“Hamilton” is full of show-stopping moments, but some of the most indelible involve the dual roles of Hercules Mulligan and James Madison.
When the much anticipated touring production of “Hamilton” opens Nov. 6 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, the two characters will be played by Elon University alumnus Fergie L. Philippe. The 23-year-old Miami native graduated in 2017, and he loved the Elon experience.
“Small program, so there was a lot of attention to every student,” he said in a phone interview. “It taught me more about humanity, the person I am and the contribution I can make to art, which I think is more important than the art itself. I’ll be doing a couple of visits to campus, just acting like a regular student again. I really miss it.”
But first, he is finishing a “Hamilton” run at Charlotte’s Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, which ends Nov. 4. The DPAC production starts two days later, on Election Day. While many tickets are sold out, a $10 ticket lottery will be available for all 32 performances from Nov. 6 through Dec. 2.
We caught up by phone with Philippe while he was on his way to present a workshop at Davidson College during the Charlotte “Hamilton” run. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
Q: Have you always wanted to act, and what set you on the path?
A: I was around 10 years old when I knew I wanted to act. I was always obsessed with TV and film while growing up and could not get away from the front of the TV. I just knew I wanted to be inside it. The first show I was in was called “Prince of Thieves” at summer camp, age 10, playing the part of the prince. Once I did that, there was no going back.
Q: Has doing “Hamilton” every night made you more or less of a fan of the show?
A: A lot of people ask if I ever get bored doing it every night. Never. I love it even more having been in the show and seen all the mechanical stuff, how everything works. I thought there was no one on earth who liked it more than me, but I’ve met people who have been waiting for it for years. The amount of people who come with “Hamilton” tattoos is amazing, because the words speak to them so heavily.
Q: For the cast, does “Hamilton” rank as more difficult than most stage shows?
A: It depends on your skill set. For me, it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done because hip-hop and pop are not necessarily what I’m most in-tune with in my personal life. I’m much more of a classical golden-age-musical kind of guy. So it’s a fun challenge every night.
Q: What is your favorite part of the show?
A: There’s a song called “Yorktown” that my character does, and it’s exhilarating when I do that rap every night. It’s a big reveal, and the way that moment is choreographed and set up is really exciting.
Q: Your character, Hercules, is modeled on the rapper Busta Rhymes?
A: Yeah, we talked about that a lot, how to make it this really rough, gritty, just kind of wild-doggish kind of rap. It’s written in a similar vein with a rhyme scheme that plays off the words and rhymes very much like Busta.
Q: And yet you were just saying that hip-hop is not really your thing, when you even beat-box.
A: Well, I do have a good ear for stuff. Hearing and then imitating something, I can do that pretty well. A lot of actors can. Most of us have imposter’s syndrome lurking around inside. But listening and imitating to the best of my ability, that’s where the beat-boxing comes from.
Q: What did you think of the November 2016 controversy when then Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended “Hamilton,” and the cast made an onstage post-show speech pleading for tolerance?
A: We are living in a time right now where anything feels like an attack, and that was one of those unfortunate moments where a couple of people felt attacked. It was 100 percent not that. I think it was the “Hamilton” cast doing the best they could to make it clear that they were hopeful this new administration would be inclusive of everyone. Due to the nature of the campaign, it did not seem that way. How the administration received and responded to that was very telling.
Q: You’ve talked about suffering from anxiety. Does that ever manifest as stage fright?
A: Those are two different things, at least for me. A lot of how anxiety works is you can’t find the root of it, which makes it so terrifying. But stage fright is more direct, and I am able to correlate and work through where that fear is coming from. With anxiety, it’s usually something I’m suppressing or have not yet pinpointed, or something incredibly small I don’t even realize.
Q: That does not seem to jibe with the guy who beat-boxes and raps like Busta Rhymes.
A: There are so many misconceptions, which is part of the toxicity of how we handle discussions of mental health. We allow ourselves to believe only certain types of people can have anxiety or schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. It doesn’t seem like a 6-foot-3 black man would have anxiety and crippling fear, but it’s a very real thing. You learn to cope, to channel and use it to your advantage.
Q: How long will your time in “Hamilton” last, and what’s next?
A: I’m sure the show will keep running until we’re all dead! I think I’ll be with it until February, at least for now. After that, we’ll see. There’s so much you can’t plan. I’m still so young, and it’s easy at my age to be excited about new possibilities, bright lights. I’m spoiled to have had this incredible job basically right out of school, but I know the rest of my life will not pan out this way. That’s reality. Right now my focus is to soak it all in and be grateful because it won’t last forever. Eventually I want to do it all. I’m writing now, I’ve directed a couple of things and I definitely want to produce.