Warren Egypt Franklin has always aspired for greatness, and he has been taking the entertainment industry by storm since graduating from Baldwin Wallace University.
Driven by a love for the arts and no stranger to performing, he is currently traveling around the country in the touring production of Broadway’s smash hit Hamilton playing Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson. Made famous by Daveed Diggs, Franklin is the youngest actor to land the role.
After theatre was forced into hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Franklin returned home and began auditioning for film and television. He quickly landed the part of Des, a queer identifying man who bends gender norms, in Freeform’s Grown-ish. Franklin found Des to be particularly inspiring for living his own life how he wants to, and he believes the character will resonate with young people who are learning who they are and discovering the evolution of themselves.
Instinct caught up with Franklin to talk more about making his television debut, returning to the stage, and future goals he hopes to accomplish in the industry.
Hi, Warren! Thank you for taking some time to chat with me. How did it feel to make your television debut on Freeform’s Grown-ish?
It’s so, so crazy! I always dreamed of what my TV debut would be like, and to be on a show that I actually watch and am a big fan of, it still feels surreal. I love Grown-ish and admire so many of the people who work on the show, so it was a dream for that to be my first TV debut.
What attracted you to the role of Des, and what have you enjoyed the most about playing this character?
What attracted me to the role was the fact that there’s no other character like him on TV. We don’t really get characters who are queer identifying and not ultra-feminine. There is nothing wrong with that, but I just think queer people come in all shapes, forms, sizes, and variations, and we should start posing the question of, what does a queer person look like? The fact that this guy is not only an athlete who is very masculine and very good at what he does in track and in sports, but the fact that he can wear sweats one day, and then the next day, he may rock a skirt. You never know, and we have never had a character like that before.
I think it’s really cool. I have gotten so many messages from so many young men and athletes saying how much I inspire them, how they feel like they can be themselves, and they have never seen themselves on TV before. I think that’s what really attracted me to the role. He is daring. He is so daring, and he doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. It’s a beautiful story and I can’t wait for the story to unfold even more for people to see his journey.
Grown-ish is at the mid-way point, and the second half of season four will most likely begin airing in January. Can we expect to see more of Des?
Absolutely. He is in the second half of the season even more than he was in the first. Things get much crazier.
What is something about Des you are most excited for audiences to see?
In the first part of the season, we got to meet him and see a bit of him, but in the next part of the season, we really get to hear how his mind ticks, how he works as a person, what he thinks of himself, and how he navigates the world. Also, I can’t give too much away, but I think we will get to see how Des navigates love, so that will be something super cool for everybody to see.
The season focuses on mental health, Black Lives Matter, and white fragility. Was it at all challenging for you to tackle some of these topics?
Not for me, and knowing some of the writers, directors, and Eps on the show, I don’t think it was for them either because Grown-ish is a spinoff of Black-ish, and Black-ish is one of the first shows to really give a platform for people to talk about these things in the Black community that we never really speak upon. Knowing that it’s one of Kenya Barris’ shows and this is a spinoff, I don’t think that they shied away from it at all.
I think it’s really good because Grown-ish gets such an interesting demographic of people. People who are in their early 20s, like myself, and I know older people who watch it. As well as people who are in college and high school. So, I think this is where you use your platform for something bigger and greater than you to reach an audience who may not know.
The average white girl who loves Grown-ish may not know what microaggressions are and the way she may come off to her Black friends by what she’s doing and saying. I think it’s a teaching method for everyone. The masculine guy may not know what he’s doing to his queer friend. He’s like, ‘no, I’m not homophobic. I have so many gay friends.’ But what are you saying to them? How are you interacting with them? I think every episode is a teaching lesson for everybody, and I am proud to be a part of it.
Do you have any other television projects currently in the works?
No, nothing is currently in the works because I am currently on tour with Hamilton right now, but there will for sure be some more things announced next year.
Speaking of Hamilton, you play Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson. Can you talk more about your experience performing in this iconic production?
Being in Hamilton is also a dream of mine, and it was a dream since I saw the original Broadway cast do it. I am the youngest Lafayette/Jefferson, and I am actually the youngest person on my tour. When I auditioned, I was like, there’s no way I can get this role because I am so young. You know, you psych yourself out and tell yourself all the reasons why you can’t do something, but I’m doing it! I am so happy. I love the cast; everyone is so supportive. Every day I get on that stage, it truly feels like a dream.
I don’t take it for granted. Coming back now after the pandemic, every show could be the last. You never know what can happen, so I go out there every night and try to give all of myself for three hours. To be able to play my dream role in front of almost 5,000 people every night, it’s been crazy to feel that love again. As much as I love TV and film, and I want to continue to do projects for as long as I can, there is nothing quite like live theatre and live interaction with fans. Feeling that energy once you get into the theatre, there is nothing like that. I am blessed to be back.
The tour opened in Atlanta the other week. I can only imagine how great it felt to be back on stage.
It is definitely something that I missed. When you do TV, you do take after take after take, which is still an amazing feat, but when things go wrong and happen on stage, you’ve got to figure it out. You’ve got to see what happens, and I think that really tests you as an actor. I think that’s why so many amazing TV and film actors have been on Broadway, came from Broadway, or did theater because it really takes an immense level of tenacity and focus to be able to do that.
So, I applaud Broadway performers doing eight shows a week. It’s no joke, and I think some people take what we do for granted. They have so many demands and thoughts, but I’m like, Broadway performers are superhumans. Doing a three hour show of such high intensity eight times a week is insane, but we’re doing it. I just look up at everybody who works around me. It’s amazing.
Being the youngest actor in your touring production, how significant is that?
I think it’s very significant. I will share that, on the other portion of the tour before the pandemic, I tried to prove myself a lot because I was so young. I worried a lot about what people thought of me and how I navigated. I was doing a lot of things for other people and not myself. Now, being back, I am focusing more on my mental health, my vocal health, my physical health, and making sure I am happy. I don’t have to prove myself to anybody because I feel like I have proven myself.
Also, no one really cares as much as you think they care. If they do care that much, they don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s about you and your happiness. I feel like the pandemic gave me time off and doing a TV show gave me the confidence and things that I needed to say. I care, but I don’t care. I am here to do excellent work and always make sure I put myself in it as much as I can, but I also need to find a happy balance and take time for my mental and physical health. I can’t please so many other people, but then forget to please myself.
The role was, of course, made famous by Daveed Diggs. Have you had the chance to meet him?
I did have the chance to meet him. I met Daveed when I saw the original Broadway cast. I was a freshman in college, and I was so amazed by everything, but I am all about putting things out into the universe. If I say something, I am going to get it. I told him, I looked him in the face when I was 19 years old, and I said, ‘I’m going to play this role. Once I graduate college, I am going to play this role.’ He was like, ‘yo, I love that confidence, I love your swag.’ I think he mentioned my outfit, and we talked about music and a couple other things for a little bit.
That was my first time meeting him, but two weeks after I graduated from college, I did book that role. It’s crazy that you can speak things into fruition, but he has been super supportive of me going into the role, and other Lafayette/Jefferson’s as well. I am so proud of what he has done with his career. Being this boy from The Bay, and going to not just be a Broadway actor, but also an executive producer and writer. I hope to follow in his footsteps of making the work happen that you may not see out there but putting your foot forward to make the work happen for you. He is very inspiring.
How did your passion for acting begin?
Oh, wow. I was around six, and my mom put me in a production of Oliver Twist just to channel some of my energy. I was playing sports at the time as a little tyke, but she wanted me to do other things. I really didn’t want to do it at first, but I got the role of Oliver. Then I was like, oh, this is fun. This is nice [laughs]. What really was a defining moment is when I got in high school. There were a couple moments, but once I did Rent my junior year, I saw the impact you can make on people’s lives through storytelling. This is bigger than me, this is bigger than my friends, and I realized that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Do you have any dream roles you would love to play?
Yes! I would love to play Fiyero in Wicked. There have not been many Black Fiyero’s, so I would love to change the narrative of that. Wicked is one of my dream shows. I would love to play Aladdin in Aladdin, Hermes in Hadestown, and then I also have a dream of producing my own Broadway show. Produce it, star in that, and do some Lin magic there. There are definitely some things I want to do on Broadway.
What are some other future goals you would like to accomplish as an actor?
I have taken a lot of time away from this since I started Hamilton, but before Hamilton, I was writing my own pilot for a TV show. I only got my show bible and the first 10 pages done, but I am getting back into the swing of things, and I am very excited about where that story is going. Like Daveed and Lin, if you don’t see your own work, you produce it and make it happen yourself. I would love to be a producer, an executive producer, write, and make my own things.
I would love to do a movie by next year, and I am also working on music, so I would love to have my music out by next year as well. Those are some goals, but I have learned that things will happen when they are supposed to happen. Don’t rush it. Just keep working as hard as you can, and the rollout will happen flawlessly the way it’s supposed to. Additionally, I would love to open an art museum. I would love to open a nonprofit for kids who don’t have access to art in Cleveland, where I’m from. There are so many things.
Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you like to mention or plug?
Just go to the Hamilton musical website to see where we are touring; I will be with the tour for at least the rest of the year. So, come out and see the show, and make sure to check out Grown-ish on Freeform and Hulu. We will be back at the top of next year with new episodes.
Stay up-to-date and connect with Franklin by following him on Instagram.