Chris Jackson on Hamilton exit, election, what comes next

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Hamilton is about to have its own presidential transfer of power. Sunday marks the final show for Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington in the Broadway smash and earned a Tony nomination for his performance.

Just two days before his final curtain call as our nation’s first president, Jackson spoke with EW about how he’s feeling ahead of his Hamilton departure. “I’m really just grateful more than anything,” he said, adding, “But it’s interesting, I haven’t been able to fully appreciate a lot of the aspects of the show because I’ve always just been in it — we’ve been in this bubble, so to kind of step outside of it and view it as the rest of the world does is going to be a different perspective and I’m looking forward to it.”

But while Jackson is yielding his power and stepping away, you’ll still be seeing more of him — his voice can be heard in Disney’s upcoming animated adventure Moana (which reteamed him with Lin-Manuel Miranda, with whom he’s worked on both Hamilton and In the Heights) and he’s also starring on CBS’ new series Bull.

Read on for more from Jackson about Hamilton, the outcome of this past week’s election, and why Moana is a movie young girls everywhere need to see.

You’re in the home stretch now with Hamilton. How are you feeling?

I’m feeling great about the whole process, and I’m really just grateful more than anything. It’s been one great thing after another ever since we started, and it’s always been really gratifying because the show provides so much, and it has provided so much for me and my family, and for so many people.

You must have so many happy memories from your time doing the show, but are there any that are particularly important to you?

There’s a lot of them. There’s the president and the first lady. And Secretary Clinton and President Clinton. And the little boy I met last year, who has cerebral palsy. The family did everything they could and pulled out all the stops to make a visit to New York and to see Hamilton happen. And getting to meet him and his family on stage — that stuff is just as important and just as significant to me.

The show has been incredible resonant in today’s political climate. People applauded during the “Yorktown” performance at the Tony Awards after the line “Immigrants, we get the job done,” and I saw the same thing happen at the Hamilton’s America premiere in September. Do you see the show playing a part in that conversation?

Absolutely. Listen, if there weren’t a presidential candidate attacking the value of the very fabric of the origin of our country, I’m sure that line would take a slightly different tone. But I think it speaks to that, and those lines were written before Donald Trump ever opened his mouth in public as a candidate. But it was no less a hot-button issue and it was no less more relevant. Our show is at its best, I think, when it is holding up a mirror to what’s happening to the shifting focal points of the conversation.

How are you feeling in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election?

The overriding feeling I have right now, more than anything else, is that democracy worked and it didn’t work the way we wanted it to. But it’s so far beyond a partisan issue. The things I think people are the most concerned about right now is they’re fearing for their safety. They’re fearful about the impression that the bad behavior — hurtful, horrible, the worst of us — represented from that campaign, on both sides, was rewarded. I know that’s the thing my 7-year-old daughter is the most afraid of, it’s the thing that I’m most afraid of. But to me the work that needed to be done before Nov. 8 still needs to be done. When it comes to how we’re dealing with one another, how we’re seeing one another, how open we are with one another, and my hope is that we can get past the “who won” and the “who lost.”

Our government has seen the best of us and the worst of us from the very beginning, and I think that our show speaks to that. But I’m motivated right now. I’m motivated not out of spite, but out of a need to fill what I’m feeling with positive action. And I don’t mean to be Pollyannaish about it, but the fight for women’s equality has spanned quite a long time. That didn’t die when Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected president. The fight for civil rights did not end when Donald Trump was elected president. We’ve got work to do. And so any rage or disappointment or sadness that I’m feeling, I’m just trying to pour that into as many positive and meaningful interactions that I can with my neighbor. And I think once the shock of this very present moment wears off, my hope is that everyone will get as involved as and be as invested emotionally and intellectually with engaging themselves in the process.

There are a lot of people who woke up on Wednesday and said things just like that — what can we do now, how can we help, how do we move forward.

Hope didn’t die on Nov. 9 — it got a huge shot in the arm. My hope didn’t die, I’m not about to give up on this. I’m not about to just be mad and cower and withdraw. If anything, I want to be more engaged. And I’ve had to teach my daughter, just because who we wanted to win didn’t win, that’s not an excuse to just not care. Apathy is the biggest enemy right now, and it’s a big problem for us because as a culture we are very quite to swipe to the next thing as opposed to, stay with it, let it hurt, and then resolve yourself to change it.

Getting back to Hamilton, what are you going to miss about playing our nation’s first president?

There’s never been a show where I did not literally offer my guts on that stage. And it was specifically because I didn’t want to look back on this time and feel like I didn’t give everything that I absolutely had to give to it. And very much like, a very similar sentiment that I’ve heard expressed, there are always things you could have wished you’d done better, and you can’t always control the outcome, but you can control the effort — that’s something [Hamilton director] Tommy Kail said the first day we were in the theater, and I took that to heart and I let that be the thing I lived by on that stage.

There’s nothing else I think I can do with it right now. And to be able to look back on all this and be grateful for the opportunity and look forward and see what else can be created, what else I can do. So many things just sort of flew by because we were so busy, and so many awesome things happened every single day, that I’m really looking forward to going back through the pictures, and considering those moments and taking advantage of a little bit of time to just gain some perspective on what this experience has been. It’s been incredible.

But you’re also already moving forward with new things. I saw Moana, and I loved it.

Yay! Isn’t it great? What a great message. As I was talking about earlier, I was like, every little girl in America, around the world, needs to see this. She’s everything I want my daughter to be — she’s strong, and willful, and independent, and smart, and capable, and she faces an amazing test. She’s my favorite Disney character at this point. She really is. She’s badass.

She’s bossing around Dwayne Johnson!

That’s right. How appropriate — talk about the times sort of creating context. I’m so excited for everyone to see this movie. And it’s beautiful, too.

And how are things going on Bull?

It’s fantastic. I love television, and I get so spoiled because I’m coming from such an amazing ensemble in Hamilton to such an amazing ensemble on Bull. It feels like any other great theatre experience I’ve ever had. … I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everything that has happened in the last 18 months is just another incredible box that has been checked.

What else are you looking forward to doing, once Hamilton is over?

Reading some amazing books, and writing. I’ve been writing music and orchestrating stuff for 10 years or more but that’s really hard to do when you have 50 songs of the most amazing score you’ve ever heard in your head and singing every night. So I’m looking forward to just filling the tank back up a little bit, you know? There’s some incredible books that I’ve just never had a chance to read — I think I’ve probably received like 40 or 50 books throughout the run from some of the most amazing historians and authors and I haven’t had a chance to touch any of them. So I’ve got a couple of boxes in my dressing room of books that I fully intend on diving into. 

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