This story originally appeared in the Comedy/Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine. #selfieinterview is produced in partnership with Verge.
“I find it both delightful and a little scary that suddenly this massive thing has happened for me,” says actor Tituss Burgess of his role in the Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” in which he plays a struggling actor who’s the best friend to Ellie Kemper‘s title character.
The Georgia born actor has mostly appeared in theater until now, but says his role in the Tina Fey-created series has caused people to stop him on the street and sing to him. “It’s one big meme, it’s so quotable,” he says of the show. “Who else can say they get to go to work and hang out with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and talk about comedy?”
TIM APPELO: You are a Critics’ Choice Award nominated actor named Tituss Burgess, and your character is named Titus (with one “s”) Andronicus. What’s the difference between them, and who’s funnier, Tituss or Titus?”
TITUSS BURGESS: My friends call me “Titussssssss.” Such a bad joke! There’s a sort of desperation that Titus Andronicus has that motivates every move he makes. But we both love musical theater, singing and dancing. I think we’re both funny. I think Titus is funnier. He just has a little more bite to it.
What does Ellie, who was raised underground and knows nothing of modern times, have to do with Titus the song and dance man?
Ellie and Titus share similar needs. She was trapped in a literal bunker and Titus has been [trapped] in an inability-to-achieve-massive-success-in-his-career bunker. She nudges him out of that jaded, this is never gonna happen way of thinking. And he invites her more and more into the world as it has become 15 years later. They don’t even realize how much they need each other until they need each other..
What are Titus’s professional roles as an actor?
There are none. Well, he was in some random DVD that wound up on the shelves, and he works as Metal Hero Friend–people keep confusing him with Iron Man. And he attempted to mount his own version of “The Lion King.”
But the only guy in the audience was from Disney.
Giving him a cease and desist order. To date, Titus’s greatest achievement is being himself.
Will Titus’s video “Pinot Noir” do for pinot what “Sideways” did for merlot?
I should talk to some wine people about the spike in sales. Let’s do this! No, out of all the things we filmed, I didn’t anticipate that that would be such a source of excitement for audiences. But it’s lovely. When I’m home in New York, I get sung at. I never thought life would be a musical, but it is, because people are singing this song at the top of their lungs [to me].
What’s the most fun bit on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?” You’ve gone from a network to Netflix. What’s the difference? If you win an Emmy, will it be a win for unemployed actors everywhere?
The whole thing. It’s one big meme, it’s so quotable. Who else can say they get to work and hang out with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and talk about comedy. They’re both clever and accessible.
I’m not sure there’s going to be any different, because when we got the word we were going to Netflix, we had already wrapped the show. So there was no feeling of a shift in creative freedom or flow. Audiences are responding with such fervor. We might go a little further into New York or these backstories. But I don’t think Ellie is going to start swearing. We might get to add five minutes to the show.
I’m not being coy or humble, but that sounds crazy. I’ve never won anything–oh, except a Webby Award recently. I’ve been used to doing what I know how to do best with relatively good success that I find it both delightful and a little bit scary that suddenly this massive thing has happened for me that has caused me to be famous. As it relates to awards, the excitement for me has been people talking about it to me. And if it does not happen, it will not negate the fact that the possibility was a possibility. That is my answer!
What’s the most fun bit on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?”
You’ve gone from a network to Netflix. What’s the difference?
If you win an Emmy, will it be a win for unemployed actors everywhere?