how many lives it's going to inspire to be a part of the theatre or to be a part of history or to learn about Alexander Hamilton and how inspiring his life was. To watch Lin Manuel Miranda... you could not make a better spokesperson for Broadway in a laboratory. He is absolutely the best spokesperson we could ever dream of, so the fact that he is taking the time and the folks that produce HAMILTON are taking the time to have it reach to kids in this way, that's why we should all be doing this: to reach those folks.
What are you most looking forward to in your run ahead?
That's a tough question because right now I'm just so excited to go the theatre and create. I'm most excited to watch this company go through the next few months and, knock and wood, to get honored with awards. It's not why you do it, but you get to be on the sidelines and to see the work that all these folks have done for years (and what I consider to be a masterpiece) and to see that their labor and love and their passion that they poured into this for so long is rewarded in a way by our community is fitting. It's gonna be really special.
And the truth is, I don't know what I'm excited about. If I learned anything in the last months about this business, it's that you can't plan anything. You know, I was in a different Broadway show a month ago and here I am in this one. And I think that this show is just surprising me every day in what a wonderful thing it has to offer to me or the audiences. I'm excited to find out what the most exciting thing is going to be, because it's just been great. Going and walking out that stage door and having so many folks waiting there for a long period of time... it's remarkable.
Rory O'Malley was last seen on Broadway singing "Turn It Off" as Elder McKinley in The Book of Mormon, for which he received Tony and Drama Desk nominations, and in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Off-Broadway credits include Nobody Loves You (Drama Desk nomination) and Little Miss Sunshine. Television credits include "Partners" alongside Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence, "Nurse Jackie," "The Good Wife," "Law & Order: SVU," "1600 Penn" and the film Dreamgirls.