Tituss Burgess Interview: ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’
Tituss Burgess had a bad feeling when Tina Fey called him during “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s” fourth season, but it turned out to be a case of bad news/good news. “We found out in the middle of Season 4 that it would be the last season. Tina Fey called me and I could tell by the tone in her voice, I was like, ‘Oh, no,'” Burgess recalls to Gold Derby (watch the exclusive video above). “But she also said in the same breath, ‘There’s also a good chance we might be making a movie.’ So it was both a time of sadness and mourning a little bit, but also excitement because it felt like another extension, a continuation, if you will.”
But it wasn’t just a regular movie to wrap up Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) & Co.’s adventures. An interactive special, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend” picks up three days before Kimmy’s wedding to Prince Frederick (Daniel Radcliffe), when she discovers that Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) had kidnapped a group of girls in 2003 who are still locked in a bunker. As Titus (Burgess) tags along to help her find them instead of reporting to the set of his film “Explosion Man,” viewers get to make choices for them to always hilarious and sometimes deadly effect.
And it would not be “Kimmy Schmidt” if Titus did not get to sing. The artist who brought us “Peeno Noir,” “Boobs in California” and the ultimate “Lemonade” spoof this time gets to belt out Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” in a West Virginia bar (we highly recommend you choose to watch the whole song).
“In fact, I had never heard ‘Free Bird’ before I performed it that day. I had never heard that song before,” Burgess confessed. “Jeff Richmond [the show’s composer, executive producer and Fey’s husband], my musical buddy, just kind of let it go on and on and on. They wanted me to be more and more ridiculous. We did one version where it was straight ahead and another version where he takes several liberties and begins to ad-lib. I don’t know if anyone catches that. Literally one of the ad-libs is like, ‘It’s a guitar!’ It was so ridiculous. … They give me such ridiculous things to do and such funny things to do. Being a part of that whole lot and that whole crew is an embarrassment of riches.”
Titus has always been and always will be ridiculous, but Burgess, who’s received four Emmy nominations for his breakthrough role (the special will compete in the limited series/TV movie categories), loves the evolution of the character and the depth the writers afforded him over the four seasons and a movie. At first blush, Titus appears vain and narcissistic, but he quickly proved to be a loyal friend to Kimmy and eventually a selfless boyfriend and husband to Mikey (Mike Carlsen).
“Titus Andromedon came out very, very late. When people are forced to live inauthentically because of certain social constructs, it produces behavioral pattern and gives way to choices that perhaps they wouldn’t make had they had the opportunity to truly be who they are at their core. So, for me, it informed how we met Titus in Season 1 and it explained to me why he was the way he was,” Burgess explained. “That sort of selfish edge that people sort of associate with that character is a result of having to hold on to everything he’s got for dear life. [When he started dating Mikey] suddenly he had an involuntary response to putting someone else before him. And I think that started to usher Titus’ storyline and his journey and began to lure him into who we now know him to be at the end of the series, which is a man who is capable of loving, a man who is capable of being unselfish, a man who is capable of empathy, a man who is capable of putting others first. So I love that arc for him.”