2020 wasn't the best of years — how has 2020 been for you so far?
I would say it has definitely been a year of learning. I'm usually pretty good at accepting what I can't control, but this year has been beyond my ability to do that. I've been trying my best to make room for joy even though everything feels so uncertain.
You were hit by the coronavirus after attending a wedding in South Africa. It must have been terrifying, feeling powerless and at the mercy of a virus we don't fully have under control yet. How did it feel at that moment?
It was terrifying. I think it's human nature to not be able to recognize a threat until it's directly in front of us. I think everyone assumes they'll be asymptomatic or walk away from it feeling like they had a mild cold. That's definitely how I felt until I got sick. It's scary to feel so weak and fatigued. Walking across the house felt like an impossible task and I could never completely catch my breath. It's also so damaging psychologically to have a virus and everyone in the world is casually talking about how deadly it is.
You stayed in South Africa to recover. How was recovering in a scenic place like South Africa?
Complex. In the first 5 weeks of lockdown in South Africa, no one was allowed to leave their homes unless going to the grocery store or pharmacy. We couldn't even go on walks. It was difficult to sit with my anxiety during that time. I felt very far away from my family. After those five weeks we drove to the coast to be with my boyfriend's family and that was a game changer. We basically drove across the entire country in 15 hours. I was blown away by the beauty of South Africa. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. It's been so eye opening to be in a foreign country when American civil liberties are under attack. I'm constantly reminded that it's a global issue and America isn't the only place affected. It's easy to have a narrow perspective of world news being raised American in America.
In order to connect with your family and friends in the US, has Zoom become a part of your daily routine now?
My mother still can't figure out how to click on a Zoom link. Bless her. She can delivery a baby, but can't join your zoom party. My family and I did a Zoom trivia night and my mom needed to be beamed in via my sister's IPad. We do a lot of FaceTime. It's so necessary... I can easily forget how badly I need to connect with my friends and family, but as soon as we FaceTime I feel infinitely better. I would describe myself as a introvert but I've definitely learned that I need my people.
Did you find a certain comfort in the 'slowing down' of things, quarantining and recovering, or did you wish we could have fast-forwarded through it all?
Yes and no. I think it's so good for humanity to sit and take a good hard look at the state of the world. It's an opportunity to examine where we are and what we actually want to change. I think we're realizing that spending time with loved ones is what ultimately matters. At the same time my heart breaks for people struggling with the isolation. It's especially hard for people with depression and anxiety.
I miss live theater. I think there's so much healing that can happen when you sit in a theater with a bunch of people and witness the same artistic experience together. Theater is like church for me, so I would like to fast forward to a world where that's possible again.
And while the coronavirus keeps spreading, there's so many other things going on in the world as well. Do you ever wake up and feel like skipping the news for a day?
Of course. It's rare to feel good when reading the news. I think it's important to stay informed though, especially with one of the most important elections in our history looming. We can't turn a blind eye to racial injustices that are happening every day. It can be overwhelming but it's kind of our obligation and part of our societal contract to understand what's happening to the people around us. We need to inform ourselves so we can take the necessary actions to create a world that benefits everyone; however, balance is key. If I spent all day reading the news I would feel powerless with anxiety. It's important to stay informed and also learn about how you can create positive change.
What good thing in the world did come out of this period you think?
I think the self examination period has been wonderful. I think people are seeking the truth now more than ever. I think we are addressing white supremacy, and a lot of people are listening now when they weren't before. I'm also excited to see the art that comes out of this. It's given people an opportunity to use their creativity in ways they haven't before. More people are going out into nature and that can only add so much positivity to their lives.
This period must have given you a lot of time to reflect on things as well. Is there something you've learned about yourself or life in general during this period?
It's definitely deepened my understanding that nothing is guaranteed. I've seen people truly affected by this pandemic. It's been hard to see people in the states protesting their right to a haircut when so many people around the world are living hand to mouth and losing loved ones. Empathy is so important now more than ever. But yeah, it's shifted my perspective of what truly matters and I intend to go forward with more mindfulness.
You've been in the industry for some time now. What is the one thing that is completely what you had expected and absolutely love?
I think seeing the way art can impact people. It always felt self-serving to pursue my passion but seeing how art can change lives has been the most amazing privilege. It's one of the greatest gifts humanity has to offer.
And what aspect is the harsh reality of the business that people are quick to underestimate?
The amount of times you're out of work and have no idea when your next paycheck will come. It can be really stressful betting on yourself. The current circumstance definitely don't help that anxiety, but I always joke that actors have a degree in uncertainty.
From doing tv, theatre and film, how do you approach each role? And is it different?
It usually depends on the project and the creators behind each project. A lot of it is intuition based for me. I usually use the writing on the page to dictate the rhythm of a certain character and tap into their frequency. It helps to collaborate with a director to make sure everyone is on the same page. Theater is nice because you have so much time to deepen the scene work, whereas tv/film moves so quickly it's best to go off impulse.
In The Politician, you play McAfee Westbrook, a stern character who is pretty hardcore at times. How are you like and unlike McAfee?
I think I care too much about other people's feelings. I love how blunt she is but I don't think I have the guts to be that way in real life. I'm generally too scared to make other people uncomfortable.
The Politician is praised for getting LGBTQ+ representation right, in a way few other shows have. How does it feel being part of a show that is setting a new standard for queerness on tv or perhaps entertainment in general?
It's so important to me. I think the more we see it represented in our art the more we can see it in life. It's important to me that people can see themselves represented on screen and gain confidence from that.
I'm sure there's a list of characters you'd love to play or projects you'd love to be a part of. What challenging roles or projects would you really love to take on in the future?
A dream would be to do a biopic of female musician I admire. I'm so intrigued by Joni Mitchell and the way she lived her life. Something like that would be incredible to work on.
How have you changed over the years as an artist? And what do you think has contributed to that?
I think my confidence has really grown. I don't care about other people's opinions as much, so I feel way more confident throwing myself into something artistically without fear. Trusting myself to do my best and honor the project/character.
What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?
Probably being a part of Dear Evan Hansen. Getting to originate that role and help create a show that changed so many lives. Seeing it through from the beginning was such an incredible and fulfilling experience.
Is there a person in the industry you've always admired? And for what reason?
I've always admired the people who have had the most fun. The people who make it fun for everyone around them. It's important to take our work seriously, but it's also important to remember that it's supposed to be fun. Jennifer Laura Thompson played my mother is Dear Evan Hansen and she just brought laughter with her everywhere. That's something I always try to do- figure out how to make people laugh.
What is the best advice someone has given you that has always stuck with you?
Be kind, because you never know what someone else is going through.