Tituss Burgess on How He Landed His ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Role
Actor Tituss Burgess appeared in episodes of shows like 30 Rock, Blue Bloods, and Royal Pains, but it wasn’t until Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt that Burgess landed a starring role in a series — and he’s killing it as Titus Andromedon, the roommate of the series’ title character. In an interview with Vulture, Burgess reveals how his role on 30 Rock led to his current series (and how Alec Baldwin might have had something to do with that) and whether or not he’d consider returning to Broadway.
Burgess reveals an incredible story about a striking coincidence when he was hired for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
“I did four episodes on 30 Rock but we never had any kind of conversations about what else I was doing or where I lived, or anything. All of these correlations between Titus and Tituss, we never talked about, so it’s really uncanny how perfect it fit. I tell this story all the time. And I’ll tell it to you. And it is the absolute truth. The last day of 30 Rock, I was living on 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth and my last Broadway show had just closed. It was Guys and Dolls. Alec Baldwin turned to the team on my last day of shooting and said, ‘You guys gotta give this guy a spinoff.’ I had been in pursuit of a purpose, of the next dream to chase. And I wanted to put a pause on theater, so I went home and got on my knees and I prayed, ‘Please, if the universe will allow, if you will grant me, or can find it in your vastness, a series or a job working with the caliber of talent I’ve been working with and types of writers, I will do right by it and I will honor it and I will do it to the best of my abilities.’ That was four years before. Cut to getting this job, and on the first day they called and they said, ‘Tituss, you need to report to 48th and Tenth and someone will walk you to your trailer.’ The trailer for my show was right outside my old apartment where I prayed for this job. I literally could have opened the door and walked into my trailer. I looked around, and I started crying.”
When asked if Baldwin’s comment helped him land his Kimmy Schmidt role, he says, “I don’t even know if he remembers that. He probably said something to everybody after we wrapped, but he was so kind to me when we filmed, he was wonderful. I learned so much from that man because I was in a lot of scenes with him. Particularly how to work on network television, where there is compression of time. You have 21, 22 minutes to tell a story. So if you’ve got a joke where there’s two parts, you better try and forge it into one or it will get cut. He showed me how to be more precise and get to the comedic point in a more clever way. I just had great schooling with him and, of course, Tina and all the writers who gave me notes. But he taught me how to save what you’ve come up with. Great advice.”
Another positive about starring on Kimmy Schmidt means that Burgess has a much lighter schedule from when he used to do Broadway — a schedule he calls “grueling.” However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss the stage. Burgess points out, “It is grueling. I don’t know that I knew how grueling it was until I stopped doing it. When you’re in it you’re in it. This is just what it is. It’s not to say I’ll never go back. Of course I’ll go back. But I’ll go back with a different awareness and a different set of skills and a different appreciation for the work, and I won’t go back until it is a piece that I am dying for the world to know about. Because it’s too much work to not go back without that.”