Tituss Burgess Talks Emmy, Geishas, and His Next Project

Tituss Burgess

“I know I don’t often pray, but if you’re listening, Black Jesus from the Madonna “Like a Prayer” video, give me a sign.”

“It will be my toughest role ever, and I once played a straight corpse on America’s Most Wanted.”

“Midnight, Eastern Gay time, which is 3 am.”

One could spend all day listing some of the finest quotes from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Titus Andromedon, but we’ll save that for another post. Tituss Burgess received his second Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Andromedon on the Netflix show and deservedly so. From his love of musicals, to his iconic, “Peeno Noir” (Did you know Burgess has launched his own website selling wine?), Burgess plays Kimmy’s BFF to sheer perfection.  We had the chance to catch up and talk Emmys, his new project and of course playing that person who you want as your BFF – Titus Andromedon.

What were you doing when you found out that you were nominated?

I was playing the piano. I’m working on a musical. I was re-writing some material and my partner called me downstairs, and he said, “Did you forget what the day is?” I got downstairs, and he was the one who told me.

What’s this musical you’re working on?

We’ll be announcing it soon, but it’s based on a popular movie that came out in 1996. I’ll be doing some research then. [Laughs]

I remember seeing you on Broadway as Sebastian in The Little Mermaid.

Oh my goodness.

From Broadway to Netflix.

I couldn’t be happier.

How did Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt change from Season 1 to Season 2 for you?

A lot of the characters got more developed back stories. Particularly for Titus, I thought with the explanation of the marriage, the divorce and the introduction of his boyfriend, that it explained a lot of his eccentricities. Rather than just having to accept Titus as a brazen sassy-prass, you kind of understand how sassy he is on the inside. He’s vulnerable and he comes from a rural town where he could not be his truest self. Sometimes when people are running towards liberty, it goes so far in the opposite direction of who they were sometimes just to over compensate, or it’s just the taste of freedom that creates these large oversized personalities. That has a lot to do with the progression and augmentation of the show from Season 1 to Season 2.

That’s something I really loved about the show – this back story about Titus. What was it like when you were reading those scripts, knowing that we finally got to find out who Titus really is?

It filled in a lot of holes for me. I was given a lot more information to play off of. It helped inform a great many of my choices and my treatment of Titus. We’re quite different. I get a lot of people who are shocked when they meet me because we share a name and we like musicals, but that’s about it. It helped me figure out what other goodies are in that bag of his to bring out and to create some delicious tension, and things to exploit. When I was reading over material I thought it was so helpful, funny, heartwarming, and touching.

How much do you get to improvise on the show?

Very little. They are not those type of writers. Every I is dotted and every T is crossed. Everything that comes off as improvisation is on purpose. Robert and Tina are very thorough. There’s very little room for improvisation, but there’s not a great need for it because they’ve given us well rounded crafted material.

Another highlight of the season, aside from learning more about Titus, was the geisha episode. What was that episode like to read and shoot?

I’ve come to expect that Robert and Tina are going to put me in the most extreme circumstances. [Laughs] I sat down with them and we were very careful not to offend but wanted to acknowledge how hypersensitive people have come because of the presence of social media. We thought what would be the most extreme situation Titus could find himself in, and that’s acting out a dramatization of one of his past lives that he maintains that he remembers. If he believes it to be true, it’s only plausible that his going into full geisha makeup and attire is not mocking, but a full extension of who he was, and because he believes it so fiercely, I was able to be sincere about it and not be disrespectful to another culture.

Once I processed the information that way, it was very liberating, and I have a great deal of respect for what it takes to put on that attire because it’s many many layers. It took an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes to get into that whole thing. It was lovely. The song was hard to learn, I don’t speak fluent Japanese. It was a challenge and I was happy to do it.

You made a gorgeous geisha if I do say so myself.

That is so funny.

 

Tituss Burgess
(Photo: Netflix)


We all want to know where is this relationship with Mike going?

Ah, I think we’re all going to find out at the same time my dear. I would love to say that Tina and Robert call me up and ask how I’d like to proceed with Season 3, but it’s just not that way. [Laughs] Also, I kind of prefer it if information that comes to me and it stays in a gestation period for too long… I find that I don’t give as fresh performance or authentic performance or reaction. I 100 percent prefer not to know until I show up to shoot it.

One thing that was so great, and kudos to Robert and Tina for all they do, was Ellie getting nominated this year. Did you two celebrate?

Ellie is about to pop out a little Elena. We chatted briefly and giggled. We’re both homebodies and don’t really enjoy going out. Work is so intense, and we spend so many hours. We’re around so many people all day. We relish the quietness. We have a very quiet, intense textual relationship. We don’t set foot outside very often. I thought it was so appropriate. It’s long overdue.

I was so happy for the two of you. I think I squeed a little.

That’s my girl. I love her so fiercesomely, it extends outside of work. I consider her to be like my sister, and my affection for her is not false. It’s so easy to go to work when there’s chemistry. It’s not something you can create. It is created unto itself. She brings out such wonderful things in me. I said this last year, and I mean it this year, I share my nomination with her. There would be nothing to play off of. You wouldn’t get some of the nuances in my performance if it weren’t for what she offers up. So, I’m so happy that she too was recognized.

Would you ever do a spin-off if the opportunity came up? The team at AwardsDaily TV have called it Andromedon.

That is really really funny. I would certainly have a conversation about it. I can’t imagine we could cover. I’m not sure what else Titus would do outside of the world of Unbreakable. I don’t know. Hopefully, I have 3 or 4 seasons of this. Titus is an intense person so by the time that ends, I think Tituss Burgess might have worn out his welcome as Titus Andromedon.

Do you miss him when you’re not playing him?

I do not miss him. I will be honest with you. Imagine my scenes and having a 4 or 5am work call, and the first thing you shoot is something that comes out of my mouth, and him being at a ten all the time. It’s a great deal of work. It is exhausting. I hang him up when the show wraps. I have to go back and watch episodes when it’s time to go back to work because I need a refresher as to how he operates and moves.
Jane said she feels the same way. We do it, you guys get it all at once, and then there’s six months before we touch it again. You’re doing other projects, so you have to jump back into it with a bit of assistance from the character.

I feel you. Sometimes I have, “What do I do again?”

It’s weird right.

It’s been so much fun talking to you. Thank you for the comedy. I look forward to the musical.

You’ll love it. It’s going to be great.

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