How did James Monroe Iglehart follow his stellar three-year run in the Disney production “Aladdin” as the Genie, where he landed both a Tony and Drama Desk Award for best featured actor?
By taking over for Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in “Hamilton,” where he’s starred since April 2017.
“It’s actually been wonderful,” Iglehart says. “I love ‘Aladdin’ and what it did for me, but I wanted to change course a little bit and change the way I looked in the field. And going with ‘Hamilton’ has done that and it’s just been a fun show to do, but also a nice jolt to the career as well.”
Ironically, Robin Williams, who voiced the Genie in Disney’s 1992 “Aladdin” film, also famously started seeking our more dramatic roles in movies like “One Hour Photo” and on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
“He’s definitely one of my comic heroes,” he says. “All of my comic heroes seem to go, “OK, now I can do that. Let me show you I can something else and I’ll go back to my roots.”
The 44-year-old actor, who was raised in Hayward, California, says that while his heart will always be with comedy, he found that he wasn’t getting seen for many non-comedic roles.
“Now with ‘Hamilton’ I’m doing what I wanted to do — to be able to do both, both dramatic as well as comic,” he says. “Comedies are where my heart is, that’s where I love to be. But I also want to be seen as something different than the Genie. And now people know I can do both, which is great.”
He’s getting to show off his dramatic chops on the Netflix streaming series “Maniac,” where he plays an orderly named Carl opposite Emma Stone and Jonah Hill.
amNewYork spoke with Iglehart.
Tell me about James Monroe Iglehart, the dramatic actor.
It’s been fun to kind of show there’s more to me than just the slapstick and just the punchline. Being able to jump into something a little bit more meaty with “Maniac.” My role wasn’t humongous, but it was big enough for me to flex my muscles. Showing that I could hang on screen with people like Jonah Hill, as well as Justin Theroux, and Emma Stone. So it was pretty fun.
Did it come naturally?
[Director] Cary [Joji Fukunaga] set the bar for how the energy would be. So it felt really natural just to do it. Once I read the script and then once I go on set and saw how folks were going, I was like, “OK. This is what we have to be.” And it felt really good just to do that.
Coming back to "Hamilton," you took over for the great Daveed Diggs. What was your mindset going into that role? How have you made those roles yours?
Well, the great thing about it is that Daveed Diggs and I are good friends. So we talked a lot before I took the role. He’s actually one of the reasons that I took the role. It was his advice stepping in. And I said, “Look, I can’t do it the way you do.” And he said, “That’s exactly what I want you to do. I want you to do it your way." And so he knows my style. And the director Tommy Kail knows my style. And they’re like, “Look, bring you to the role.” I’m a baritone, so I get to bring a little bit more of base to the voice of Lafayette and definitely to Jefferson. And I’m a bigger stature of a person as far as physically so I was able to use that intimidation with Hamilton, which is a lot of fun. What’s great about this piece is the words and the piece speaks for itself. So I don’t have to do anything with that. But just bring a little bit of a swagger and attitude to those two characters.
Do you have a favorite song?
Actually, yeah. There’s the song “Washington on Your Side.” I just love singing with [Hercules] Mulligan, I love singing with [Aaron] Burr. We have a great time. Like if I’m every feeling bad or feeling crazy that day I just let my emotions out on those two and I feel better at the end of the night.
You’re a big fan of professional wrestling. Would you ever do anything with the wrestling world?
Oh, God, yes! We’ve done a few things. A friend of mine named Donald Webber, we did “Carpool Karaoke” with the WWE. We know a lot of the guys who wrestle and gals who wrestle, and we would love to do something with them. I wanted to do wrestling when I was 17. My father talked me out of it, only to go to college. I’m glad he did, only because I’m where I’m supposed to be. But my heart is always in the squared circle with it. That’s what I love to watch. … I know Christopher Daniels, and Jay Lethal and The Young Bucks and stuff. It’s really, really cool to watch your friends do what they do and it’s so special, but also wish you could, but also know you’re right where you’re supposed to be.
Wrestling is a hard life.
Yes, which is funny because then they come and see my show and they go, “How do you do these eight shows a week?” And I go, “Me? I saw you go through a table.” And they’re like, “Yeah, but we don’t dance eight shows a week.”
You should do a wrestling-themed Broadway show.
Actually, there’s been a wrestling-themed Broadway show before called [“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,]” which is about professional wrestling; it’s a play. It’s really, really good. You should check it out. Hopefully we will be able to do some kind mix of Broadway on professional wrestling someday soon.
Where do you like to hang out in NYC?
I like Bryant Park. If I’m not at home, I’m usually at Midtown Comics.
Do you get stopped on the street a lot?
You know what, I will say at least maybe once a day I’m stopped, which, for a Broadway person, that’s amazing. Sometimes it’s more. But most of the time once or twice a day someone will go, “Hey, the Genie!” Now I get “Kimmy Schmidt” and “Maniac.” “Maniac” definitely within the last couple of weeks. … Or, I’ve had people go, “hey, you look like the dude from ‘Maniac.’ ” And I’ll either have to go, “Yeah. It’s me.” Or lie and go, “Nah. Nah. Nah. The dude just looks like me.”
What other projects do you have lined up?
Right now I’m just really excited about what’s happening with “Maniac.” I’m very excited about “Tangled,” the animated series, which is on its second season right now on the Disney Channel. … I’m working on an album right now and hopefully that will be out next year.
Are they original songs?
I can reveal comfortably that most of the songs are original. Yeah.
Tell me about you as a writer.
I’ve been writing poetry and rhymes and raps since I was 10 years old. And I’ve been writing songs since I was like 11, maybe 12. I always wanted to do something with it. I’m a part of an improvisational group called Freestyle Love Supreme, with the guys who created “Hamilton.” So just finally found the time and some guys to work with that I could sit down and actually write some songs with and once we started writing songs we were like, “Yo, we should put this out.” So that’s what’s been happening. I really enjoy writing — it’s a fun way to just express myself. I’m in my 40s now, so I can talk about being married for 16 years. Most pop songs people are talking about trying to get a woman. I got one! It’s funny to say, “Yo, look I’m glad you’re searching. But I got one. Let me talk about that for a little bit.”
Talk to me about the “Tangled” series.
“Tangled” is one of my favorite things to do. I’m a big Disney nerd. So to be actually in a Disney cartoon … This season Zachary Levi and I actually got to sing a duet of one of Alan Menken’s scenes, it’s in an episode that’s coming out very soon. … When I was a kid I used to watch the Disney Afternoon, you know, the “Gummi Bears,” and the “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers,” “DuckTales” and “Darkwing Duck,” my favorite. … To be a part of that legacy of being a part of those Disney cartoons that are on television is awesome. I get recognized by kids for that because someone tells them who I am and they hear me speak and they go, “Oh, my God. You’re Lance Strongbow!”