Renée Elise Goldsberry remembers everything. With three decades of acting credits under her belt, the Hamilton star can still recall each of her roles, starting with the very first part she landed—an ensemble cast member at age eight in the Houston International Theater School’s production of Guys and Dolls. From the moment she stepped out on stage, she was addicted.
Goldsberry’s breakout role as Angelica Schuyler in the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton came later in life, earning her a Grammy and a Tony. She spent the better part of her twenties and thirties jumping between the theater and small, sometimes recurring roles on TV, including a six-year stint on One Life to Live. But it was playing Angelica, a fan favorite whose song “Satisfied” remains one of the musical’s most popular on streaming services, that made her a star.
This year, Goldsberry is set to release her first original album in fifteen years, and she’s returned to TV, where she’s wowing fans in the Tina Fey–produced Peacock series, Girls5eva. Goldsberry plays Wickie—a mega-talented diva whose defunct nineties girl group is staging its big comeback. She’s also reportedly joining the Marvel family as part of the highly anticipated, highly secretive She-Hulk series. Goldsberry spoke with Texas Monthly about her latest projects, her Houston roots, and her first love: theater.
On her go-to audition song
I’m going to tell you my secret. I used to sing this Billie Holiday song called “Left Alone” that nobody knows unless you’re a super Billie Holiday fan. I didn’t even know it, I just had it in a book a music teacher gave me. That was my trick. If you did a song that everybody knew, they would have heard it one hundred times and maybe somebody sang it better than you right before you walked in the door. I sang a song that no one really knew, but it’s a beautiful song and it’s really moody and I could really act through it.
On her dream Broadway role
There are so many iconic classic roles that I’d love to play. But when I dream, what I’m most excited about is new playwrights. What I’m most excited about is being a part of the hardest thing to do, and that is creating something that’s totally new. I just find the challenge of that really exciting.
On her Houston roots
I absolutely got my theater start in Houston. I knew that I loved singing before I got to Houston, but going to Houston International Theater School is where I discovered performing. I remember every single bit of it. My first show was Guys and Dolls, and I was excited for every entrance I had.
My favorite thing about being in Houston is the people. I have cousins and aunties there, but I also have a very large extended family of what we would call “play aunts” and “play uncles” that raised me [and whom] I see every time I go back.
On the downsides of Hamilton’s popularity
I love performing “Satisfied” from Hamilton, but it does stress me out at this point. The song is so loved by so many people, I’m quite sure that the audiences know that rap better than I do and if I mess up, they’ll know it.
On what drew her to Girls5eva
The idea of an entire show around the pitfalls and the second chances of a girl group was just so brilliant to me. I loved the fact that this girl group was very successful and lost everything and now they’re trying again in their middle-aged years. I love the opportunity to find the differences between the perspective of a woman in her twenties and the perspective of a woman in her forties and really kind of analyze through humor what works and what doesn’t.
On finding fame later in life
I’m putting out an album now at this age for myself, and I’m doing it for a group of people that are already fans who are really interested in what I have to say. I think when I was in my twenties, I would’ve probably been very susceptible to putting out lots of different kinds of music, to do anything that might’ve made it big. Now I’m much more particular. I have responsibilities as the mother of young children and to the young people following my career, and that makes me more discerning. But there are advantages to being that young girl. You have this instinct to dream big that you take for granted when you get older.
On how she relates to her fierce and glamorous Girls5eva character Wickie
I know how it feels to worry that I’ve wasted or will waste an opportunity. I have parents that were extremely supportive, and I had a certain measure of talent and I didn’t want to waste it. There was a tremendous amount of pain in my late twenties about the idea that perhaps I would. So when I look at Wickie, who actually had all of this success and who totally blew it, I can relate to that pain. I understand the pain that she has, I just go about my journey differently than she does. I’m much more aware of my need for allies than she is. I think she believes that she has to walk over people to get attention. And I’ve always known that I need all the help I can get.
On how Girls5eva inspired her upcoming album
Right around the time we started shooting Girls5eva back in October, I started recording original music for the album. It’s done. I’m mixing it now and I’m really excited about it. Another thing that was really attractive to me about Girls5eva is I thought it was an interesting parallel with my own life being a middle-aged woman that wanted to write original pop music. Is there a place for that in the world? And playing Wickie gave me a little bit more encouragement in feeling like absolutely there’s a place for it. She doesn’t hesitate about what she wants and it was really a gift to me to be able to play her so that I remember I shouldn’t hesitate either.
On her favorite roles
I really draw on every part of my experience to play any role. They’re so different. Even if you just look at Angelica Schuyler, and Mimi from Rent, they’re so different. But there’s something extremely hopeful in both a woman who was a foremother of our country with all kinds of economic opportunity, but absolutely no political opportunity whatsoever. And then Mimi, this young teenage girl dying of AIDS. Both of them have so much optimism about the way they live each day of their life that I really enjoyed drawing on that part of myself that really believes in the magic of the day and the ability to lift up and love people and how valuable that is. So I feel very close to both of them, even though they’re so extremely different.
On (probably!) joining the Marvel family
I’m only a crazy rabid Marvel fan. I spent my Memorial Day weekend finishing up Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I think one of the joys of being a part of Hamilton is the beautiful kinetic energy of being part of something so much bigger. So when I look at all the people that are involved in anything Marvel, I just know how good that must feel. I can’t specifically talk about being a part of the Marvel Universe, but if I were to be a part of it, I would be ecstatic.