Robin De Jesus: La Cage Interview

And, for me, it's hard to think of you in a new show because everywhere I go in San Francisco, I see you.

Oh, because of the tour!

You're in the bus stops, on the subways, on the taxi cabs... so, one some level, it's like, Why are we talking about this drag show?! He's in In The Heights, I'm seeing him in two weeks?!

That's so funny. You're like, 'He has to be coming, he's on the poster!' (laughs) They're there already, though, aren't they?

Yeah, they're here, but I'm going in two weeks. I try to go toward the end of the run, so I'm not tempted to go again. I have to trick myself. Now, how long were you in In The Heights?

On Broadway, it was a total of two years. But, if you count Off-Broadway, three years, and if you count workshops and everything, four and a half.

Yikes!

Yeah.

How does it work when you're doing a role for that long?

It's interesting. I really think everyone should do it at some point in their life. I don't know that I would ever do that long a run ever again, maybe I would, and that's not to say I didn't enjoy my time at Heights, but you learn so much.

With two years, there are so many ups and downs, and right when you think, 'Oh my God, I can't take it anymore. I can't find anything else...', you do find something else in the character, especially when it's well written. So, there were so many tricks that I found, or things I learned how to handle doing the show when the audience isn't as verbose as you'd like them to be.

Or, on the days where you're really really tired, and you're trying to push, you learn that when you push, it's actually worse for the audience. They can feel how forced a performance is when you're extra tired and there's a great thing that Don Miguel Ruiz has, The Four Agreements, which is a tradition in the Toltec community, and the last one is "Always do your best, knowing that your best may change from time to time."

In other words, you're not always going to have what you think of as 100 percent, sometimes you only have 70 percent, so make sure you give 100 percent of that 70 percent, because that's all you can do. The moment you start trying to hit 75, people feel it and it becomes ungenuine.

Or, especially if you're a dancer and it's physical, you hurt yourself, because then you start dancing really forced and there's tension, and you hurt a muscle or something. So, that was like a huge, huge learning lesson that you always have exactly what you need.

There's also no denying that when you've been with the same group for two years or more, you have more of a connection that you normally would with other actors. There's a family atmosphere that's there, and it's with you forever. So that print is still on me.

And does the role morph over time? When it's Lin(-Manuel Miranda, the original lead actor), it's one Sonny, and when another...

With me, honestly, I like to do things differently all the time, so my Sonny could be different day to day. Actually, the director Tommy would say to me, 'What's the matter? You can't do the same thing twice?' (laughs) Now, granted, with time, after say a year and a half, I think it did become a little more consistent, but it took a year and a half for me to be that consistent!

I like to have fun, and find new things, and that can be frustrating for other actors sometimes, if that's not their thing. Or it can be really exciting. But you gotta do what you gotta do to make sure you are telling the story.

I'm just amazed the show is still going. Like you said before about depressing plays, In The Heights is just completely optimistic, and about family and heart and community, and I feel cynical even questioning why it's popular...

I know what you mean. Good publicity helps, I won't lie. I think one of the big things with Heights is there are a lot of repeat visitors, but it's interesting that celebrities still come by, as well. It really is a great show. I love that show. And even in comparison to some of the stuff that came out this year, it was still newer and fresher.

There's just something very special there that people enjoy, and take away with them. When you have a show where the plot is so simple, and In The Heights is just straightforward storytelling, the only way that can continue after a long time is if it has a lot of heart behind it. That's a huge part of it.

I think the way the cast relates to one another, and the way there's a group effort, has a lot to do with it continuing and staying in good condition. Because that's the other thing, people go back and are surprised with what good condition it's in. It really has stayed well put.

And, since we got quite the story last time, how did you find out you were nominated this time around?

This time, it's not as exciting. I got up in the morning, and I wanted to watch the announcement, as they were being made. And the day before, I got nominated for the Drama Desk, and you kind of hope that it foreshadows... so I got up and had my best friend with me, and my sister on the phone, and we were watching all the categories.

And it was so annoying, I had my computer ready and I had my TV ready on New York One, and then New York One said they weren't going to air them, because they had info on the alleged bomber that was trying to bomb Times Square, so it was a good thing I had both set up.

So, I go on the computer, and someone's talking, and then nothing is happening. And I'm wondering if there's just nothing happening, or did my computer freeze? And then someone put their finger in front of the video camera, and I was like 'OK, OK, OK... nothing's happening. That's what's happening.'

Then they start listing off the awards, and the nominations, and I got so excited when Kelsey got nominated, because he wasn't always nominated for the other awards, but Doug always was. So, they both got nominated, and they don't go to supporting actor, they go to all the other categories, and I'm like 'What the fuck?!'

But then it was really cool, because La Cage Aux Folles was in every musical category, and kept getting nominated and kept getting nominated, and I was like 'Oh my God, what is happening right now?' And my best friend is counting the categories and nominations, and then they finally, toward the end, get to supporting actor, and I knew that if I was nominated, my name would be first or second, because of the alphabetic order.

And I see Kevin Chamberlin is called first, and then I don't hear my name called, but I see my picture go up, so I just started screaming and excited, and my sister gets all stoked, and my friend is excited, and then we just calmed down and it was totally chill. And my manager immediately calls me, and the phone calls begin, and your Facebook is full of hundreds of congratulations, your voice mail is packed to the brim, and then I went back to bed.

That's far less dramatic than you crying in Times Square with Bubba Gump behind you... (which is what happened last time)

Oh God, yeah, in the background. Yeah, far less dramatic. The movie (of my life) will show that one. Chris Kattan as Mango as Robin De Jesus, that's what I always say.

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You can find out more about La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway at http://www.lacage.com/