We're celebrating Annaleigh Ashford, Murray Bartlett, Manny Jacinto, and Adrienne Warren — four stars bursting into the next stage of their careers.

Disco lights are flashing — and not where you'd expect to see them. Impeachment: American Crime Story and B Positive star Annaleigh Ashford's ring light is casting hues of red, blue, and green across her room at the beginning of a Zoom call with Murray Bartlett (The White Lotus), Manny Jacinto (Nine Perfect Strangers), and Adrienne Warren (Tina: The Tina Turner MusicalWomen of the Movement). It may not be intentional, but the party-like environment is appropriate, as the quartet gather from around the globe before the holidays to celebrate their successes, share some audition-room horror stories, and reflect on the hectic profession they love.

Watch their full discussion in the video above, and read on below for highlights.

Breaking Big 2022
Credit: David Milan for EW

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How have these roles in the past year or so opened doors for you?

MURRAY BARTLETT: I feel very lucky with the career that I've had, but it ebbs and flows. So it's really amazing to be in a position where there are some choices to be made. Do I take this job or do I not take this job? Or, can I afford to not take this job?

ADRIENNE WARREN: Yes, choices. I can make the choice to not work. Broadway is eight shows a week, and sometimes it takes five years to get a show to Broadway — Tina took almost five years. And I missed a lot of time with my family. We lost a lot of people in the past few years, and I missed a lot of life. So for me, it's being able to take a moment and say, "You know what? I need to hold off for a few and go check in with my people real quick." That is a luxury I'm really, really grateful for.

MANNY JACINTO: I have more incentive to create more — to do the stories that I would love to tell, whether it be to produce or write, maybe even direct one day.

Breaking Big 2022
Murray Bartlett
| Credit: David Milan for EW

When was the first time each of you felt "the iron is hot," and how did you strike that iron and capitalize on the momentum?

WARREN: It depends on who's testing the temperature. I've always been hot, honey. I'm just waiting for people to catch up! [Laughs] If you want to base it off of career accolades and whatnot…sure, a Tony. But also, I feel exactly the same. I feel like I've been working just as hard as I always did. Now other people are also feeling the iron.

ANNALEIGH ASHFORD: When you're having a moment where people are like, "Hey, you're hot right now," you're like, Am I really? But I've been really lucky to have two really great parts to learn this year. I can't even tell you how grateful I am. Because there were times in the last couple years where I'd be like, "Can we buy olive oil this week?" So, when you have lines to learn, it's a good day.

Murray, a lot of your scenes on The White Lotus were some of the most talked-about of the series. Is there one in particular that you heard about from viewers?

BARTLETT: I mean… [Laughs] Well, there are two things that come to mind. There's one scene where I don't have any clothes on and my face is very close to someone's nether regions. That was the first one that people really wanted to make memes of. And then, there's a certain suitcase scene in the final episode. While we were doing that, I was thinking, "This is the most singular experience I'm ever going to have working on a TV show." [Those moments are] meant to be shocking, and they're meant to jar you. And then, when it hits, it's so great. Because you're like, "We achieved what we set out to do."

Annaleigh, you made playing Paula Jones look easy. But what was the hardest part of accessing the mental and emotional elements of the performance?

ASHFORD: [Writer Sarah Burgess'] intention at the beginning of Paula's journey, at its core, was that she wanted to please her husband, which I thought was heartbreaking. And she's a little bit larger than life — she's got a very specific dialect, and then on top of that she has a very specific tone of voice. Her physicality changes. She starts off being very closed off, protecting her heart. And then as she gets media training, she's sitting up straighter, her hair changes more than anybody else's, she got braces, her makeup changed — except for her eyeliner and her mascara, which I always thought was so specific. The thing that was most important was that I made her a human and not a caricature, and not an impression.

Breaking Big 2022
Annaleigh Ashford
| Credit: David Milan for EW

Adrienne, what did you learn about yourself while playing Tina?

WARREN: I trained in boxing for months, and I got my stamina up, and I learned how to sing like her. I found her voice in my own. We [started] in London…and then it got to Broadway, and then I didn't know if I was going to go with it. So, every single step I felt like I was, in a way, fighting for my life. Fighting for my job still. By the time I got to the Tonys, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even believe I had made it. And I had every injury you could possibly imagine. And now I know that anything I put my mind to, I can actually do it. I just have to believe in it. I'm emotional.

Manny, you worked with Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Regina Hall, Bobby Cannavale, so many incredibly talented folks on Nine Perfect Strangers. What was your big takeaway from that experience?

JACINTO: That they're all just a bunch of kids. They have this great sense of lightheartedness. They take their work very seriously, but when they're off screen they do enjoy the environment and the people that they're around, and they have fun. And seeing that was like, "Oh, I can ease up. I can have fun." It helps the environment, and also just creates morale around the cast.

Breaking Big 2022
Manny Jacinto
| Credit: David Milan for EW

You're all here because of great roles, but what was your worst audition — and what did you learn from it?

ASHFORD: I showed up for an audition for Into the Woods for Shakespeare in the Park, but I didn't read the appointment sheet very well and didn't realize that I had to sing the whole song. I thought it was just a [portion of it]. I went to the audition early, then looked at the material, and looked at the full audition sheet, and that's when I realized I had to. I also didn't realize [the musical's writer] James Lapine and [lyricist] Stephen Sondheim were going to be there. So I just gave it a go. I was the most strange, odd, wild, zany Cinderella anybody's ever seen. And I didn't sing anything right.

JACINTO: I was really trying to lean into the comedy genre because all I had done were dramas and serious projects. So I was studying how to be funny, and how to make people laugh. I had an audition for a multicam sitcom, and I applied all of these funny things that I learned [but] I could not remember a single line because I was trying to be funny. What I learned was I needed to put the work into the foundation [of the character] before I go into a room, and then apply these things on top of that. Sprinkle in whatever can work. And then a week later, the audition for The Good Place came and I got that role. So without having made that mistake in that multicam audition, I don't think I would have gotten The Good Place.

WARREN: I don't really know what I learned from it, but I flew to Atlanta to test for a Tyler Perry TV show. I'm in a screening room and I am looking around to see who's there — casting director, the person running the camera, and then there was this shadow lurking in the back. Come to find out, it's Tyler Perry dressed as Madea, sitting in the back of the audition in the screening room. [Laughs] I just see the wig. I love Madea, and I'm fully having a moment — I cannot connect with this text because I am doing this in front of Madea. I think he was dressed as Madea because they were shooting a film and he had just popped in to see the test. I did not get the job, but it is a moment I will cherish forever.

Breaking Big 2022
Adrienne Warren
| Credit: David Milan for EW

What is the best career advice you've ever received?

ASHFORD: My best career advice — that wasn't actually given to me but I give it to other people — is: Don't look side to side, look ahead. Never compare yourself to anybody else, because this is your own journey.

WARREN: I was told a long time ago to always remain a student in life. I'm constantly learning new things, and I constantly don't know what I'm doing. It's fantastic because it just allows me to relax and be able to show up and learn and do my best every day.

JACINTO: In a world of social media and critics and whatnot, or in this industry in general, just do your thing and try not to listen to what everybody else has to say. And protect your talent. It is really important to focus on what it is that you care about the most—which for me right now is acting.

BARTLETT: Know what it is that you're bringing to a role that is specifically you. What is your connection to the work that makes it sing because you're doing it? And make sure that you're loving your life as much as you possibly can. Work is one piece of that, but if that means stepping away for six months or a year…[when I've done that] I come back with this fresh perspective of having life experience, of seeing other things.

A version of this story appears in the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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