EXCLUSIVE: Brian d’Arcy James Comes Full Circle as King George III in ‘Hamilton’

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“The crown is quite heavy. The cape is quite heavy. I
do remember distinctly the first time I went out, not expecting how heavy those
two things would be,” Brian d’Arcy James recalls to ET about wearing King
George III’s lush costume in the Off-Broadway production of Hamilton. It’s an outfit he will soon
don again when he returns to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit biopic musical about
Alexander Hamiltonon Friday, April
14. “I don’t want to say [it will] wreak havoc on you, but if you’re not
prepared, it can give you an extra sense of anxiety that you didn’t have
before.” 

While the crown has weighed down some, it’s not an issue for Spotlight
actor, who is reprising a role he originated, even though he’s playing it for
the first time on the Broadway stage. “It’s a full-circle moment for
me,” James exclaims over the phone as he eagerly awaits starting rehearsals
for Hamilton just three
days before he officially takes his first bow. “Every day it gets
closer to [my opening night], the more I realize this is actually
happening.”

The Broadway veteran (Something
Rotten!
, Shrek, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and three-time Tony Award
nominee who can also be seen on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why played the royal when the musical first opened at
the Public Theater in 2015. But even before the actor stepped on stage to
perform in front of celebrities and politicians like Bill, Hillary and Chelsea
Clinton, he had already negotiated his exit at the six-week mark — whether
the show was a success or not — to play Nick Bottom opposite Christian Borle’s
William Shakespeare in Something Rotten!

MORE: Taran Killam Talks ‘Hamilton’ and Helping Wife Cobie Smulders Make Her Broadway Debut

When it was announced later that year that Hamilton was transferring to the
Richard Rodgers Theatre — just down the street from where James was singing
about omelets in the satirical Shakespearean musical — Jonathan Groff had
taken over the role. Looking back at his decision now that Hamilton is
an international phenomenon, James says he wouldn’t rewrite history. “I
consider myself very lucky. I’m getting to do it now,” he explains. “I
always say that I feel very grateful that I got to have my cake and eat it too,
[and to] Lin, Oskar Eustis and Jeffrey Seller for allowing me to be in the
show for half the amount of time and then getting to go star in a really funny,
excellent show that I wanted to do as well.” 

The first time James saw Hamilton on
Broadway was only last week, as a refresher before he returns to the production.
“I had such a distinct awareness of how every person in that
theater was kind of squeezed through the eye of the needle to be there,”
he says. “Their sense of excitement and almost ownership of this because it’s such
a phenomenon — there’s a different, palpable sense of what people are feeling
even before the show starts.”

It was quite a different energy from when James was part of the
show two years prior. “People were starting to get a sense of what it
was,” he says. “Now, it’s a deep groove that has been cut — [in] the cultural
psyche, if you will. That was really something to experience.” Changes were
apparent onstage, too: “[It was] interesting to see how all these
characters can flourish, be successful and potent with new brilliant actors in
them. That’s a testament to the writing, of course.” 

For the role of King George III, in particular, Andrew
Rannells
, Rory O’Malley and Taran Killam have all worn the crown, making James
the fourth notable replacement on Broadway. His predecessor, Killam, recently welcomed
the actor backstage, where he was shown the accoutrements that have amassed in
the king’s dressing room since the show opened in 2015. “He wanted to let me
know what was Rory’s, what was Groff’s and what was his,” James explains. “That’s
good information to have so I can add to it.” 

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