Hamilton lead actor Jamael Westman on making change: ‘There’s a lot of power in being young’

After a hugely successful first year in
the West End Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical,
Hamilton, shows no signs of slowing down. 25-year-old Jamael Westman, who
plays Hamilton in the production, came fresh from Rada to this lead role and I
went to speak to him about the journey so far. It’s been a mad, mad year. You are the lead role in the
biggest production in the West End at the moment and you were nominated for an
Olivier Award as well. How are you feeling? Feeling good, man. Feeling very lucky. Has there been anything that’s kind of surprised
you or that you’ve learned along the way? One of them was kind of like and
it wasn’t necessarily said to me but it’s been said to the company
and stuff like that, you know like, ‘wow, diversity it works!’ You know, that kind of response. Diversity, it works? Like, ‘oh, I didn’t think
that could happen’ you know, seeing a black person or a
person of colour playing a white person like, ‘oh, it’s kind of mad’
and you are like, it’s not that mad. It’s doesn’t feel mad, it’s feels really natural. I watched it, I was fortunate enough to be
able to get tickets to watch in January. I thought you were phenomenal as
Hamilton but that idea of diversity, it feels at the moment
everyone is talking about that there are more and
more productions … There was Barbershop Chronicles, there’s Misty on
at the moment … Even in cinema there’s been Black Panther, people have been
talking a lot about diversity. Do you feel that you’re at a point where you
kind of represent that, you have an active role in that question of
diversity? I play a part, I play a part. It’s interesting, I just watched a clip very recently, I don’t know who was doing it, but it was about, are we having
like a kind of a black renaissance in terms of film and theatre and stuff like
that and I guess it’s definitely on the kind of cultural consciousness at the
moment. We all kind of feel it. But we don’t want it to be like a flash in
the pan, like the Harlem renaissance I am not saying that’s a flash in the pan,
it had an incredible impact in terms of culture but you don’t want it to be kind of blocked off in a moment of history, and you want it to be permeating throughout and felt
throughout because you know, for instance, with that renaissance, it was like a
thing that you have to look back into history, in this case you
don’t look back and be like, we are still existing in that, that progress is still
being made. At the moment we’ve got all these
stories around Windrush, and there’s all of these questions around
immigration, and Brexit and Trump and things like that, so for me personally, when I came to see Hamilton, which is about a founding father fighting the revolutionary fight for America
to basically be its own independent country, I just thought, this feels like
it’s so contemporary and so relevant at the moment. The themes about young
people and ambition and it was what was so uplifting about it and I
just wanted to know if there are any particular themes in it that resonated
with you personally? Big time. I actually mentioned one of them was the nature of youth, the voice that young people have, being able to kind of break
out and change things and that’s what is in the story, and you just think about,
these guys kind of catching together. Initially, they’re just catching a cipher but you know they’re just rapping with each other you know having a good time which is what young people are supposed to be doing. And then, it becomes about well where can we take this, we can make change and that’s what you’ve seen perhaps even
in the last general election, that young people
changed the nature and the kind of direction that the election was going
and obviously in the show, they win the revolution and
Hamilton was so young, so young when he started out, when he’s
fighting alongside Washington, he was in his mid-20s it’s just like, it’s insane, and when I think about more
contemporary recent people, my go-to, particularly
with rap, is someone like Tupac Shakur, who was like 25
when he lost his life, but in that time, he had shaped America, black
America, young black men and women just through his words in the same way that
Hamilton does, so there’s a lot of power in being young and I think that’s what the show lends itself to among a million other things but that’s something
that I certainly feel at a tender age of 26. Are you a fan of hip-hop,
are you a fan of musicals? Yes, so hip-hop was my first
love in terms of music You know, I guess musicals,
Lion King, my go-to. I wouldn’t say it was like, you know, many
musicals were a bit inaccessible for me at that time. Why? It cost money and it wasn’t in my area,
I mean, the cinema was accessible we had Odeon down the road and stuff
like that but also there weren’t know many
theatres from my recollection or maybe there were but they weren’t
as prominent whereas like, you’ve got the adverts for musicals,
Lion King was one that was definitely in my area which is a curious thing but you kind of know why they were selling it to my area,
because my area is predominantly black, ‘oh, this is a little way in’. When you say
that though, I have to say, like I said the production is phenomenal, it’s incredible, I thought it was extremely positive and relevant to the moment
but one thing I did notice while in the audience, when I looked around was that the
audience was predominantly white and quite wealthy, which I guess is because the
tickets … it’s so popular people just really want to see it. It’s the hottest ticket in
London at the moment. Have you noticed that at all, when you
look at the audience? And you mentioned yourself that musicals were quite
inaccessible for you. Yeah, for sure man,
I think in terms of musicals, Hamilton as a show, in terms of what
it is representing on the stage has hit the musical theatre at a very particular time and that particular time is where, generally speaking, musical theatre has its own
kind of regular musical theatre goers and those are the people that can afford
it and so like that’s currently where it’s at. There are definitely things being put in place, which will be revealed as it goes
by, you know, it’s one of those things that I have faith in that change being
made. There’s quite evidently changes and statements being made in terms of ticket prices and stuff like that, so yeah, but no, 100%,
I recognise the problem, I think we all recognise the problem. It’s obviously very different to films
because it’s a case of, you know, you can’t just take a production and then
show it in a different theatre, you have to
be able to bring people in, so it’s a big challenge to do that. So it’s really good to hear
that there are steps being made. There are definitely steps being made, but it’s the nature of you’ve got your
theatre goers and you’ve got people who never been to the theatre. I was one of those people, so it’s was like, how do we engage and access those people? And I guess there’s
what we are at place right now, that’s the question
we’re asking and that’s the steps that we are making in order to it enable
those first timers to come in and be like, ‘oh my god, I can see myself on stage’
like someone who doesn’t allow me on stage, I feel changed and I can therefore make
change of my own. And the first step is representation
which, you know, unlike many other shows,
Hamilton is doing extremely fucking well. It’s really, really refreshing. Without the expletive, extremely well.

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