This story about Renée Elise Goldsberry first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Renée Elise Goldsberry’s character, Wickie, has one hell of an entrance in the first episode of the Peacock series “Girls5eva.” Her bandmates in the ’90s girl group of the same name are backstage at Jimmy Fallon’s show, where their long-defunct career has gotten an unexpected boost from a young rapper who sampled their biggest hit and wants them to perform live behind him on the telecast. Dawn (Sara Bareilles), Summer (Busy Philipps) and Gloria (Paula Pell) are waiting, but mega-diva Wickie is nowhere in sight — until she suddenly sweeps down the hallway, a bright red scarf improbably stretched out behind her as if she’s walking into an invisible wind machine.
“It was COVID, and they were not allowing anyone to blow air!” Goldsberry said of filming that scene. “I couldn’t even talk them into a hairdryer. So we spent a lot of time trying to figure out, if someone held the red scarf and I walked really, really fast, could we make it look like there was wind blowing? We figured out how to do it in a way that was safe, and I’m so in love with that moment.”
Goldsberry never quite explained how they pulled it off, but since when do divas reveal their secrets? Besides, Wickie owes a lot to smoke and mirrors, too — before the episode is over, we learn that while she’s putting up a good social-media front as an international jet-setting star and influencer, she’s actually as broke and desperate as her former bandmates.
Created by Meredith Scardino with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, “Girls5eva” is a tribute to curious pop stardom and the people who chase it. And Goldsberry, who has been nominated for two Daytime Emmys and won a Tony Award for her performance as Angelica Schuyler in the original Broadway production of “Hamilton,” said she understands that chase quite well.
“Every moment of my life, I can relate to the part of Wickie that craves stardom — or more specifically, craves the fulfillment of her dream,” she said. “Her attitude and the way that she handled it the first time blew it for her. She thought she could walk over people to reach some level of stardom, and she is in the process of learning a very hard lesson.
“But in spite of all the bravado, she’s still an underdog, and it’s really fun to have somebody that has the audacity to want so much after having failed so greatly.”
“Girls5eva” premiered about a year after the filmed version of “Hamilton” was finally released — and it made Goldsberry, who originated the role of Angelica Schuyler in that musical and won a Tony for it, the latest of a string of “Hamilton” alums who’ve had a very good past year: Leslie Odom Jr. was nominated for two Oscars for “One Night in Miami,” Daveed Diggs had “The Good Lord Bird” and “Snowpiercer” and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda saw his “In the Heights” hit the big screen as well.
“‘Hamilton’ gave all of us a really unique platform, and it’s exciting to see what all of these giants are doing with it and what they’ll continue to do with it,” she said. “And ‘Hamilton’ continues to redefine what it means to be a theater baby. You know, when I was coming up, sometimes it felt like it was bad to say you like musical theater or you’re an actor from the theater, as though you were stuck in that little black box. And I think ‘Hamilton,’ because it really exploded so many different bubbles, allowed these talented people to stretch their wings in writing television shows and acting in movies and creating all kinds of different characters.
“You know what they say — if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere? It’s not only about New York, i’s true about the theater. If you can make it in a theater, that really is viable and special anywhere. And I love that so many of us from ‘Hamilton’ are proving it. I believe that one of my greatest gifts will be to just get old watching my ‘Hamilton’ family continue to astound the world.”
“Girls5eva” isn’t exactly musical theater, but it does make use of original songs that somehow manage to be completely ridiculous and quite catchy at the same time. “It was like Christmas every day they would email me another song,” she said. “And it was really so fun to figure out how not to laugh while singing them. They were able to write songs that are great, earworms, but you can also understand why they didn’t make it. That’s a thin line to walk on, and they danced on that line.”
But that doesn’t mean it was always easy for Goldsberry and her castmates to forget about the perils of shooting during a pandemic. “The only time we could take our masks off was between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’” she said. “It’s hard to sing with a mask on, it’s hard to dance with a mask on, it’s hard to act and be funny with the mask on. We were concerned that it would threaten our ability to bond with each other, because we weren’t really allowed to sit near each other and we couldn’t go out to eat. But as frustrating as some of those protocols were, we were aware that we had to do everything we could to come together and make the show.”
She laughed. “The only thing that I would add is how frustrating it is to have a mask on when you’re wearing red lipstick. It’s hilarious. I’m now in the habit of keeping my lips in as much as possible under a mask even when I’m not wearing lipstick.”
Read more from the Comedy & Drama Series issue here.