Phillipa Soo on How the Schuyler Sisters Fit Into the Canon of Disney Princesses
Soo recalls her experiences working on Hamilton and reflects on watching the film.
Phillipa Soo describes herself as being "so green" when Hamilton first hit the big time five years ago. She knew she was part of something special, but having only appeared in one other major show, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, at the time, she had no idea how to qualify it.
Four years after saying farewell to the role of Eliza Hamilton — A. Ham's beleaguered yet ultimately forgiving wife — Soo is reflecting on an experience that changed her life by watching it onscreen. Here, she tells us what she thought of the film, the memories that it brought about, and how Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy fit into the canon of "Disney Princesses."
Here we are, five years later and still talking about Hamilton. Did you ever imagine that would be the case?
Listen, I thought this would happen... For some reason, I pictured the film coming out when I'm in my mid-60s and everything was totally different. [laughs]
Had you seen the show live before, and if not, what was it like to experience it for the first time via the recording?
I had. I saw [longtime standby] Andrew Chappelle's last show, so that was my first time seeing it from the audience perspective. And of course, I saw a lot of it being onstage. But the film is such a beautiful celebration of all of the fantastic work that this entire cast had brought to the table. The ensemble's work and Andy Blankenbuehler's work were so specific, and the storytelling in the movement is incredible. It was such a treat to see it from all the angles that Tommy Kail captured, with a bird's-eye view of all the shapes that were being made on the stage floor alone. To get to feel like you're onstage with the actors was something that I never imagined. That was really special.
Watching it onscreen, I was reminded of a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about, like moments I had with people, or where I was at any given point in the show. I was just floored by how well all those tiny, personal moments were captured.
Did you realize that Hamilton was a sensation while you were doing it, or was it something that came with hindsight?
I think the answer is yes, but I was also so green that I was aware that I would not quite grasp it because this was my first time being on Broadway. I'd had great conversations with actors who had been through this kind of thing before, and they were like, "This is your first Broadway show, and it happens to be this show. That's huge." At the time, I was like "I know, it's crazy." But I also knew that I didn't necessarily know everything and wouldn't know or feel everything until after I had left the show. I'm still continuing to process what that all meant and what I've carried with me from that experience.
What did you think of your performance?
Like a lot of actors, I'm a little bit funny about watching myself. You're judging yourself way harder than anybody else is. But I was so moved, by the way in which Tommy decided to highlight not just my work, but the work of everybody in the show. [pause] I was watching "Helpless" and I started breathing really heavily. I think it's like a muscle memory of doing that number and being so out of breath every time that I did it. It was kind of like when you're sitting next to somebody in the car, and they're driving, but you're also putting your foot on the gas at the same time. That's a little bit of what I was doing as I was sitting on the couch watching myself onscreen. "Breathe, just breathe!
In your estimation, are the Schuyler Sisters "Disney Princesses"?
Well, I don't know. Isn't that missing the whole point of America's creation, which was, "Let's get rid of this monarchy business and a this democracy." So I don't know if it's "princess" in the sense of a dictionary definition, but in terms of the cultural revolution of what it means to be a "Disney Princess," I definitely feel like the Schuyler Sisters are in that canon, inspiring young women. They're heroines who are taking their own paths and carving them out for themselves. You've got Elsa and Anna in Frozen, and the Schuyler SIsters.