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After Seeing the Hamilton Movie, Christopher Jackson Finally Understands the Hype

Jackson also makes a bold declaration: He didn't like "Satisfied" until he saw it onscreen.

It takes a long time to see the forest for the trees. That's true for everyone. But when you're part of a phenomenon, a gigantic, global phenomenon where you are literally the talk of the town for not just 15 minutes but still, five years later, it might be even harder.

Christopher Jackson knew instinctively that Hamilton was a phenomenon. He earned a Tony nomination for playing George Washington, he saw the lines around the block and the crowd at the stage door. But it was only when he saw the movie, filmed in June 2016 and dropping July 3 on Disney Plus, that he really "got" it. Even during a brief phone interview about it, he seemed genuinely floored by what he and his fellow original cast members pulled off eight times a week at the Richard Rodgers Theatre four years ago, something he didn't realize until seeing it on his television set.

He even changed his mind about "Satisfied."

Christopher Jackson as George Washington in Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Had you seen Hamilton before, and if you hadn't, what did you think?
Yes, but this was my first time seeing the show with the original company. Our stage manager was a huge proponent of allowing us to see what we were doing as a show, so several of the principals got swung out before the Tony season in 2016. But I could never get down with not being onstage. Unless I'm calling out of a show, I can't just watch a show I'm in. And if I'm calling out, it's because I'm sick.

Seeing it now, I get why everyone responded the way that they did. Every single person that steps on that stage is just astounding in their level of detail and specificity and focus and effort and energy. That's how we came out every single night. Because Andy's choreography is way too specific to not do it that way. You don't cheat it. Lin's score is just so specifically drawn that it takes every ounce of everything you have to pull it off, and anything less would be missing the mark.

While I got to watch Daveed in certain scenes onstage together, I never got to watch him and just experience the performance. Anthony Ramos comes onstage, and your face just lights up every time. You seeing the bourgeoning superstar that this man is becoming. The work that Leslie does in his face alone is astounding. Renée and I were super-close when we did the show. She deserved a Tony just because she's a wonderful person. When they called her name and she walked up there, I was like, "Of course she won, she's Renée. She's my girl." But then when I actually saw "Satisfied," which was one of my least favorite numbers in the show —

Bold thing to say.
Not because it wasn't worthy and wasn't amazing, but because the tech for that one sequence, "Helpless" and "Satisfied," drove me nuts. It felt like it went on for days. But when I saw it, and the shots that Tommy captures, my god, her performance. My god. It's the hardest song in the whole show. It's one of the hardest songs in the musical theater canon. But watching her... Every time she communicates a thought, she's past that thought. She's already on the next thought. I have goosebumps right now.

I'm still processing the power that the whole experience had on me.

Veronica Jackson, Christopher Jackson, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Alexis Johnson.
(© David Gordon)

What was it like to watch yourself as George Washington?
I don't know how to navigate this experience. Thus far, I haven't been in just a straight-up movie like this, and I didn't know what it feels like to look at myself onscreen like that. It was a mind-bending, glorious experience. My wife was joking, but every time my scenes came through, my face was contorted, and I wasn't even aware of it. There's such a strong emotional memory of the experience that I cant help but mouth the words and have the same journey moving through that space. Theater is not something that gets recorded. It lives in a different place in our minds. But this is a film of a theatrical performance, and it's just the most incredible thing I've ever seen. It really is.

Does this make George Washington become a Disney Prince?
I think George Washington might be a Disney king! Whatever was intended from a global perspective of that character, my hope is that people will reflect on that man in his totality — all of the things he was able to accomplish, the character that he had, and the moral flaws that are readily on display but so seldom discussed. It makes for a cautionary tale about caring more about posterity than the immediacy of your actions. But it also communicates the greater wants and the greater generosity of spirit that he showed. By no means do i want to... George Washington is worthy of veneration for some of the things that he's done, and he's worthy of condemnation for some of the things that he's done for his failings. All of those things can be true, and all of those things need to be part of the narrative.

Hamilton opened during a very specific political climate and says a lot about the Obama era. How do you think the show speaks to the current world?
Daveed said something really interesting. He said that it isn't a mistake that these are young people that we're watching taking to the streets. The power of this show is that we took all of these guys off the pedestals and made them real. All of those folks were young, and that's mirrored in what's happening today. The people who are truly speaking the truth to power are the ones that are leading this, and that's precisely what Hamilton is and was factually. My hope is that it spurs others to dig into the history of it, and the facts of what it was, and that they be inspired to move through the struggle and this bourgeoning movement with the same kind of ferocity. The last time that happened, the contour of the country was reshaped. That's my hope.

Christopher Jackson and the men of Hamilton take a selfie on opening night at the Public Theater.
(© Seth Walters)

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