Renée Elise Goldsberry in "Girls5Eva"
Photo: Pari Dukovic
Renée Elise Goldsberry Talks Channeling Destiny's Child On “Girls5Eva,” Surprise Of Winning GRAMMY For "Hamilton" & More
What started out as eavesdropping on a 15-minute chit-chat between the members of Destiny’s Child at a television show soundcheck in the early 2000s quickly morphed into Renée Elise Goldsberry becoming a sponge of the music business. The then-background singer for the show’s house band closed her eyes and daydreamed about what it would be like to have success traveling the world as a successful musician.
It’s been two decades since then, and that dream to join a timeless all-female musical act has come true. The GRAMMY- and Tony-winning singer/songwriter and actress that ignited the Broadway stage as Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton” currently co-stars as the over-the-top prima donna Wickie Roy on the Peacock TV serial mockumentary "Girls5Eva."
The eight-episode satire executive produced by Tina Fey chronicles a '90s girl group that attempts to reunite, relive their glory days, and heal old wounds after being sampled on a megahit by a young rapper. "Girls5Eva"'s irreverent jabs split with the comedy’s catchy musical numbers affords Goldsberry yet another vehicle to showcase her knack for using musical theater to transport her audience into the past and celebrate nostalgia.
The imaginative, multi-talented thespian racked up more Broadway credits in "The Color Purple," "The Lion King," "Rent" and "Good People." Coming-of-age between Houston and Detroit, Goldsberry, who co-starred in the feature films Waves and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, took on the small screen with memorable roles on "Ally McBeal," "One Life to Live," "The Good Wife," "Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist" and "Altered Carbon."
Goldsberry recently narrated the PBS documentary on singer Marian Anderson, Voice of Freedom, and lent her voice to Fast & Furious Spy Racers. The Emmy-nominated mother of two is set to join the cast of the upcoming Disney Jr. musical animated series "Eureka!" along with Marvel’s Disney+ series "She-Hulk."
Taking a break from putting the finishing touches on her long-awaited solo debut LP (due out later this year), Goldsberry sat for a few laughs with GRAMMY.com about "Girls5Eva," winning a GRAMMY for "Hamilton," and how musical theater helped her survive the pandemic.
What attracted you to portraying Wickie Roy on “Girls5Eva?”
I’ve been trying to get into that role since the ‘90s. I was trying to be in a group, get signed to a label, and have my Destiny’s Child dreams come true. Everything that happened in 2020 made it really clear that I will accept anything positive—with laughter, music or anything that’s about a second chance.
Are there any ‘90s-era artists you looked to that helped you mold the character?
What’s interesting is we talk about “Girls5Eva” being a failed pop group because they had one hit but couldn’t back it up. I’ve long stopped looking at one-hit wonders as failures because I ain’t had one hit yet. That’s young people saying one-hit wonder like they’re a joke. One-hit wonders won the lottery and beat all of the odds.
I was Wickie except I didn’t get into a girl group that got signed, had a hit song, and all of my dreams come true. I didn’t have the opportunity to blow it like Wickie did. It made me envious but more understanding to root for her. I learned from Wickie the audacity to believe that it isn’t too late to have that satisfaction that you made it if you can still dream it and put yourself out there.
Did you create playlists? If so, what’s on there?
Oh gosh: all of the ‘90s rap for sure, but definitely Mary J. Blige, En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, TLC, and every Janet Jackson hit of that time because she was a style and choreography icon along with those videos and her ability to redefine herself. I looked at the groups because they looked like they were having so much fun.
How was the chemistry on-set?
We had a great style team. The first thing I asked while they were still excited about me was about my hair. Wickie is fabulous, and whatever other mistakes she makes in life, she don’t mess up on her hair. She’s the real thing, and I had this vision that she was really bravely reinventing herself all the time like Madonna, so I asked if we could get [hair stylist] Takisha Sturdivant-Drew.
They had this really great wardrobe stylist and music from Jeff Richmond. The last piece of the puzzle were the three women I got to do this with: Sara Bareilles, Paula Peel and Busy Phillips. The chemistry we immediately had with each other was so electric; there’s so much love, we were those girls like Destiny’s Child. We were so excited that somebody was gonna dress us up together, give us some great songs and choreography, and let us do that and live that dream.
"Theater helps me in everything that I do… We dream really big in theater."
How do your experiences on Broadway reflect through “Girls5Eva?”
Theater helps me in everything that I do. It helps me know how to rely on the people that I’m working with because you can’t do any piece in the theater without being completely dependent on not only the people onstage with you but the people that are running the lights, behind-the-scenes, and mixing. It is truly a village of people that make you good. We dream really big in theater.
It seems like a limited set of tools we have because we’re not traveling all over the world; we’re in this one little black box, but we pull it off letting our imaginations run wild and make the groups of people that come into this box believe they’re in these places we’re taking them. It develops that muscle so that you’ll take really big risks in film and television because you’ve pulled it off in that little, dark space.
What qualities do you think Black women bring to Broadway?
We bring no apologies; that’s the most important thing. Knowing the more different that I am, the better I am. Believing the things that I grew up being told were subcultural are actually the most interesting, flavorful, spicy and exciting things that exist in the world.
In theater, I’ve studied the great people that came before me, and one thing I love about reading about so many of those people is how hard it was to be recognized and how hard they had to work to be able to tell all kinds of stories. That’s what I love about the time we’re living in, especially uniquely right now with COVID-19, where we’ve not been able to do what we do, but we’ve taken advantage of this break to really think about how we’re gonna come back stronger.
We’ve really spent a lot of time looking at ourselves in the mirror, saying as artists, we do a lot of pointing our finger at what’s wrong in other industries. We haven’t been responsible for the ways that we’re failing, and we’re not gonna do that when we get back. I’m excited as a Black woman and woman of color with any profile in theater whatsoever to be part of that revamp.
How did you and the cast of "Hamilton" react to the GRAMMY win for Best Musical Theater Album in 2016?
It was a surreal moment of complete ignorance. The crazy thing about the GRAMMY is when I was standing onstage and we won it, which was the most amazing moment for anybody ever in the theater, the GRAMMYs did this amazing thing. We couldn’t come to L.A., and because this was a unique situation, they actually allowed us to be on our stage on Broadway because we had to do a show.
I’m standing onstage with my cast, and they announced Hamilton wins this GRAMMY. I’m screaming with excitement, crying, jumping up and down because I’m thinking Lin-Manuel Miranda had just won. I did not know that I had won one, too; I didn’t know that if you’re on a cast album, then you actually win a GRAMMY as well. When it shows up to the house, it’s one of the most beautiful awards that you can have; it’s heavy, beautiful and shiny. I felt like I won it all over again.
Could you share some details about your upcoming role in Marvel’s "She-Hulk?"
It’s so cool. I’m actually in this really strange situation where I’m not officially allowed to talk about anything Marvel, and I don’t know much to talk about except for that I’m the biggest Marvel fan in the world. I’ve spent the pandemic watching any Marvel show that I missed; there’s some clairvoyance behind a lot of the plots, and I’m always getting chills behind some of that storytelling and character development.
I look at friends of mine like Teyonah Parris and Anthony Mackie just killing it, and I can’t imagine how many amazing actors down the pike are gonna have an opportunity to join that universe. They just do a really good job at dreaming for really wonderful actors. It would be amazing if I had an opportunity to have even the slightest bit of that world, but until that time, I’ll happily be watching that on television.
What satisfaction do you get from doing voiceover work?
It’s such a godsend. It’s another one of those things I couldn’t seem to break into, just like landing a record deal. It’s the most talented people in the world—the greatest writers and actors—really doing amazing things with their voices. You look at “The Simpsons,” and they can all play about a hundred different roles.
When I was coming up, there was the challenge of being typecast; if you’re Black, you had to sound like this type of McDonald’s commercial. That was frustrating to me when my voice type could be anything. The most important thing I could sound like is myself. The beauty of “Hamilton” is that I get a lot of really wonderful opportunities like “Eureka!” I have a son about to turn 12 and a daughter who’s eight, and they love watching television and reading books written by and featuring people of color. Now to be able to voice some of those characters has been awesome because my kids think I’m cool.
Is there anything else “Girls5Eva” is allowing you to explore creatively that you haven’t before?
I’m writing an album. It’s exciting to be able to come through COVID with something artistic to show for that time, that I actually created. I was really stressed when we went into this because everybody kept saying learn a language, start a podcast, do a cooking show. I was just trying to stay alive and pay my bills. COVID lasted a lot longer than I hoped, but I had the opportunity to collaborate with some really wonderful producers to make a solo album that I’m really really proud of. It’s pop/R&B, my own voice, my own words, great tracks, great music. “Girls5Eva” inspired me to do this unapologetically; I just can’t wait.