James Monroe Iglehart won the hearts and minds of Broadway theater goers as the breakout star of Disney's "Aladdin" in the role of the Genie, convincing the skeptics that he could make Robin Williams' indelible character his own. After a three-year, TONY-award-winning run as the Genie, his friend Lin Manuel Miranda tapped him to play the dual role of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette in the smash hit "Hamilton." We caught up with infectiously optimistic Iglehart just moments before curtain call to get a peek inside in his dressing room, and to find out what inspires him to continue to perform Broadway magic after almost a decade on the Great White Way.
You've got a lot of fun stuff in your dressing room. What does it do for you?
I always keep some form of cartoon or comic book with me, especially Batman — he's my favorite. The reason I keep them around is that it keeps the kid in me alive. Some older folks, they like to drink — can't wait to get old. Me? I like to stay young. I know I'm going to be get older, but I can at least be young at heart so I read these [comic books] so I keep myself right on that level of kid to keep me having fun on stage.
Tell us about this "Leave Me Alone, I'm Busy (Pretending to Work)" sign. You don't seem like a slacker.
I keep this with me because my dad once told me to find a job that you would do for free and I would do this job for free. (Tell no one! It's the last thing I want people to know!) But I would be a performer for free because that's all I've ever loved to do. I've worked so hard to get to the point where work doesn't feel like work. So when I come to work, I'm actually coming to play — I'm coming to recess. So, when you see me, leave me alone, I'm busy ... pretending to work.
The nerves are there, but I let them push me instead of holding me back.
There's fan art everywhere. What does it mean to you?
I want to acknowledge the wonderful people who make this happen. We don't get to do theater without the fans coming, without them paying their hard-earned money to come and watch us do what we do. And without them, where would we be? I always want to say thank you to them.
You seem to go from one successful Broadway show to the next. Did it just happen like that?
Ha! Not really. I did my first show, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," and then went back home to California for a while. Then, I came back to New York and did "Memphis" for three years then went back to California again. But after "Aladdin," I got a permanent place because it seemed like this is where I'm supposed to be. I love New York and it has been so good to me yet I know I'll always be a Cali boy at heart. But I'm not moving back any time soon because NYC and I get along very well!
I would be a performer for free because that's all I've ever loved to do.
You’ve been on a Broadway for over a decade now. Do you still get nervous?
Yes, I do. I am still nervous every show. Not in the "Wow, I'm scared, I can't go on nervous," but the "I really want to do a good job and the give the audience a great show" kind of nervous. Oh, yes, the nerves are there, but I let them push me instead of holding me back.
What’s your pre-show ritual?
I love to listen to funky/hype music to get my juices flowing when I warm up — and I always pray before I step on stage.
What’s a typical night’s sleep look like for you?
I try my best to get a full eight hours but usually only manage seven. I love to stay up late and read comics or play games on my phone with my wife.
You've got a picture of your wife on your desk. You've have been together for a long time, right?
I keep this photo [of the two of us] because when we took this picture we were young. We were the dreamy-eyed people who were hoping to get to where we are now. I had just graduated from college and she was this beautiful girl who was literally paying for everything. I keep this just to remind me of the kid who was dreaming of getting to where I am and the beautiful woman who didn't walk in front of me, or behind me, but right on the side of me and sometimes pushed me to get me where I am today.
Is it difficult staying connected when your schedules are so different?
Not at all. We have created a life that suits our lifestyle. We always make time for us and the quality of life we want to live. Is it the same as other couples? No, but it works for us and we love it. If I felt this thing called entertainment was sacrificing our marriage, I would quit. We have been together 15 years so I think it's working very well!
Was there a moment when you felt like you really made it?
No. Ha! I haven't found that moment yet. I think if I ever feel like I made it it will be time to quit.
What's your guilty pleasure?
I'll never give up watching professional wrestling.
I think if I ever feel like "I made it" it will be time to quit.
What inspires you?
I'm inspired to be the best I can be when I get on that stage. I want the audience to always say James Monroe Iglehart gave his all for me when he performed.
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