Hamilton: Rory O'Malley explains what it's like to don King George's crown
Jonathan Groff has yielded his power and has stepped away from his role in Hamilton, which means that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit of a musical needed a new King George. In Groff’s place, Hamilton has tapped Tony nominee and Book of Mormon alum Rory O’Malley, who first picked up the king’s cape and crown on April 11.
Since its initial run at the Public Theater, Hamilton has had four King Georges, beginning with Brian d’Arcy James, who departed the show shortly before it transferred to Broadway. Andrew Rannells also briefly took over in the fall, when Groff left to shoot the Looking movie for HBO, but with Groff now vacating the role permanently, O’Malley has been officially crowned King George the Third the Fourth.
Here, O’Malley chats with EW about his first week of shows and what it’s like stepping into King George’s heels.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you’ve got a few performances under your belt already. How’s it going so far?
RORY O’MALLEY: It is like a dream. Just a total, total dream. I feel like I’m a kid again. I listened to this cast album for the last year like everybody else, in the gym, in the car, all day long. To be walking into that stage door every day is absolutely phenomenal. I can’t even put it into words what it feels like. It is a gift to get to be on that stage in every way. And I am fully aware of that.
Obviously, you’re no stranger to big Broadway shows that are such a pop culture phenomenon, but how does Hamilton compare?
It certainly is a different show, and I love that Book of Mormon and Hamilton are such big hits and so amazing, but they scratch different itches. The craziest part for me, from the outside, is the fact that for Book of Mormon, I was involved with it for five years. I did three years of readings and workshops and saw every line coming together and every moment of that. And for this, I’m jumping onto a fast-moving train. And it’s totally different, being a fan of the show enjoying it.
But what’s amazing about this group is they’ve been so welcoming and so wonderful to me, and I already feel like it’s home getting to walk into that theater. And Lin has just been a dream, and so was Jonathan Groff. He couldn’t have been more caring and generous to me over the two weeks I was there watching his performance. I followed him around, he introduced me to people, and he told me tips for onstage and off. It’s just been an amazing experience, and that’s because the folks at Hamilton are all in a good mood — and rightly so. I think that they all know how special it is, and they aren’t taking it for granted.
What were some of the specific things you and Jonathan talked about?
Basically, he told me to have fun. That was most important, and it wasn’t even something he had to say. The guy is just so full of charisma and joy that it’s contagious. I think that the way that he conducted himself and his presence on stage was what I wanted to aim for. He was just so calming in a time when I was like, “Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?”
And another thing that he said in an article that really helped me was that he, of course, took over this role from Brian d’Arcy James when it was at the Public, and he had decided to really honor everything that Brian was doing with the role because he felt that he would be able to make it his own over time. I realized that going into this show, I don’t have to figure out how to make it better. I don’t have to figure out like, “Well, what can I do to add to Hamilton?” Um, nothing. Just do your job and do what’s on the page, which is brilliance. So it’s really about getting out of the way.
Jonathan did such a phenomenal job, and I learned so much from watching him 16 performances in a row, which is how many times I watched it. And I could’ve watched it many, many, many more times. The hardest part about being in the show is that I can’t stand in the back of the theater anymore and watch “Satisfied” and “My Shot” and these moments that I’m still in awe of. It’s going to take a while for me to feel like I’m a cast member — or at least more of a cast member than I am as a fan.
Do you already have people hitting you up for tickets?
Within the same breath that it was announced. It was like a flood of people who I haven’t heard from in years — probably not since I was in Mormon! But that is a privilege, a total privilege, to hear from people who say that they want to come see something that I’m a part of. It’s absolutely something that I don’t take for granted at all. But it’s pretty easy this time because I’m like, “I have no way in.” I would say the easiest way to get a ticket to Hamilton is to be in the show, but I’m still not sure. I’m very timid about asking for tickets. I’m like, “Just keep me around!”
I wanted to ask you about the Order of the Garter coronation ceremony. Brian d’Arcy James established this really great tradition where they induct the newest King George into the company with this elaborate ritual. What was that like?
Oh, I was so scared. They didn’t say like, “This is what’s going to happen.” They didn’t walk me through it. I was like, “Am I going to have to do like a keg stand? What kind of hazing is involved here?” Luckily, Groff did it to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show the night before I was supposed to do it, so I got to watch it happen to Jimmy Fallon. But I was still nervous. And I wore a suit coat, and everyone was kind of like, “Why are you so dressed up?” And I was like, “I don’t know what this is! I feel like I’m going to my first communion again, like I’m the little Catholic school boy, and there’s a ceremony involved!”
But it was so funny and so much fun. And being in a Broadway show or just a musical in general, the camaraderie that you have with the cast and the company, it’s like nothing else. To get to be welcomed into the cast in that way was just unreal. To take the care to make somebody feel at home is really special, and I’ve been told that that’s my responsibility for the next king, and I’m taking that really seriously. I’m already writing it for whenever that happens.
Andrew FaceTimed in, and then I actually got to talk with Andrew right after that for quite some time, and he was giving me a lot of advice because he was jumping into the show in the same way. And he was like, “Are you terrified? I was terrified.” And I was like, “YES. Thank you for saying that.” And he was like, “It’s going to be fine, everyone’s so great, and the fans are so wonderful.” And he really kind of walked me through it, and it’s been the truth. The fans have been so fantastic, and I just love seeing young people get so excited about theater in this way. In all of these young people at the stage door, I see a reflection of myself when I was a kid, and it just makes me so proud to be a part of something like that.
George is such an interesting role because you’re only on stage for a very short period of time and you’re almost always alone. How is that? Is that intimidating, or is it fun to have the spotlight like that?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s definitely fun to sit in the driver’s seat of this phenomenal musical for a little bit and take it for a spin. To be like, “I’m going to take us somewhere now! Come along, kids!” It’s so cool, but it also is totally weird. I’m just used to being on stage as the part of an ensemble, as the part of a group telling a story. So it’s definitely very new. But man, it’s just so much fun getting to have a scene partner be the audience, you know? And when it’s THIS audience, they give you so much. And every audience is different, so it’s like having a new scene partner every single show.
One of the things that people also talk about when they talk about King George is his walk and his physicality. How have you approached that?
Yes, I’ve heard a lot about the walk, the physicality. And let me tell you, I tried on my shoes for the first time about an hour or two before show time, with the cape and the crown all together for the first time. So my choices were: Don’t fall. Do not fall. That was basically my walk. You have to be careful! There’s so much height, and there’s so many things that you’re balancing, and so it makes sense that there’s a certain kind of strut. So I’m kind of just going from there. And I haven’t fallen yet. Knock on wood.
Because you’ve got heels, and I’ve heard that the crown the is really heavy?
Yes, it’s definitely a bit of a balancing act in a way that I’m not used to. And I really feel so bad for women because these are like the smallest little kitten heels you could ever imagine. I can’t believe women walk around in stilettos. I would not make it two steps. But I’ve been wearing the shoes. As soon as I get to theater, I put them on and walk around. People are like, “Where’s Rory going?” And I’m not going anywhere, I’m just practicing walking in these shoes.
So is it starting to feel more normal, being a part of the cast?
I do have one story about that. So the first day, I flew in from L.A. and went straight to the theater, and I was kind of jet-lagged and also just scared out of my mind. I was really nervous, and I was supposed to go to the stage door. And I get to the theater, and of course, there’s already a line around the block to get into the theater for the audience. So I’m like, “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me,” just timidly trying to get through the crowd. And I go up to the stage door, and I go to open it, and it’s locked. And I’m like, “Oh no. Oh no, what’s happened.” And I start knocking on the door, and everyone’s staring at me in the audience line, like, what is this guy doing? And I’m literally starting to panic, and I think, well, maybe I’m just a weakling and I have to start really pulling on the door, like, “Hello? Hello?” And I’m knocking on the door, and everyone’s looking at me, and then I realize that I’m knocking on the Les Mis stage door, which is next door.
So luckily it was a Monday and they were dark, or otherwise I would be singing “Master of the House” instead of “You’ll Be Back.” So then I had to sheepishly walk through the rest of the crowd and go into our stage door, which I now know is the one with Alexander Hamilton on it. Which makes a lot more sense. But you know that moment when you’re so nervous and you do the craziest, dumb thing?
It’s like the first day of school.
I just didn’t know where to go, and every single moment, I was nervous I was going to screw it up and they were going to be like, “I’m sorry, there’s been a mistake. Please leave. You didn’t know which stage door it was? I’m sorry. Go home.” But that will forever be a metaphor for me joining the cast of Hamilton.