Olivier Winner Giles Terera on Starring in London's Rosmersholm and Sniffling Through Hamilton

Olivier Winner Giles Terera on Starring in London's Rosmersholm and Sniffling Through Hamilton
Giles Terera in Rosmersholm
(Photo: Johan Persson)

Giles Terera’s many and varied credits include Honk!, The Book of Mormon, and a revelatory National Theatre revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but the versatile performer reached a new career plateau with his Olivier Award-winning turn as Aaron Burr in the London premiere of Hamilton. Terera left that musical smash late in 2018 after a year-long run and is now co-starring with Tom Burke in a rare revival of Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. Duncan Macmillan’s new version of the 1886 classic, directed by Ian Rickson, was in previews at the Duke of York’s Theatre when Broadway.com phoned Terera for a warm and engaging chat.

How did you choose to go from a blockbuster like Hamilton to a 19th-century classic of the Scandinavian repertoire in Ibsen’s lesser-known Rosmersholm?
I always like to challenge myself to do different things, and Hamilton was such a special experience for me that I wasn’t looking to do anything else like that anytime soon. I’m not sure what could have come up to that same level of experience so was just looking to do something different.

But why this of all plays?
I’ve never done an Ibsen, which was one of the challenges, and, also, I always like to work with great writers. I think all actors should work with great writers, whether Shakespeare or August Wilson. When my agent called and said that Ian [Rickson, the director] would like to see me, I was blown away.

In what respect?
The adaptation of Rosmersholm that Duncan [Macmillan, the writer] and Ian have put together feels like a new play and speaks directly to the questions that lots of people are asking: How do we live? How do we become individual ourselves? How do we release ourselves from the ghosts of the past? All great writers speak to any time because the questions they are wrestling with are universal.

What is your take on your character, Andreas Kroll?
Kroll is the brother-in-law of John Rosmer [played here by Tom Burke], who is the head of a very well-established dynasty in Norway, and when the play starts John has lost his wife and I have lost my sister. During the play our hero undergoes a crisis of ideology and faith and I try to bring him back to his senses; [Kroll] is a very complex character.

But with Hamilton settled in for keeps at the Victoria Palace Theatre, do you ever think to yourself, “I could have continued in that”—as your Olivier-nominated colleague Jamael Westman very much has?
Hearing you say that makes me perk up a little bit! I left [the production] on December 1, and throughout most of that month, at about 8:30PM, I found myself just about to sing [Burr’s first-act song] “Wait For It.” I spent two and a half years of my life on Hamilton, from the time I auditioned to the time I left, so it was very much in my bones and in my body. So, yes, I totally had that feeling you describe, and it is sort of odd to know that [the show] is still happening.

Do you remain connected to Hamilton in any way?
I took my niece and nephew, who are 12 and 10, to see it a couple of weeks ago. They had seen it maybe three or four times when I was in it but then said, “Uncle Giles, we want to see it without you in it,” so I went and sat with them, and my nephew kept looking at me sideways: he could hear me sniffling and wiping my eyes, I was so moved. I could sit there and watch it knowing what was going on in the wings, let alone onstage at any particular moment.

Do you feel as if you have said goodbye to Hamilton?
You know, it may not be over: we had always talked about maybe doing Hamilton in America, and that’s an ongoing conversation. As I said to Tommy [Kail], our director, I very much want to come back to that part and I don’t necessarily mind where. It’s a piece and a part I feel very passionate about, and I would deeply love to revisit it.

Did your attendance at the Olivier Awards this year prompt vivid memories of your winning the Olivier as Aaron Burr the previous year?
This year was great: there was no performing and no nominations. I could just sit and enjoy it and see [winners] Sharon [D. Clarke] and Kobna [Holdbrook-Smith]. It was a completely different experience, and I’m not sure which I enjoyed more. I certainly enjoyed winning; that was very nice [laughs]!

Were you especially pleased by the musical actress trophy for Sharon D. Clarke for Caroline, or Change, given that you appeared with her in the National’s landmark revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2016?
When I came into the profession, Sharon was one of the people [of whom] I thought, “That is how you do it!” What she can do and where she can go as a performer in terms of an inner life and an inner soul remain so inspiring. I was thrilled that she was recognized because of her body of work and what she represents.

What’s next for you after Rosmersholm?
I’ve been writing a play! It’s for [War Horse Tony winner] Tom Morris at the Bristol Old Vic, and we’ve been developing it for a few years. It’s called The Meaning of Zong and is based on the Zong massacre which took place in the Caribbean in 1781 on board a British-owned slave ship and the trial that happened in London off the back of that event. We had a few workshops including one last October,  and we’re ready to go into performance in February.

Did you write the play with a role for yourself in mind?
Actually, I didn’t but towards the end of the process, Tom [Morris] said to me, “You realize you have to be in it,” and at that point I could say yes whereas before all I could do was try and pull the whole thing together.

Your dual role as writer-performer sounds a bit like the path taken by your Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda: do you see a connection?
Hamilton wasn’t quite on Broadway yet when I had the idea for this, which tells you how long we’ve been working on it. But they’re both set in the 1780s—it’s just that Hamilton happens in America, and our story is set in London. I have yet to talk to Lin about it in detail, but, again, what was brilliant about Lin was that he had Tommy Kail so that he could balance the two things of being both actor and writer. I feel as if I’ve got the thing done and written and now it’s about trusting my director.