Ti­tuss Burgess is a leg­end in the mak­ing

The “Unbreakable Kimmy Sch­midt” star opens up about his in­spi­ra­tions — and his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Metro USA (New York) - - Television - RACHAEL VAUGHAN CLEMMONS @MetroNewYork letters@metro.us

Make no mis­take: There’s a rea­son that Ti­tus An­drome­don is a fa­vorite among “Unbreakable Kimmy Sch­midt” fans. And it has a lot to do with the man be­hind the “Peeno Noir”: Ti­tuss Burgess. Burgess is one of a kind. Over the phone, he’s thought­ful — he’s pas­sion­ate as he talks about his fam­ily, his up­bring­ing, and his craft. Oh, and he’s fun. He calls me a diva. We briefly trade lip-smack­ing “OKs!” And at the end of the in­ter­view, he quips: “You go and write the fiercest ar­ti­cle, girl.” Though he sounds a lot less like Ti­tus than you’d ex­pect, the 38-year-old says he and his “Unbreakable Kimmy Sch­midt” char­ac­ter are one in the same. “I don’t ac­tively dif­fer­en­ti­ate my­self from Ti­tus An­drome­don,” he says. Then he jokes, “Ti­tus would put as much thought into an­swer­ing th­ese ques­tions as I would!” We laugh. But, he notes se­ri­ously, his keen eye for bold char­ac­ters started in his child­hood. “I’m an only child, so I only had my­self to en­ter­tain [grow­ing up]. And when you are by your­self, you have a great deal of time to ob­serve.” Church, in par­tic­u­lar, be­came a big in­spi­ra­tion for the Athens, Ge­or­gia, na­tive. “As you may or may not know, there are some char­ac­ters at church. And th­ese peo­ple lead all sorts of lives — dou­ble ones, triple ones, quadruple ones. I picked up on cer­tain be­hav­ior pat­terns that stuck out to me as ab­nor­mal up against the back­drop of the church.” He’s used those ob­ser­va­tions to buoy his per­for­mances on Broad­way, from “Guys and Dolls” to “The Lit­tle Mer­maid.” “It be­came eas­ier to drop into dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters, be­cause I spent so much time study­ing hu­man be­ings.” One of the main things he learned that au­di­ences re­spond to? Good vibes. “When I saw the mes­sages of sin­cer­ity and love [in church], how all of those mes­sages par­lay into a glo­ri­ous re­sponse from a body of peo­ple, that’s the type of en­ergy that I want to in­cite my au­di­ence to feel,” he says. “I want to get to the core of some­thing they would iden­tify with.” That, of course, is how he came to bal­ance Ti­tus’ dark side — in­clud­ing his ca­sual for­ays into low-self es­teem and feel­ings of im­mo­bil­ity. “Ti­tus’ dark­ness kind of drives his ev­ery­thing. It’s his mo­ti­va­tion for want­ing to suc­ceed, and it’s my knowl­edge of those very real spa­ces that I’ve lived in parts of my past,” says the “30 Rock” alum. Some of those real spa­ces, like racism and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, are cov­ered in “Unbreakable Kimmy Sch­midt,” which, for all its ap­par­ent fluff, seam­lessly tack­les more se­ri­ous top­ics, too. “All th­ese strug­gles have one thing in com­mon: op­pres­sion. So all of us should be stand­ing in sol­i­dar­ity with the other be­cause we are all marginal­ized,” he says talk­ing faster. “If there’s blow­back about any par­tic­u­lar episode or that we’ve han­dled the sub­ject mat­ter im­prop­erly or poorly, I’m like, ‘You id­iot!’ You’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion. You’re un­in­formed. In 26 min­utes we’ve done more to [ad­dress] the hurt of a peo­ple than some move­ments, than some marches have.” Burgess be­lieves shows and celebri­ties have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress th­ese is­sues. “When you have a plat­form, and can say what­ever you want, why not talk about things that are truth­ful?” he con­tin­ues. “Even if they’re through the lens of com­edy, Why not talk about things that are thought-pro­vok­ing? I’d rather talk about this than be on some other sit­com where the world they live in doesn’t re­flect the world that I live in. I hunger for more th­ese days.”

NET­FLIX

Ti­tus An­drome­don gets his “Lemon­ade” on the new sea­son.

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