Experiencing new and exciting things is not only the central theme to Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it’s something Tituss Burgess says he’s going through right now. Burgess and his eccentric creation—struggling singer/actor Titus Andromedon—are the breakout stars of the comedy, which follows Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) as she restarts her life in New York City after being trapped in a doomsday cult for 15 years. Although Burgess’ spotlight didn’t come from extreme circumstances, he is nonetheless navigating through uncharted waters.
Burgess, who got his start on Broadway (Jersey Boys, Good Vibrations), met Kimmy Schmidt creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock on the set of 30 Rock, where he guest-starred as Tracy Jordon’s wife’s flamboyant sidekick D’Fwan. Meeting Fey and listening to direction on set was an early challenge. “It was hard not to fan-out,” he says. “I heard her but I didn’t hear her… I’m sure she said some good information; I couldn’t tell you.”
But Burgess left an impression, and when it came to creating Kimmy’s roommate, Titus Andromedon, Fey and Carlock had their archetype. “It was written with me in mind,” Burgess says, adding that in his portrayal of the diva crooner he is able to exercise creative freedom in a collaborative atmosphere. “The characterization is all me. I can say, ‘I’m having difficulty with (something in the script),’ and they are quick to repair it.” And although Burgess and his TV alter-ego share a similar theater background, the two don’t necessarily communicate the same emotionally. “They had to request several times for me to be more extreme in my choices,” he says. It took a boost from the wardrobe department to bring out the boisterous, self-obsessed New Yorker that we’ve seen on the show. “Once I saw the costumes, I knew who he was and what he was about.”
Though Burgess has enjoyed success on the stage, the newfound recognition on TV has been welcome. “It is a new version of my life that I am working to integrate because I’ve not had these type of opportunities before,” he says. “I have always thought to do my best work. It is comforting that I have been on the proper trajectory this whole time.” Indeed. The Broadway veteran already has received a Critics Choice Television Award nomination for best supporting actor in a comedy series and has some buzz going into this week’s Emmy nominations voting period.
Despite his own success, Burgess acknowledges that the reception of the series could have gone either way. “I thought to myself, either it’s going to live in a world where no one gets it or it’s going to live in a world where everyone accepts it right away and we have lots of fun,” he says. Thankfully for him and for the show’s creators, the latter was true. Kimmy Schmidt was picked up by Netflix for two seasons when NBC dropped the series last year. In addition to the start of production on season two, which Burgess and his Kimmy Schmidt cohorts will commence on August 18, he also is dabbling with his Broadway roots. “I’m writing a musical with Rick Elice (Jersey Boys),” he says, although mum about the finer details of the project.
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