If Ellie Kemper is the sweet soul of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," then Tituss Burgess is its irrepressible heart as Kimmy's outlandishly over-the-top roommate and pal, Titus Andromedon.
We chatted with Tituss, about how it's not only that extra "s" that separates him from his character, cracking up on set, channeling his inner Beyoncé for the new season and the surprisingly emotional effect the Netflix comedy has on its fans.
Season 3 dropped two weeks ago, and in it, Titus goes “Lemonading.” It looks pretty serious?
Oh, he's taking it very seriously. Things aren't going so great between him and Mikey. And, you know, Lemonading seems to be the height of how you exorcise your demons if someone's broken your heart. So, what better way than to put on a yellow dress and get a bat, and go and bash some windows?
So for those among us who haven’t binged it yet, can we presume that he now has been on the high seas for some time, in close proximity to Dionne Warwick, singing “Mahogany”?
Burgess: But he comes back prematurely and, of course, in true Titus Andromedon fashion, mayhem has followed him back to dry land. And he's keeping a big ol' secret that we don't know about, but we find out later in the season. And it's as ridiculous as you can probably imagine.
Is there anything therapeutic about playing somebody that is this much themselves?
Burgess: It is fun to be unapologetically that outlandish, and to say without filters what you're thinking. I have a great deal more tact than Titus Andromedon, and I can edit really quickly. But he just blurts it out, and it is refreshing. But I've got to tell you, though, after Episode 13, it's time for him to take a break, 'cause it is a lot.
And in addition to that, you have these terrific lines, these terrific tongue-twister things. One of my favorites was "Andromedon Productions, you can't spell it without ‘drama’ if you spell it wrong."
Burgess: Right? He's mining for a catchphrase, and he's just gonna force it and wedge it in there.
Because of those sorts of lines and because Tina was on the show this year, it seems like it would be very difficult not to break. Is that still a thing that's happening?
Burgess: Ellie and I break the most. And we can see when the other one's about to go up. You can see the deer-in-headlights kind of look on their face or on my face, and we just fall apart. But when it's the 11th hour, you're like, "Girl, we are not, it's not fun anymore. Let's get it together."
There is such a wackiness to the show, but there is such emotion as well. One moment, you're talking about microwaving wigs and the next you're getting real about how you never got to come out.
Burgess: Well, not to take this back to "Kiss of the Spider Woman," but these ridiculous things serve as a protective sort of defense mechanism. And then when the veneer comes off, there's the underbelly, and it sort of explains an entire season of eccentricities, you know?
You are different enough from the character that I would imagine that when people see you on the street, there's a little anticipation of —
Burgess: They're so disappointed. There's a certain bizarre familiarity that a lot of people have for who they think I am when they meet me, that on some level, I feel bad for them.
I'm sure you must also get people that, because of the nature of your character, come to you and thank you for being able to maybe express something they weren't able to.
Burgess: I'll never forget, I'd just been out to dinner with some friends and I hear these footsteps behind me, and I'm just assuming it's one of my people. And I turned around and it was this young lady who was just sobbing. So I was like, what's wrong? Can I help, or whatever? And she said, "I was diagnosed with depression, I have gotten a divorce, which compounded the depression, and I lost my job." And I was like, "Jesus Christ, girl, I can't imagine what all those things must feel like." And she said, "The one bright spot was knowing that I could have you in my house as often as I needed you."
That must feel great.
Burgess: It does feel great. In the social, political climate that we live in, where we're finding it very difficult to hold on to justices and what is right, it's a relief that there is some way I can contribute, some small blip in the pond, to give to someone.