Jane the Virgin Star Jaime Camil Goes From Hollywood to Chicago

The Kander and Ebb musical’s newest Billy Flynn is long overdue for his first Broadway musical.

It's been over a decade since Jaime Camil was first bound for Broadway in The Mambo Kings — a musical, based on Oscar Hijuelos' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, that never reached its Great White Way destination. Camil did end up coming to Broadway in late 2005 with the play Latinologues, but only now, with a five-week stint as Billy Flynn in the long-running musical Chicago, does it feel like a true debut.

The Mexican-born actor is best known for his television and film work — most recently earning acclaim for his role as Rogelio De La Vega on the CW comedy series Jane the Virgin. However, he has carried his torch for musical theater — at least temporarily — out of Hollywood and into the eye of an overwhelming but joyful storm on Broadway.

Jaime Camil will play Billy Flynn in Broadway's Chicago now through July 3 at the Ambassador Theatre.
Jaime Camil will play Billy Flynn in Broadway's Chicago now through July 3 at the Ambassador Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

How does it feel to finally be making your debut in a Broadway musical? It almost happened eleven years ago with The Mambo Kings but the show never made it to Broadway.
Yeah, Mambo Kings was a big frustration because we unfortunately never got to open. My wife was telling me a couple of weeks ago, "See, it took you eleven years to close a cycle and you've finally closed the cycle of musical theater in New York." And I'm super excited that it's in Chicago. The ensemble — it's such a tour de force of talent and precision. It's a huge honor to be sharing the stage with talented individuals. The first two days I was freaking out, thinking, "I'm not going to be able to do this. I might as well say no right now. No harm done." Because you get really overwhelmed. When Billy speaks, he speaks for half a page. It's not like, "Hey…Hi…Fine…You?…OK…Bye." It's a lot of material. You need a lot of serenity and just understand that it will come.

Where did you get your start in musical theater?
I started doing theater [in Mexico City].I did Bernardo [in] West Side Story. I didn't study dance so I had to rehearse two more months than the company in order to not to look like a clown onstage. It was very demanding but I loved it. And then I played Hook (I don't look good in green tights, [so] Peter Pan is not my thing), and then I did the Genie [in] Aladdin, and then I did El Diluvio Que Viene. Then I started doing a lot of film and television projects. I was actually telling my wife three months ago, "I need to get back onstage. I need to re-inject the purpose of being an actor into my system." And the universe heard me and sent me Chicago.

What do you get from being onstage?
Happiness. Joy. Overwhelming joy. It's very difficult to describe. It's incredible to be onstage. I especially love the feedback you get from your fellow actors. And Chicago is very overwhelming, because they are so talented. I hate them. They are like acting machines programmed not to fail. And that kind of sucks because you're only human. Yesterday they were rehearsing "We Both Reached for the Gun," and I'm like, "Guys, you mind if I jump in with you?" They're like, "Ha-ha, all right. Come, newbie." It was — oh my God — the energy they had. It was such a beautiful thing to do because I got to feel their talent and their energy. These guys are magical.

What does it mean to see an iconic musical like Chicago embracing multicultural casting?
Good for them. They're getting with the worldwide program of diversity, and that's beautiful. As long as you have what it takes to be onstage, that's good enough for them. Not the nationality or your accent. This is a production that truly understands diversity to the fullest and that's amazing.

Of all the Billy Flynns who have come through Chicago over the past 20 years, how do you want yours to be remembered?
I think you have to respect the heritage of the character, and you have to understand the universe where he lives. He basically runs the show. He's the puppeteer of everything that happens. But I think that he also has great punchlines. Bringing a little humor — without being a clown of course, because that's not Billy Flynn — but a touch of humor might [make] the difference.

Jaime Camil as Billy Flynn with the cast of Chicago.
Jaime Camil as Billy Flynn with the cast of Chicago.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

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