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Hamilton and Me – Giles Terera

Hamilton and Me – Giles Terera

Giles Terera and company as Alexander Hamilton’s nemesis and killer, Aaron Burr.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Giles Terera is one of those actors who landed not only the role of a lifetime in what has become the hottest multi-award-winning show in the world right now, written by the hottest and most celebrated musical theatre writer of his generation. But to top it all, he was then duly recognised for his performance by winning the 2018 Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
The first super exciting piece of news is that Giles kept a journal throughout his entire Hamilton journey. That journal is soon to be published, in hardback, on 1 July – and it’s brilliant. I’ve read it. I know. Sardines readers are able to pre-order Hamilton and Me at a specially heavily discounted rate of just £10.99. All the details are at the end of this article so make sure you order yourself a copy. And if you need another reason?

The second piece if news – that should REALLY get you excited – is that Giles Terera used to be like you and I, performing with his local amateur dramatics group in Stevenage. In Giles’ case it was the Lytton Players… a time which brings back some fond memories for the man who went on to play Aaron Burr, the historical figure who killed Alexander Hamilton.

“The camaraderie of being in an amateur company and going on that journey when you put a show on together is not that dissimilar to the journey I went on when I wrote my journal for Hamilton,” Giles told me over the phone, mid-lockdown.

After reading the book in a single weekend and realising this guy is the real deal, I mentioned to Giles that as an amateur performer, and representing the entire ‘amateur’ sector for a moment, it would be very difficult to apply that much scrutiny to an amateur performance… such as auditioning and finding out you’ve got the part a whole year prior to opening night. We simply don’t have enough hours in the day.

“Yes, but speaking about ‘amateur’ most of the people who I know and have worked with started off in their local amateur dramatics company,” the West End performer-come-author tells me. “That’s the natural way to start. We like it at school and then find the local amateur dramatics society. That’s certainly what I did. I went with my friend to the one group that was in town, and that’s where we did it, where we started.”

“The amount of dedication you see us applying is really just down to curiosity about a particular character who should really interest you,” continues Giles before reminiscing. “It takes me back; I remember starting out with my amateur dramatics company, we weren’t getting paid anything. So in order to get up there and do it you must really, really want to do it. You’ve got to love what you’re doing. ‘Amateur’. You have to be a lover of what you’re doing; you have to get up there and do it every week, make the costumes sometimes, build the set sometimes. It’s the whole thing. It’s that level of commitment that we strive for in the professional theatre. That’s why I’ve never understood the negative connotation in calling someone an ‘amateur’. You simply have to have the passion for what you’re doing. Otherwise, why else are you there?”

I really like this guy. He’s genuinely genuine. I’ll let him continue: “For me, it was just an extension of that; getting the same feeling as when I was 10 or 12 years old. I was with the Lytton Players Amateur Dramatic Society in Stevenage, and I loved it. We’d get there early and stay behind afterwards. We would even go round to people’s houses for some extra practice if we felt we needed it. Obviously now we are contractually employed by someone to do it but the reason why you do it – at the very core – it’s because I really like doing it. I love it. And to be honest I don’t think that’s very different, whether you are a professional or an amateur.”

Back to that contractual employment then and that little show called Hamilton. I bet he’s pleased he kept a journal? “The journal helps me in rehearsals and with my work process anyway,” discloses Giles. “I came back to it last summer and, when I read it through, I thought that it was something I would have liked to have had to read when I was training. It would have been really useful. Hopefully, people will be able to get a lot of things from it.”

The Victoria Palace Theatre.

Actually, the words “contractual employment” don’t get used once in the book. It’s as if Giles is still an amateur – something Ian McKellen always used to refer to himself as – I mean just because you’re getting paid it doesn’t mean you can’t still ‘love’ what you do. Speaking with Giles I got the feeling that – despite a strong body of professional work in the biog bank – being cast in Hamilton must have felt like achieving the role-of-a-lifetime.

“It doesn’t always happen like that,” is the response I was half expecting. “With Hamilton I think, like the show itself, my journey to it was a ‘coming together’ of lots of different things. I know that we are all passionate about our work and different jobs mean different things at different times in our lives, but for some reason at that point in my life, and taking into account the career I’d had up until then, as well as things in my personal life – everything came together in that one role. I had to draw on all those different things to perform that role and tell that story.”

“It’s like the book,” explains Giles further. “When I was doing the show I noticed a lot of Shakespeare comparisons in there, in terms of storytelling, the depth of the characters, and even their flaws. I’ve done quite a lot of Shakespeare and so I was able to draw on a lot of that experience as well as music performing. But yes, everything kind of came together for that one role.”

“Sometimes you become part of a play and you’ll know what you’re doing straightaway,” Giles told me to clarify his previous point. “‘I know why I have been cast as that person.’ And you just sort of do it. But with this I soon realised it was going to take everything that I’d got. It was very much an all-consuming thing. But I quite liked that about it.”

The genius behind Hamilton almost needs no introduction. Lin Manuel Miranda has also written the foreword to Giles Terera’s Hamilton and Me. Such a move is testament to giving the upcoming publication your final blessing. Giles was and still is in awe of the show’s creator, and even hails him as a modern-day bard: “Ha ha! You know what? When I was looking through the journal I noticed a lot of similarities,” laughs Giles before getting serious. “Lin Manuel is an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary storyteller… and so was Shakespeare. With Shakespeare, whether he’s writing about Hamlet, who’s younger, Lear, who’s older or Othello, who’s black, what we’re basically saying is ‘What do we deal with, as human beings?’ And really, that’s all Shakespeare is interested in. And I think Lin Manuel is exactly the same. Yes, he’s talking about history and yes, he’s talking about politics… but he’s also talking about brothers and fathers, sons, children. I think that’s why Shakespeare comes up a lot. Like any brilliant storyteller, they’re all going for the same thing.”

You might as well just say it, Giles… “I think Lin Manuel definitely compares to the Bard; I think he’s our Shakespeare.” Ok you said it, and time will tell I guess. “Shakespeare wrote about stories that existed,” enthuses the actor. “He hardly made anything up himself. Lin does the same thing. ‘I’ve got this story that exists. How can I connect it to an audience now?’ That’s one of the big things I loved about doing the show.”

Giles Terera accepting the 2018 Olivier Award for ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ as Alexander Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr. Photo: Televised screenshot

“Also, Lin says – as Shakespeare did – ‘I’m going to use whatever is available and make it connect to an audience now. Today,” continues Giles. “Shakespeare used a lot of jokes and songs of the time that he knew the audience would know. And Lin does the same thing, which is why we get a lot of hip-hop. You use whatever you can to get your story across to today’s audience.”

Speaking of music, Hamilton does appear to have Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical stamp all over it. But the score isn’t entirely rap and hip-hop. My personal favourite is called The Room Where It Happens which has more of a Blues and Boogie feel. And if you were to ask Mini Sardines he’d happily quote you some of Lin Manuel’s non-rap musical numbers from the animated film, Moana.
“When I first heard anything about the show I thought what everyone thinks, that it was all rap and hip-hop. But then when I listen to it… Wow!” adds Giles. “Lin Manuel knows as much about the classics of musical theatre as he does about rap and hip-hop. It’s all in there; Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Frank Loesser – Guys and Dolls. All of that stuff is in there as well, in addition to Lin’s Latin American roots. So it’s not just one thing at all. And he’s able to craft how a song works rather than just giving it a catchy melody; how the song builds and whether the character who is singing it changes or not. Technically, how to build a song is one of the great skills.”

Our last mention of Mr Miranda comes from a moment Giles experienced during his pre-audition visit to see the show on Broadway. “Funnily enough when I went to see the show in New York – that’s where I auditioned for it – I was really moved by the fact that the theatre next door is where Les Misérables is playing. There is no Hamilton without Les Mis, and it goes way beyond the subject matter; French or American Revolution. Just in terms of, historically, what a musical theatre production can do really moved me. Lin Manuel is absolutely an incredible scholar of musical theatre, as he is with rap and hip-hop. You wouldn’t necessarily think of the American Revolution coupled with, rap and hip-hop; how do you go about putting the two together? But he’s managed to do it.”

Prince Harry and Meghan went to see one of the performances of Hamilton, accompanied by Lin Manuel Miranda. Giles Terera (left) and the cast look on after the show as Prince Harry gives his thank-you speech.

As you can guess generous Giles likes to talk about other people before himself. Luckily there’s no shortage of talent or surreal experiences to mention, such as the incredible bond formed within the entire company, something that doesn’t always occur: “Those special moments do not happen every time,” confides Giles. “You do some things that really have a magic about them and they just come together and are very special. It’s probably like anything, any endeavour you undertake. For some reason, at that moment, with that group of people, coming together has a certain thing. No, it’s not always like that. I think it depends on the quality of the work; sometimes it can involve a different factor. But with Hamilton, the work is so rich and there’s so much to do such as the journeys of the characters, let alone the execution of it – the singing, the dancing. It takes so much that we all knew what each other was also going through… and that’s when those special moments can happen. It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, Hamilton. But knowing that there were other people who understood that meant there was a really strong bond as well.”

“Plus, it was a really funny group of people. Brilliantly skilled and, at the same time, really nice people,”Giles remembers warmly. “Also it’s testament to the creatives of the show and especially Tommy Kail who directed it. He was very specific about the kind of person he wanted to keep in the company. During the auditions I remember he asked about who you are as a person, what’s your background, where you come from and what you care about. So it’s actually more than just singing and dancing well in the show; it’s about who you are as a person. That’s very important to all of them. And the more we did the show, as the year went on, the more I appreciated the really amazing people in the company. And we all still talk. There are only a few people in the original West End company who are still in the show but, two years later, we’ve still got our WhatsApp group and we still meet up. As I’ve said, it’s not always like that but with Hamilton everything was very, very special.”

No wonder it’s the most in-demand show of the moment. It makes you want to put it on doesn’t it? Although Cameron Mackintosh doesn’t give out his performing rights very often – maybe to schools though? “I would hope so,” agrees Giles Terera. “I know that in America certainly they have a whole education program linked to the production called ‘EduHam’ which is available to schools. I would imagine the natural progression of all of that would be to release some sort of performing rights.”

“One of the things I never got over in Hamilton was how much young people connected to it. There were videos being uploaded all over the place with young people doing bits from the show, so I hope it does happen. As I say, it certainly would feel like the natural progression for it to be released at some point in the future.”

Like all theatres the newly renovated Victoria Palace Theatre (Hamilton) has been closed for over a year. Giles spent a year in the show and was away with twelve months to spare: “I left Hamilton at the end of 2018 so I was out for a whole year before the pandemic hit everything,” he says in a sombre mood which lightens as he remembers his award. “I left in December and was lucky enough, in April 2019, to win the Olivier award. We were also asked to perform at the Olivier’s and we had to rehearse an adapted version of the opening in March. It all happened fairly quickly. There was quite a few of us who’d finished after the year was up, with some staying on for a second year. Then, they finished too just before lockdown happened… and then of course all the shows closed. But it’s starting up again soon. August I think.”

How one follows up a show like Hamilton is not a question I was expecting a happy answer to… although: “Erm… [long pause] I’ve written a play which I’ve been writing and developing over the last few years with Bristol Old Vic,” I’m a little surprised, but I don’t know why. “In fact the reason I was slightly late for our interview was because of a production meeting about it. We’re trying to do something in the autumn this year. They haven’t actually announced anything yet so I don’t know if I should say any more at the moment, but it’s almost official so hopefully it’ll be announced very soon and we can talk about it properly.”

SPECIAL OFFER FOR SARDINES READERS – Save £6.00 off the book price*

Hamilton and Me: An Actor’s Journal
by Giles Terera

…is published on 1 July.

Pre-order your copy for just £10.99 plus delivery (RRP £16.99) when you order direct from publishers Nick Hern BooksJust head to and enter discount code SARDINESHAMILTON * at checkout for the extra £1 pre-order discount.

This discount also applies to copies signed by Giles Terera, which are exclusively available to pre-order via the Nick Hern Books website.

*This code is valid until Thursday 1 July.