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Interview: James Monroe Iglehart Opens Up About What He Hopes Audiences Will Take From WE ARE FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME

Interview: James Monroe Iglehart Opens Up About What He Hopes Audiences Will Take From WE ARE FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME

Today, July 17, Hulu debuted the documentary We Are Freestyle Love Supreme. Freestyle Love Supreme is an improvisational hip-hop group with many famous members including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Thomas Kail, Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale.

In the documentary, filmmaker Andrew Fried chronicles the group in the summer of 2005, documenting the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme beatboxing and rapping on the sidewalks-unaware of how their story would unfold. Fourteen years later, Fried captures them reuniting for a series of shows in New York City that led to a triumphant run on Broadway. Both poignant and inspired, We Are Freestyle Love Supreme recalls the creative dreams of youth and why this show still means so much to these accomplished performers.

Freestyle Love Supreme member and Tony-winner James Monroe Iglehart spoke with us about returning to Freestyle Love Supreme after all those years and what the documentary means to him. Read the interview below!

What was it like to see this documentary be made after all these years?

You know, some of us didn't even know the documentary was happening, because like UTK and I joined in 2007, and so we knew the brothers were being recorded for when they went, and we didn't want to think about being a part of it until all this kind of happened for us. We were just a part of the group. Utkarsh [Ambudkar] and I were the guys who took over for Lin [Manuel Miranda] and Chris [Jackson], and then when they came back from In the Heights, we were all together and it was fine, but now to see what's happened with the group and now to see what it looks like, it's like, "Oh, we are a part of this journey."

It must be very rewarding to get to come back to Freestyle Love Supreme after all these years and all the success you've had individually.

It is very rewarding. It's very cool to see what it was like when we were all guys just hoping something cool would happen to our careers, but we were enjoying this one moment that we all had together. We always had Freestyle Love Supreme. We were all just using this one moment to just enjoy doing something different, doing something that had nothing to do with the other part of our lives, and then to see us all kind of blew up in our own way and still be able to come back to this-and nobody's egos were in the way, once we get back as Freestyle Love Supreme, we are still the same brothers who were in Freestyle Love Supreme.

Interview: James Monroe Iglehart Opens Up About What He Hopes Audiences Will Take From WE ARE FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME

What was it like returning to FLS when the show came to Broadway in 2019?

It felt like going home. It felt like the most comfortable pair of shoes that you have. Freestyle Love Supreme is like a cool superhero group, and we all know what our powers are, so it wasn't hard for us to jump back into it. We knew what Chris was going to do, we knew what Lin was going to go. We know what Shockwave's thing is, we know where Arthur and Bill stand, we all know our place.

It must be powerful how you can all just reconnect instantly after all that time.

It was, it was fun and each night was, and I think that's different from any of the shows I've ever had. I've always had a great time doing all my shows. I've had fun, but this is one of those times where I just didn't have to worry. I was like, "I know whatever happens, it's going to be good." Even though I have no idea what's going to happen, I know we're going to have a good time. I didn't have to worry about, "Oh, this line will hit here or this line is going to hit here. I have to say this line a certain way, because that's where the audience is." I was like, "Whatever comes out, comes out and let's just enjoy the moment." And I think that's one of the cool things about Freestyle love Supreme, because as Anthony likes to say, as our host, "Whatever it's happening for the first time right now, and that'll never happen again." So we have to just enjoy that moment of what's about to happen, and the audience is with that too. So that's how we feel all of us getting back together. And to watch the place be packed every single night to watch us do something that we would do in each other's basements and bedrooms, it's just so ridiculous.

What do you hope audiences away from watching this documentary?

When people see the documentary, I hope that they see that these guys and these ladies and how hard they work to get to where they are. You're going to see folks at their young stages before all this big stuff blew up. I think when people look at Lin now, when people look at Daveed, when people look at Jackson, they just assume "Oh, this just happened for them. They got so lucky. It just happened." No, brothers worked their butts off to get to where they were. I hope that people just enjoy seeing the journey that we went through, and then to see the maturity at the end of it, but also see the youthful fun that we've been having all of these years. This is the one thing that we've always been able to come back to and just enjoy ourselves. Also, Freestyle Love Supreme is the base for the two shows that have made Broadway the hot thing that it is: In the Heights to Hamilton. Without Freestyle Love Supreme, I don't know that those two shows could have really existed. It's one of those crazy moments that Freestyle love Supreme is what started it all. Without FLS, we wouldn't have all these other cool things.

Interview: James Monroe Iglehart Opens Up About What He Hopes Audiences Will Take From WE ARE FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME

So in another 15 years you would go back and do it again?

Oh my gosh. Yes. Just to see what the brothers looked like.

The documentary's premiere date got pushed due in order to respect the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement in June, so I wanted to ask what changes you hope to see from the theater community when it returns?

I think one of the great things about, FLS is that FLS, we don't have to say, "Look, we need to be inclusive in how we do things." The reason why we don't have to is because just look at what's up there. Look at, look at the group the way we are. We have, Daveed Diggs, myself, Chris Jackson, Lin,-Manuel Miranda, Andrew Jelly Donut, Shockwave, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Bill Sherman, Arthur Lewis. We have Aneesa Folds, we have Ashley, we have Kayla, we have Wayne Brady. We have different new folks that have come in. Our group has got white, black, women, Indian, biracial, we have everybody in the crew, you know, and we make fun of each other for our differences that we make fun of each other for our similarities. I hope that Broadway can see something like Freestyle Love Supreme and look at it and just say, "We should be like that," and not have to say we should be like that because, "Oh, it's time we start being inclusive." No, just pick the best people for the job. The folks that are in the FLS or the best people for the job. Aneesa is not there because she's a black woman, she's there because she's dope, and the fact that she is a black woman just makes it even better because that shows her journey. That that's a story that we can't tell, that's only a story she can tell.

So I'm hoping that when Broadway opens back up, when theater in general opens back up, folks hire people because they're good at what they do, and they start looking at folks that can tell stories that they can't tell. Every story is not a white story. Every story isn't a black story. There is a story that every person has and they bring their own personal whatever to it, and that's what I'm hoping happens. I'm hoping that people open their eyes, but also don't say, "Oh, we need to hire a black guy because we had issues with social justice." Hire the best person that person's black. Cool. And then if they are, then let that person's blackness tell a story that helps enrich a story that you have. That's what I'm hoping happens. I'm hoping that people stop looking for colorblind casting and just hire the best person. And that person happens to not be white. Great. Let them tell the story the way they need to tell it. And it's a human story, regardless of what will happen, and the audience will get that. Just hire the right people, the qualified people, and let the chips fall where they may. And those who don't like it, please do not come. It will be okay.

I think that in America, everybody can have their own opinion, and if you don't like me, because of my race, that's fine, but that doesn't mean you can interfere with my life. It doesn't mean you can interfere with how I do things. Look, you're American, you are free to have your own opinion, but you can't work in this business, because we all have a story and we all need a place to tell it. We all deserve a place to tell our story. That's what I'm hoping happens whenever theater opens back up.

Iglehart won a 2014 Tony Award for his performance as the Genie in Aladdin. He then went on to star as a replacement for Thomas Jefferson/Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton on Broadway. He originated the role of Bobby in the Tony-winning musical Memphis. Other NYC credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and The Wiz.

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