Categories: Interviews

Interview: Renée Elise Goldsberry on Her Favorite Songs from ‘Girls5Eva’ and the Wackiness of Wickie Roy

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“Big Pussy Energy is for everyone,” Renée Elise Goldsberry tells me before I start recording our conversation. It only took moments after I appeared in the Zoom meeting before we began chatting about the day’s events and discussing music, an immediate discussion opening on one of the catchiest songs from Girls5Eva, “B.P.E. (Big Pussy Energy),” a song where the women refer to their vaginas as “vitamin p.” It’s empowering and hilarious, a perfect song to encapsulate everything the now-Netflix series is with its hilarious leading ladies.

Tony and Grammy winner Renée Elise Goldsberry plays Wickie Roy, one of the women in the titular group whose life has led her to living with Dawn while she attempts to get her life together during the revival of their girl group. Wickie is gleefully outrageous, played to comedic perfection in the hands of Goldsberry, who could generate laughter from any line provided to her. Goldsberry has the unique distinction of having recognizability amongst many groups of people: she was on One Life to Live for almost a decade, did a serious guest/recurring stint on Ally McBeal, has enamored the theatre world with her abilities as an actress and a vocalist with exceptional control (as previously mentioned, she has a Tony for her work in Hamilton), and now is on one of the funniest comedies airing today. Goldsberry is an actress whose passion translates into the work she puts out and earlier this week was nominated by the Television Critics Association for her performance in Girls5Eva for in Individual Achievement in Comedy.

I sat down with Goldsberry recently and discussed the outrageousness of Wickie Roy, the difference in preparation between projects, and what lyrics Wickie might bring to a freestyle. 

TD: What is the difference in preparation between Ally McBeal, I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, and Girls5Eva?

Renée Elise Goldsberry: Wow. That’s a great question. Preparation for Ally McBeal, I was what we called an Aha Girl. That was a nod to the girls behind Ray Charles, and I was proudly one of them. And the preparation, since I had no lines except for maybe once or twice by season five, was really getting to go into the studio with Vonda Shepard, or Jane Krakowski, or Barry White, or Al Green, or Gladys Knight, whoever was the musical guest that day. The preparation was that we would record this music that we were going to sing in the bar at Ally McBeal the week before. And I had this great honor of literally re-recording classics like “Let’s Stay Together” [by] Al Green, or “The First, The Last, My Everything” with Barry White. I was in the studio with them as a background singer re-recording this music. So that was the preparation for Ally McBeal. The next one you asked me was Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road. That was a play that I did at New York City Center. Right?

TD: Yeah, I think you did it for four days.

REG: I did it for four days. But you know what? Let me tell you how hard it is to be in the theater. Even if they give you a week of rehearsal, they expect a Broadway performance. Even when it’s supposed to be a reading, and you’re supposed to be holding a script in your hand, they review it like a Broadway performance. It’s very, very stressful, but it’s an honor to be a part of bringing back to life works like I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road. It’s a one-woman show about a woman that’s trying to figure out her life with her life. Let’s stop there. It’s a museum piece. And the preparation for that was learning 100 songs in a week, and a bunch of choreography, because Kathleen Marshall directed it, and she is never going to settle on chairs, so we had a lot of choreography. And did you say for Girls5Eva?

TD: Yeah.

REG: What’s the preparation? All of the above. Did you plan that question? Because it’s full circle, because yes. For Ally McBeal, we got to do all this recording of music. For Girls5Eva, we spend time in the studio recording all of this music. For Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, it felt like we had a very little amount of time to do something tremendously ambitious, that required us to be able to act, and to sing, and to dance, and to tell an empowering story about women. And all of those things I get to do on Girls5eva with a very little amount of time, but with a tremendous team of people around that makes it work.

TD: Does that process change since you now spend so much time with Wickie, as opposed to someone like when you were in Getting My Act Together? And other musicals like Hamilton. So you spent a lot of time with that character, but that’s the same story every day. So is that different for you?

REG: Well, I think it’s so interesting because she’s so outlandish, but for whatever reason, it feels like a bigger leap from myself. If I’m playing Angelica Schuyler, clearly I’m not one of the white women that was the foremothers of our country. And from the outside looking at it, you might think that there’s some huge difference between the two of us, because we’ve looked so different. But in reality, I understand very much who it is to be that woman, who it is to be that sister, who it is to be that ambitious in terms of and inspired by what needs to happen in the lives of the people I love, and what needs to happen in the country that I love. That’s me.

And it doesn’t feel like a huge reach to figure out who she is, and to feel that intelligent in a world that’s going to stifle my possibility of doing things for this country. I understand all of that. I understand how it feels to be in love, requited or unrequited. Wickie, she’s so different from me. We’re both so ambitious, but she’s so self-involved, and so fearless, and such a huge risk-taker. And I think for whatever reason, it just makes me feel less stressed out. I don’t know. I feel like it just feels a little freer somehow. And I didn’t realize it until you just said that.

TD: Do you think there’s catharsis in playing a character as willfully narcissistic and outlandish as Wickie?

REG: I think for sure when it comes to all of those women who I’ve played, even when you think about Mimi in Rent, she’s 19 years old, she’s dying of AIDS, and she’s a drug addict, and she dances at the Pussycat Club. She was so different from me. I played it at 37 or 36 years old. There was such a huge leap. But there was something about being an ingénue in that way. That’s very much who I am. So I felt like I felt this huge connection in that way with all those characters, and with Wickie, because she doesn’t have those strengths, some of those strengths that those women had, she’s a – what do they say, a child? I think the Lunch Lord calls her a “starter person” at some point because she just doesn’t have some really basic things that people learn in kindergarten. She just skipped them. But what she does have is so different from me, that out of all of those characters, I definitely learned the most from her.

TD: She definitely has some rungs on the ladder she skipped in the growth development. You participated in the BET Awards Cypher in 2015, and it just makes me wonder how the women of Girls5Eva would do if dropped into a cypher? And especially Wickie of course, how do you think her freestyling would go?

REG: [laughs] I’m typing Meredith Scardino because that’s such a brilliant idea for season four. How would they do? Well, first of all, the raps would be terribly brilliant, or brilliantly terrible is probably the better way to say it. And they probably would fail in such a way that it would teach them something about themselves, and move them forward in spite of themselves. And one thing I know for sure is that Wickie’s rap because she calls herself a “T-shirt Gun of Wisdom” I think she says something like that, Wickie’s rap I think would have to be really good, and she would look fantastic. [laughs]

TD: Always!

REG: Showing up for The Cypher, she might spend more time on her look than she’s going to spend on the rap, but I would love to see it. [laughs] It’s such a good idea.

TD: Do you think she would mostly rap about herself, or would she bring in Nicki Minaj-type bars about the Lunch Lord? 

REG: I think she would 100% absolutely do bars, bars, bars about herself. I also think when it was the other girls’ turn for bars, she’d be the one in the background licking behind them. Yeah. I don’t think they would have three bars because she’d be popping around them doing licks.

TD: Oh. 100%. She’d be doing ad-libs for them.

REG: [laughs] For them. For them. For them!

TD: [laughs] She doesn’t care.

REG: And you know what? They’re so used to it, they don’t either.

TD: Why would they? She’s so funny in that way. What has been your favorite song when you first heard it from the Girls5Eva soundtrack?

REG: Well, it’s really tricky, because 2 for different reasons, obviously “Girls5eva,” just because it explained the title to me. I had heard. It was 2020. I was on a Zoom. I got it. It was sent to me in an email, and I couldn’t. I’m like, “Girls5Eva…” I’m like, “What is that?” And then it was the song. The song is what explains what it is in the most brilliant way. It’s a joke. It’s already a joke, and it’s the greatest one. And that’s just such brilliant storytelling.

And then the other one is “4 Stars.” That’s the song that Sara Bareilles wrote in the first season. Sara Bareilles writes a banger, and that’s probably even that word banger doesn’t do justice to the access to her songwriting genius in this show. One song season, and the first time she sent us, it was Christmas vacation, we were on a little hiatus, and she texted me and Busy and Paula her demo of 4 Stars.

And we all in our separate little hovels, and we’re just weeping, weeping. Really beautiful, beautiful work across the board with the music on Girls5Eva. They’ve coined phrases that will live forever, like “Lonely Boy, New York Lonely Boy. It’s a song written about that phenomenon of having one child, or one son, and being this executive couple. That’s a real thing, and not just in New York. And that’s forever a thing. And The Medium Time is the song that Sara wrote in the third season, The Medium Time. It’s forever going to be a thing that those of us, somewhere in the middle, somewhere in the middle of this career need to celebrate that, and acknowledge the beauty of it. How many songs did I give you? I gave you four. I could keep going.

TD: We could talk about the songs forever. Even when we jumped on today, of course, we talked about “Big Pussy Energy,” an instant classic. 

REG: Yes!

TD: What has the research been like across the past few seasons in terms of looking at girl groups? And do you ever also look into comedies that focused on women such as Designing Women, The Mary Tyler Moore Show

REG: Golden Girls. Yeah. And thank you for mentioning them. AbFab, remember, AbFab? There is a history. There is a strong history of women coming together, and being ridiculously brilliantly funny. And I’m just sticking on brilliant for a minute because even when they seem absurd, even when there is an absurdity at play, there’s always such obvious genius. And somebody just showed me a T-shirt with the Golden Girls. The light in front of all of us that have an opportunity as women to do comedy at all, are all of those women. But when they circled up in a group, and we’re on a show together, Designing Women, whatever it is, when they did that, and when they do that, there’s a magic that happened that’s bigger than it being about for a certain demo. It’s bigger than that. And I think you would really miss something if you thought women coming together only lifts up other women like them in a certain age, like, “Oh. This show is about women of a certain age.” No. Golden Girls is for everybody. And we aspire to that greatness.

TD: Of course you’ve had plenty of time with the other women to develop this chemistry, but I wanted to also ask you what goes into maintaining such great chemistry with Chad L. Coleman [who plays the Lunch Lord]? Every scene you guys have together is so funny. He’s the only person on the show that will challenge Wickie in the way that she needs to be challenged. So what goes into creating these scenes with him?

REG: He’s such a smart man. He’s been around a long time. We actually worked together on One Life to Live many, many, many, many, many years ago. And there’s something that just feels affirming about looking at people that you know have been around a long time and they’re still here. So we share that history. But the basic part is really that they created a character that he embodies so perfectly. That is the last thing you would expect. That’s I think what’s so brilliant about comedy and comedic writers is understanding how to give us something that’s right in front of our face that we all recognize immediately. We just didn’t think about it.

And that’s what his character really is. They set up the entire time that the person that would work for her is a normie, as they call it. It’s somebody that’s ridiculously normal, but always calls her out, but never in a way that’s degrading. I have to never miss it. I’m not stupid. I know exactly what I’m in for, and I’m down. I’m going to do it. I’m down for it. And he’s that salt of the earth of a person, and that good of an actor. So it works.

TD: He’s completely unafraid to hold a mirror up to Wickie. So she can see exactly what she’s doing.

REG: Absolutely.

TD: What is your biggest hope for Wickie if the seasons keep progressing?

REG: Oh my gosh. Well, I have to start by saying, they always surprise me. I didn’t see anything coming that’s happened. It’s always been better than I could have dreamed, and I have this dream that they actually get what they think they want, specifically Wickie, but all of them. I think at some point there’s something about getting what you ask for, and figuring it out, who you are in that, and if the goal is right, if you deserve it, how you manage it. They had success before and they blew it. I think it would be helpful to see if they’ve learned anything. I think the greatest litmus test for how far she’s come and they’ve come is to get another shot, another crack at it.

TD: And I think they deserve that. I think that Wickie/Lesley deserves that.

REG: [laughs] I do. And I also think anything maternal coming out of her in this godmommy role will just be hilarious, too, because it also forces her to be something other than completely self-absorbed.

TD: It does. And especially when it is not her own child. So she’ll have this projection of love as well, and protection that she’ll want to provide.

REG: She can literally just sit around, and judge all day long, which she loves to do.

TD: And she should keep doing it!

The third season of Girls5Eva is currently available to stream on Netflix. Renée Elise Goldsberry is Emmy eligible in the category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Girls5Eva.

Tyler Doster

Tyler is the TV Awards Editor for AwardsWatch and from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He’s been obsessed with movies and the oscars since he was about 14. He enjoys reading, but even more, talking about Amy Adams more and will, at any given moment, bring up her Oscar snub for Arrival. The only thing he spends more time on than watching TV is sitting on Twitter. If you ever want to discuss the movie Carol at length, he’s your guy. You can find Tyler at @wordswithtyler

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