Exclusive: Wayne Brady Talks ‘Kinky Boots’ and More

Image via of Demetrius Fordham

Wayne Brady, the true multi-hyphenate whose career path and personal life journey have helped him see the world in a unique way, will be returning to the Hollywood Bowl this summer to reprise his role as Lola in the award-winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots. Performances are scheduled for July 8, 9, and 10.

Inspired by a true story of an unlikely friendship built around some very unlikely shoes, factory owner Charlie is struggling to save his business while the fabulous Lola has a wildly exciting idea that just might do the trick. With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, an uplifting book by Harvey Fierstein, and direction and choreography by Jerry MitchellKinky Boots is the huge-hearted story of two people with nothing in common—or so they think.

Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears will star alongside Brady, reprising his role as Charlie.

As the first person to win Daytime and Primetime Emmys in two consecutive years, Brady has an impressive TV resume that includes Whose Line Is It Anyway?, The Masked Singer, and the upcoming Showtime series American Gigolo, each spotlighting different aspects of his immense talent. Additionally, he is heavily active behind the scenes wearing the hats of host and executive producer for Let’s Make a DealGame of Talents, and Comedy IQ, which he also co-created.

Brady took some time to talk more about the upcoming production of Kinky Boots with Instinct, as well as current and upcoming projects, and being an advocate for mental health and the LGBTQ community.

Thank you for taking some time to chat with me, Wayne! How excited are you to reprise your role as Lola in the Hollywood Bowl production of Kinky Boots?

If I weren’t excited, I wouldn’t do it! Plain and simple. That’s the baseline, and I couldn’t be any happier. I love everything about Kinky Boots, I love the role of Lola/Simon, and I mean that. It’s not hyperbole. I love the messaging, I love the movie, and I always knew it was going to be a show in my heart. So, when I got an opportunity to step in after Billy Porter, I knew it was something that I could check off my life’s bucket list. Right now, I think we need shows like Kinky Boots that spread a message of acceptance and love. This is just a dream.

You have performed at the Hollywood Bowl several times before. What makes this such a special and magical venue for you?

Playing at the Bowl is aspirational, kind of like playing Carnegie Hall, and I’ve been lucky enough to play both. It’s one of those things that as a little kid, you dream of it, and every time you step on that stage, you pinch yourself. I can’t wait to stand there and look out at all those seats.

Jake Shears will also be reprising his role of Charlie Price. How meaningful is it to work with him again?

Yes! I adore Jake, and part of what makes this play wonderful is that connection as the audience. If we’ve done our job correctly, you see the turning point at the end of “Not My Father’s Son,” where you would have had these two parallel stories of these two men.

When they look at each other, and they lock in, and they’re saying, ‘Well, I’m not my father’s son for this reason, and I’m not my father’s son for this reason,’ they couldn’t have more different of an upbringing, and yet still, they are the same. Simon says, ‘We’re the same, Charlie boy. You and me.’

With Jake, there’s something about him that when we did it on Broadway together, and I’ve done it with a couple different Charlie’s, they’ve all been amazing, but just who Jake is as a person makes me lock into him, and the audience feels him. It is absolutely wonderful. He’s something else.

Since Billy Porter originated the role of Lola, how are you making this character your own?

I’ve already made it my own. Just as an actor, you are a different person, so it’s already going to be different. You can’t do what someone else has already done. Billy Porter is Billy Porter, so I don’t have to try to make it different. It’s going to be different because no one else is going to be Billy. You have to be you, so I just use whatever is me. It’s just like stepping into Hamilton or stepping into any of the roles I’ve done. You don’t play that person. You play you bringing something, and I think I have a warmth on stage. I think my Lola has a light and love and leans into the joyous part of what he does.

Can you touch a bit more on why you think Kinky Boots is such a profound and impactful show?

To me, I think it is very impactful, and I’ve had to school a couple of journalists who haven’t seen the show. Not just journalists, but people in general. They like, oh, you’re doing Kinky Boots. So, you’re playing that gay dude that dresses up like a, and I stop them. I say, first off, if Lola were gay, great/ Then it’d be a story about a gay man, but his sexuality has nothing to do with the show. In one scene, he actually gets to jump on Don and tells him that. It has nothing to do with it.

What it has to do with is the acceptance piece. That no matter who you are, no matter who you love, no matter what you look like, no matter what you identify as, no matter who you go home at night with, no matter the skin that you wear, you deserve love, compassion, and understanding, and that is just baseline for the human existence.

Unfortunately, we lost track of that. I think it goes without saying, right? We’ve lost track of that, so that’s the part that keeps bringing me back to Kinky Boots. That’s the part that eight times a week for the two times that I’ve already done it on Broadway, I strapped on those heels because of that message of love. I tell people I’ve never felt more like a man than when I was dressed in those boots.

Are there any other Broadway musicals you would love to be a part of someday?

I don’t know. I’ve gotten a chance to do some of the ones that I really love, but my dream is to originate a role. That’s something that I would love to do. I’ve gotten a chance to do Burr, which I argue is probably one of the best male roles in musical theater in terms of range and letting you do all these things, and I’m just waiting for that next role. I would love to work with Michael R. Jackson, who created A Strange Loop. So, that is my dream role. My dream role is a role I haven’t done yet.

Have you always had a passion for acting and performing?

I mean, if you’re doing it, I guess you would (laughs). When would you be dispassionate about it? I’ve always had a passion for the art, but my only goal as a kid starting to pursue it, I became a professional actor when I was 16, I just wanted to work. I just wanted to work and do this thing called pretend. That’s why you get into it, knowing the odds are against you to be on TV or having a claim. I always thought, if I can work for the rest of my life doing theater or whatever, maybe I’ll be on Broadway, that would be the goal to shoot for. Anything else is icing.

So, I have more than had my share of icing on an amazing cake. I’ve always been passionate about it because I think you have to be passionate about it. You can’t be passionate about success. You have to be passionate about doing the thing. I used to do this for free in community theater or at a small club in North Hollywood for five people. I would do this anytime of the day, as long as I could feed myself.

You began to get your name out there by appearing on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and you are still involved with the series to this day. What have you taken away from that experience?

If someone would have told me that I would have made a name and had a jumping off point from doing improv on TV, I wouldn’t have believed them. I was a fan of the original Whose Line? on British TV, but I didn’t think it could work over here, and I certainly never saw myself on it. I was just a fan. Like I said, I always thought that if I was going to make it, it would be by doing theater, and maybe by some chance I would then get a shot on a primetime drama. Comedy was never in my mind to do. It was just a tool that I use to keep my mind sharp.

I think the thing I take away from Whose Line?, it’s the life lesson that I teach when I teach acting classes or improvisational classes, and to misquote James Brown, ‘If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.’ Doing improvisation at night with my group out here in LA called the House Full of Honkeys for those five people in North Hollywood made me ready for Whose Line?. All my years of musical theater, all my years of dialect work, all my years of singing, that one second when someone said, ‘Hey, come audition for me,’ I was ready.

Is there an episode of Whose Line? that is your absolute favorite?

I don’t have a favorite, but I have those that live in my heart and make me happy, and those are the ones where I got to appear with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. When I was a kid, those were two people that I looked at and went, wow. How do you do that? How do you act like that? How do you become someone else? How do you just talk and then you become this person, and then you go over here and do this? How do you do that? To be on a platform where I get to share the stage, and then have them go, ‘Wayne, I’m so happy to be sharing the stage with you!’ What? How is that possible? Still to this day, two of my fondest memories.

We will get to see you show off your dramatic acting chops in the upcoming Showtime series American Gigolo. Who do you play?

Yes! I don’t know when our season starts, but it’s going to be soon. I play a guy named Lorenzo, who like Julian, who is the titular American Gigolo and is played by Jon Bernthal, has been in prison. Julian gets out, and I am there waiting for him. You learn that I’m his best friend and we were brought together when we were teenagers. I’ve known him his whole life, and I try to help him through this section of his life, which I’m not going to give away, but I am there with him. Getting a chance to work side by side with John was a dream come true.

On a personal level, you are a major ally for LGBTQ people. What makes the queer community so special to you?

I’m going to say, and I want to choose my words carefully because I hope you understand where I’m coming from. It isn’t just that the queer community is special to me. It’s that I have people who are in the queer community that I cannot live without. I have had these people in my life since I was a teenager, and through my relationships with them, I then learned how to be a better person.

Growing up in Orlando, Florida, I saw racism every day. Black ol’ me, I saw racism every day, but I was a nerd and totally unobservant to the way that someone would talk to someone they perceived as lesser than because they thought they were gay, lesbian, or trans. The things that they would say to these other kids while I was in high school that I did not pay attention to because I only thought about the crime of racism.

It wasn’t until later that I began to assemble my tribe of people that I love. Oh, it just so happens that you’re gay, you’re a lesbian, and you’re trans. I went, wait a minute. The world shits on you too? I can’t let that happen. With me, I was just used to it and it’s a fight that I think every person of color goes through. I just wasn’t aware, and even one of my dearest teachers, the woman that is responsible, Karen Ruggiero, I love you, she’s responsible for me being an actor and following my dreams.

It wasn’t until later in our relationship did the anvil hit me on my head. So, that’s why the queer community is special to me. It’s not special because it’s a cause, it’s special because this is my family, and the queer community has given me love. They’ve given me people that I’ve gotten to make art with, and they’ve given me people that accept me, hands down. That’s why I will fight and use my voice.

You are also a mental health advocate who has been very open about your dealing with depression. What are you doing to help people become more open and comfortable with their mental health?

Since I am not a therapist, I think all I can do is just continue to be transparent, which was something I was so scared and nervous to do. At one point, I thought if I told people that I suffer from depression and have taken medication, they would perceive me as weak. I would lose my job, no one would want to hire me – that story that you tell yourself.

Once I was able to stand up and get rid of that narrative, I was able to say, hey, I suffer from depression, I have bad days, I have those intrusive thoughts, these things go on with me. People who think Wayne doesn’t have any problems, he makes me laugh, they will realize that any person can feel that way. It’s okay for you to.

It’s human, and the reason that I even came to that realization was because of Robin Williams. When Robin passed, that was all I needed. I went, okay, done. I’m going to get help, I’m going to talk, and I’m going to talk loudly. If you have an illness of any kind, you go to a doctor, right? Why wouldn’t you do that for your mind?

What more do you hope to accomplish with your career and platform?

All of it, but I think right now at this point in my life, I’m going to alter the way, because words have power, I’m going to alter the way that I set myself up for failure. I think a lot of us do it, no matter your occupation. I’m going to take negative speech out of my language and stop the comparisons. Like, why am I not there when I see this guy doing a movie, blah, blah blah. But there’s somebody out there going, man, I wish I had what Wayne had. Then there’s somebody down the street looking at that dude going, I wish I had what that dude has. You don’t get anywhere with that, so I’m taking that out of my speech. All I want to do is create and make myself happy, and in the process of making myself happy, I want to make you and other people happy. If I’ve done that, then everything else will come.

Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you’d like to mention or plug?

You can watch me on the final season of The Good Fight on CBS where I play Audra McDonald’s love interest, you can watch me on Whose Line? and Let’s Make a Deal, and keep an eye out for American Gigolo. Other than that, I think that’s it!

Stay up-to-date and connect with Brady by following him on Instagram and TikTok. Click HERE for more information and to purchase tickets for the Hollywood Bowl’s production of Kinky Boots.

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