The Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a little bit wacky and weird, but with a whole lot of heart, and it will keep you laughing to the point that you’ll forget just how dark it all really is. In Season 3, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) wants to go to college but has no real concept of just how difficult that is while Titus (Tituss Burgess) searches for a new job and has to deal with the separation of a relationship that he’s not getting over too well.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Tituss Burgess (who brings so much life to the role of Titus Andromedon that he’s become one of the most stand-out characters in comedy TV) talked about why he wanted to be a part of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, how he’s most like and most different from his character, Titus’ journey this season, how it was love at first sight when he met his co-star Ellie Kemper, getting to do his own version of Lemonade and what he hopes Beyonce would think of it, singing about boobs, and when he thinks the series is at its best. Be aware that some spoilers are discussed.
Collider: It’s so great to have this show back!
TITUSS BURGESS: Thank you for saying that!
When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt originally came your way, what was it about the show and the character that got you interested, made you want to dig deeper, and ultimately led you to sign on, and is that what you still love about it, or have things grown and evolved since then?
BURGESS: Well, I knew that Titus was more than a catch phrase, a hand snap and a head roll. I knew that it was a lot more than just some sassy phrases, and that it was going to take a couple of seasons before people got a chance to see the underbelly and something a little deeper. That was exciting to me. I’ve done a lot of Broadway plays, and a lot of them were flops and not well written. And I’ve worked with people who are not good at their job. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are the upper echelon. To get to work with people who I know have the characters’ best interests at heart and that I just have to show up and say the words and the rest takes care of itself, that’s reason enough to sign on and that’s why I’m still so very excited about it.
You’ve talked about how you, as Tituss, are different from the Titus we see on the show. Did you ever try to get them to change the character’s name or wish that he had a different name, to separate you from him, that much more, or are you okay with people thinking you’re like Titus Andromedon?
BURGESS: People are gonna think what they want to think. No one’s gonna buy that I’m not Titus Andromedon. Only my closest friends get it. My energy hovers around a one or a two. Titus is at 100, at all times. You can imagine what the rallying is like, at a 4am call. We share a love of musicals, a love of Diana Ross and a love of humor, but one of the biggest separators is that I have tact and he doesn’t. That sets us apart.
We learn, at the beginning of this season, that Titus’ stint on the cruise ship didn’t go quite the way he’d planned, or he likely wouldn’t have washed ashore, but we won’t get to learn those details until Episode 8. What can you say to tease what really happened on the ship?
BURGESS: I will say that Titus is extremely confident about his skill set, if not bordering on delusional. That delusion informs some very poor choices, and one of those choices may or may not have been involving Dionne Warwick. That’s about all I can say.
How would you describe Titus’ journey this season, along with where he and Kimmy are at now?
BURGESS: He’s still reeling from a broken heart. I don’t know if Titus is ever going to learn this, but I’m convinced that the later you come out in life, the more skewed or exaggerated all of your other traits may be. He’s extraordinarily selfish because he finally gets to run free. One of the things he’s not good at is treating people with kindness, and being empathetic and having compassion. That is, I think, the one thing that drives and almost undoes his relationship with Kimmy. She’s determined to teach him how to be a better person. He gets it right in one episode, but then in the next episode, it’s like he never learned that lesson.
It’s just so fun and so special to watch you and Ellie Kemper together, on this show. What do you most enjoy about working with her, and what’s it been like to get to explore that bond between your characters?
BURGESS: When I first met Ellie, it truly was love at first sight. I can honestly say that I know that if I needed anything, she would go to bat for me. She’s my sister, and it is rare that you step onto a television set and you have that type of kismet and bond with a co-star. TV stars can be a bit cantankerous, at times, and Ellie just works sans ego. It is such a privilege and joy to work with someone who is so skilled, so generous, and so ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the joke lands. It’s just a joy. It really is. Going to work, for as long as those hours are, is one of the great joys of my life.
I love the interactions you have this season with both Jane Krakowski and Carol Kane, and you have some great moments with each of them. Do you have any personal favorite moments with them?
BURGESS: You’re gonna be so disappointed, but I have to tell you that they all run together. I wouldn’t be able to recall or separate one scene because when you’re in it, you’re in it. But what I can say is that those two are pros. Carol is a living legend, and she brings a different flavor to the single camera comedy. Taxi was a multi-cam and there was a live studio audience, so I’ve learned a great deal from her, in how to navigate the two.
We get to see Titus’ version of Lemonade, when he goes a little crazy over a relationship. How do you think his version compares to Beyonce’s, and how many times did you watch what she did to get inspiration for when you were shooting that?
BURGESS: I am obsessed with Beyonce! I think I’ve made that perfectly clear to the world. What was most important to me was seeing how Lemonading, as a dramatic device served the episode. Once I figured out how that was going to work, so that it wasn’t just something that stood on its own by itself, but rather served the narrative, as it related to Mikey and Titus’ separation, it was less difficult to find my way in. Titus is 100% serious about it. He means the entire thing, so it took a bit to find the balance.
Is it fun to get to hit things with a baseball bat, or is that harder than it looks?
BURGESS: It feels so good that I might even build my own glass smashing range in my backyard. That felt good! But, I only did it once. That shot that you see, we only filmed it once, and I was so disappointed. We typically do 10 or 12 takes, and that only took one take, so I was pissed about that because it felt so good.
What would you hope that Beyonce would think of your Lemonade tribute, if she were to see it?
BURGESS: Here’s the thing, Beyonce is bringing royalty into the world right now with her twins, perhaps my nieces or nephews. Who knows? So, I don’t know that she’s all that concerned with what I did. However, I hope that she just sits back and is able to appreciate how far-reaching her efforts have been. We’re still talking about that album, and it’s over a year later since the release. Just the same way that when “Single Ladies” comes on and everyone gets up and thinks that they know the dance, I think Lemonade is going to go down in history as one of the greatest visual albums to date. So, I hope that she’s proud of herself that she truly inspired an entire episode, written by Tina Fey.
As a follow up to “Peeno Noir,”your character records a song this season that’s about boobs. What was that like to shoot that, and did you just never want to hear that word again, by the time you were done?
BURGESS: Well, my dear, I rarely want to hear about boobs! When I read the script, I don’t get shocked anymore because they give me the most absurd things to do and it’s just such delicious fun, but it was hard to memorize. There were so many words in those lyrics, so it got a little tedious, in coming together. When I was shooting that, I had a fever of 101 and I was so sick. They called a medic to set because I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital, so all of the perspiration that you see is not fake. It was all for real. For that reason alone, it was difficult to film.
What do you most enjoy about playing this character, on this show and with this cast of actors? Has anything surprised you about the journey you’ve gotten to take?
BURGESS: I don’t get surprised much anymore. What I will say is that I don’t think I will ever be this lucky again. That’s not to say that I won’t ever have great material to work with, but to get to wreak havoc, and to exist in utter mayhem and to deem it normal, there’s nothing more salacious. For that, I am forever indebted to Tina and Robert. No matter the project that I get, whether they have anything to do with it or not, they will be in my bio, thanking them for that project. Were it not for Unbreakable, I wouldn’t be talking to you.
For all of the wild and crazy moments that the show has, it also has really beautiful and heartfelt moments, too. When do you think Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is at its best?
BURGESS: I think the show is at its best when we turn social commentary on its ear, from the premise alone. It’s such a dark premise. This woman has been locked up for 15 years. Ellie and I have to talk ourselves through it sometimes, in order to put a scene into perspective. For Kimmy, out of all of the characters, to have the sunniest disposition and for her to be as optimistic as she is, there’s no reason that she should bear those traits, given what she went through. I think the show is at its best when we are exploiting her sunniness juxtaposed with her dark past. It shows that you can truly rise above anything. If Kimmy can do that, you can do anything.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 3 is available to stream at Netflix.