The Hamilton cast has no qualms with being up for Emmys instead of Oscars
You can debate whether Hamilton is a theatrical film (as it was originally intended, and as its Golden Globe noms would suggest) or a TV movie (as its pandemic pivot to Disney+ and 12 Emmy nods would imply) — just don't let director Thomas Kail hear you call it a "capture" of the Broadway sensation.
"Tommy is really conscious to call it a 'preservation' instead," says Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), one of seven cast members now Emmy-nominated for reprising their roles in the musical. "Tommy let us tell a more intimate story, to be more revealing in closeup and add a wonderful layer to our work. It was satisfying in a way I wish every artist could experience."
Kail shot his "preservation" right after the 2016 Tony Awards, over a few days during and in-between Broadway performances. "We did it while doing eight shows a week. Our hearts were full, but we were very tired," says Anthony Ramos (John Laurens and Philip Hamilton), who is nominated alongside supporting actors Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson) and Jonathan Groff (King George). "But sometimes the most special things happen when you're exhausted."
Though the cast had performed the show hundreds of times, "knowing cameras are recording this for all time does change the equation for you," admits creator and lead-actor nominee Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton). "Your challenge is to get that out of your head and simply do your show." Those sentiments are echoed by Renée Elise Goldsberry, who equates filming Hamilton to shooting the final performance of Rent in 2008 — in that both Angelica Schuyler and Mimi Marquez were roles she knew inside and out, "but it doesn't change the nerves that you have when you're aware, at some level, that something that you've done so many times for years is going to be saved forever."
But some, like Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton), embraced the chance to play for the cameras. "I think there was a level of honesty — a newfound exploration, especially in a lot of the quieter moments," she says. "It was a chance to go in a little bit more intimately for the journey to be a little more within myself, as opposed to feeling like needing to find clarity for an audience. But, ultimately, the beauty of this text and this piece is that no matter what size of audience you're playing for."
"We grounded ourselves in each other, our belief in the show, and the excitement that we were no longer limited to the number of people that could fit in the building to see it," adds her fellow supporting-actress nominee Goldsberry. "When we started, we would never have known that we could go from being this exclusive ticket to accessible to everybody, even in a pandemic."
That latter point is something the entire cast can agree on. Though they would've loved to celebrate a theatrical debut together, none of them express any regret that their theatrical event became a streaming release.
"I think the team made a smart and generous choice to release the film last summer because it was such a strange time in our world — and certainly in our country," says Groff, who filmed Hamilton during a quick hiatus from Mindhunter. "I think in many ways, probably more powerful to have released this at that time when everyone was still stuck at home and so unsure of things. It was more special to have that experience than any type of premiere that could have ever happened, because it was such as lifeline and such a gift for people."
"When it came out [on Broadway in 2015] it was a celebration of possibility. The timing of this iteration made it seem like a referendum on America — a demand to live up to our potential," explains Diggs. "It's cool to be part of something that remains meaningful to people even though the context has changed."
"When you do a show in theater, that's it. You do the show and then it's done," adds Ramos. "But when the movie version comes out, it's like, 'Yo, this s--- lives forever,' you know? I think there's something special about that. When you make anything, you hope that you make something that will outlast you. That's the lyric in the show: 'Outrun. Outlast. Hit 'em quick, get out fast.' As an artist, that's what you hope for, man."
Additional reporting by Jessica Derschowitz.
Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Emmys analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's TV shows and performances.
A version of this story appears in the September issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.