Tituss Burgess on Why His Role in ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ Was “Divine Intervention” and Going to “Couples Therapy” with Theatre

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Emmy Award nominee Tituss Burgess has had something of a fascinating career — going from seemingly becoming a Broadway veteran to a lead role on Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Unsurprisingly, Burgess himself had something of a change of heart when it came to Broadway, and he explained to The Guardian that the Netflix series was a literal answer to his prayers.

In 2012, Burgess had a four-episode role on 30 Rock and when the role ended, he was devastated — but also felt inspired. He recalls, “I remember getting on my knees and sobbing. I was sad but I was praying that I would be blessed with another series-regular role, because I felt like I had finally found a purpose.”

As it goes, many times previous work lays a foundation for future collaborations. Burgess continues, “Five years later, I get a text from my manager, and she goes: ‘When was the last time you spoke to Tina Fey? Because either you’re about to get a job, or this is a cruel joke.’” It was not a cruel joke — Burgess was cast in a main role in the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But what happened next seems like an obvious example of divine intervention: “On my first day of filming, I was told to report to 52nd Street between Eighth and Ninth and that someone would take me to my trailer. My hand to God, my trailer was right outside of the apartment where I had prayed. It makes me teary thinking about it now.”

This all happened after Burgess spent several years on Broadway, including originating the role of Sebastian the Crab in The Little Mermaid. It was not always a pleasant experience. He recalls, “I learned more about performing and producing than at any other time. But I think I went as far in that industry as I was going to be allowed to go. And if I can be perfectly honest, there was what I call the ‘big black woman that stopped the show syndrome’. That is to say, the character that the show is not about comes in, razzle dazzle, and then disappears, and we don’t hear from them or see them ever again. I had no interest in doing that. So me and theatre went to couples therapy, if you will, and what emerged was a desire to see other people.”

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