Renée Elise Goldsberry on ‘Hamilton,’ ‘Girls5eva’ + How to Have It All

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“In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast” features in-depth conversations with today’s most noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and Awards Editor Jack Smart for this guide on how to live the creative life from those who are doing it every day.

Renée Elise Goldsberry has played a significant array of roles across film, television, theater, and the music industry. “I’ve been around long enough to have had so many versions of my career,” she says with a laugh. What makes the “Hamilton” Tony winner’s “In the Envelope” interview essential listening is the way she spells out exactly how actors, artists, or just people (particularly women) can do the same.

“You just have to have the audacity to show up and try some of these things,” Goldsberry tells Backstage. No one is just one thing, she says, and a varied training background and willingness to avoid pigeonholing can lead to involvement in a wider array of potentially successful projects. “And then if it works, people might be like, ‘Oh, that’s right, because she has a master’s degree in jazz!’ 

“I have had some time, in my time, to kind of be around different things. But the reason I was around them was just because there was an opportunity, and I didn’t say no. I was like: Alright, I’ll try it until somebody kicks me out of here!”

Raised in Texas and Michigan and trained in first theater at Carnegie Mellon University, then in jazz studies at USC’s Thornton School of Music, Goldsberry got her start in the biz on “Ally McBeal” and as musician-star of the film “All About You,” followed by a two-time Daytime Emmy–nominated run on “One Life to Live.” Since landing on Broadway in “The Lion King” in 2002, she’s lived in New York City, working onstage in Shakespeare productions, “The Color Purple,” “Rent,” and “Good People,” and onscreen in indie films, “The Good Wife,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” “Altered Carbon,” “Waves,” and more.

And amid the disruptive past year, Goldsberry has seen her star rise—“Sometimes in the middle of a storm,” she says, “flowers bloom”—thanks to the reprisal of her award-winning Angelica Schuyler in the Disney+ “Hamilton,” filmed on Broadway in 2016. Nominated for Golden Globe and SAG Awards and now in the running at the 2021 Emmys, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical phenomenon has found fresh buzz and relevance in today’s cultural climate. On top of that, Goldsberry will appear in Marvel’s upcoming “She-Hulk,” and now stars on Meredith Scardino’s new series on Peacock, “Girls5eva,” a musical comedy about a ’90s one-hit-wonder girl group attempting to become stars again decades later.

“There’s a very specific tone,” says Goldsberry, to any show produced by Scardino, Tina Fey, and Robert Carlock. “Play is taken very seriously.” Along the lines of “30 Rock” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Girls5eva” (co-starring Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, and Paula Pell) packs a high joke-per-line ratio and requires performers to sell the silliest scenarios with the utmost commitment. Goldsberry drew inspiration from the “Documentary Now” Stephen Sondheim parody episode on which she starred, and approached the role of headstrong diva Wickie by taking fun seriously. “That’s what works in comedy, that you’re not trying to make anybody laugh.”

As with most gigs throughout her career, she says, the by-now-familiar feeling of imposter syndrome accompanied that sense of play. “I’m more aware, anytime I’m starting something, of why I shouldn’t have gotten this job than why I should,” she confesses. “I’m super aware of what I don’t know.” Finding success in the arts, according to Goldsberry, inevitably means “you fail on seemingly larger stages.”

So the best attitude to adapt is one of openness to risk-taking, perseverance, and humility. “You’re allowed to come and try,” she points out. “It’s called trial and error for a reason.”

Asked for her ultimate advice for fellow artists, Goldsberry breaks down the essential pointers. “Don’t think it has to happen in the timeframe the world tells you. Don’t say no to yourself. Make friends, support people. Oh, and one more.... Invest in something alongside your artistic vision quest. Invest in your relationships, in yourself, in your family. Invest in that. One of the two of them is going to happen for you—and maybe both.”

Listen to all this and more—Christine McKenna-Tirella’s casting highlights of the week include a computer commercial, a COVID-19 treatment commercial, and the Brooklyn Cyclones mascot!—at any of the podcast platforms below.

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