Christopher Jackson interview: ‘Hamilton!’
Christopher Jackson last played George Washington in the Broadway production of “Hamilton” in November 2016. “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,” he told Entertainment Weekly days before his exit.
Four years later, Jackson’s wish was fulfilled. Last summer, Disney released a filmed version of “Hamilton” to its Disney+ streaming platform, allowing millions of viewers — including Jackson himself — the opportunity to see something only a select few were previously able to enjoy: the original Broadway cast performing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-setting and Tony-winning musical on stage.
For Jackson, a Tony nominee for his performance, the distance between his last performance of “Hamilton” and the movie allowed him to gain some unexpected perspective.
“Washington’s life was filled with a lot of sadness and a lot of urgency and a lot of desperation, and as was I,” Jackson tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview this week. “Unfortunately, I lost my father [during] the second week of previews. We had a very difficult relationship — you could probably call it that. Having to leave the show to go home and bury him and come back gave me a really interesting perspective on the life of the man I was portraying. Most of his life was defined by loss. It drew me in to what the process of lifelong grief could be — what it was prior to the event, during and after — and how it affects everything you do from that moment on.”
Jackson and Miranda have been friends for years — and he was able to see the “Hamilton” phenomenon grow up close. Throughout the show’s Broadway run, which culminated with 11 Tony Awards at the 2016 ceremony, Jackson was afforded the chance to meet countless stars, athletes, and even political leaders like former President Barack Obama.
“We have ho-hum days, but everything in that environment is so heightened. You go on a lifelong journey over the course of two and a half hours. Then you have the stage that turns into a green room and you’re meeting your personal heroes and you’re meeting people who you have admired your entire life,” Jackson says. “Everyone is so wide open and the conversations you have would seem so unlikely and yet so normal. It was a daily thing and it just profoundly reshaped my imagination and my understanding of how powerful theater is.”
To create the filmed version of “Hamilton,” which is eligible for nominations at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards this year, director Thomas Kail combined two June 2016 performances with footage specially shot for the movie. Asked if the knowledge that the live shows would be forever captured affected his work, however, Jackson says no.
“Tommy’s approach the entire time was, ‘I know the show, I know where to put the cameras, I know what I’m looking for. We don’t need to change your marks, we don’t need to do anything.’ Because he appreciated how tricky it was to pull off every day,” he says. “The emphasis was about maintaining the performance. Which is engaging and putting yourself in a position to succeed.”
“Because we were able to focus just on that, it didn’t really affect the performance,” he adds. “As Lin likes to say, we were the best-rehearsed film cast in the history of moviemaking.”
“Hamilton” is streaming now on Disney+; Jackson can also be seen as a series regular on the CBS drama “Bull.” Watch the interview above for his thoughts on how “Hamilton” speaks to the political moment and what the future might hold for Broadway after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.