As far as Broadway is concerned, Patina Miller has gone from zero to 60 in record time. The Carnegie Mellon grad booked a job as an understudy in Sister Act five years ago and has stayed with the show ever since—with some time off to wail on “The Age of Aquarius” in Hair in Central Park. Post-Hair, Miller snagged the coveted Sister Act leading role as Donna Summer-wannabe Deloris Van Cartier and shipped out to London to make her West End debut. She earned a whatsonstage award and an Olivier nomination for the role, which she reprised in her Broadway debut. One Best Actress Tony nomination later, Miller is still blowing the roof off the Broadway Theatre eight times a week. Below, Broadway.com caught up with Miller to chat about her newfound Broadway fame, finding balance and being near best pal Jonathan Groff.
How’s the show going?
We’ve been open for a long time, but it still feels fresh and new. Every day is really exciting. We’re settled now, so all the nerves of opening a new show on Broadway have gone away, so I’m just enjoying the show and having a good time.
Why have you stuck with this show for so long?
I love the story and the music, and I love my character. Early on I was the understudy, so leading the show for the past two and half years has been really amazing. There are a lot of people out here who want to be doing [musical theater], so I’m just enjoying every moment, and hopefully helping people have a good time in the process.
Is your experience here very different than in London?
It’s a totally different experience. Here, I’m home! It’s different to lead a show and be away from all your friends and family. It was fun, but a lot trickier because you’re not around the people who know you and make you smile. My friends are here, I get to do an amazing show on Broadway and come home to my apartment in New York City each night.
You told Broadway.com’s Show People host Paul Wontorek you were living a nun’s life. Is that still the case?
I have a life now! It’s nice to not turn down people’s requests to go out. I have a life and I’m enjoying my job. That balance has been really good for me.
You participated in early workshops of The Book of Mormon and American Idiot. Why was Sister Act right for your Broadway debut?
Well, I’m the lead of the show [laughs]. Let’s just get that one out of the way. There are not that many leading roles for African-American women on Broadway right now, so that made me want to do it even more. The fact that little girls who look like me can come to Broadway and see someone they can look up to really appealed to me. Those other shows were really great opportunities, but this one allowed me to be the actress I want to be. It’s always been my dream to lead a Broadway show, but I didn’t think it’d come so soon.
You’ve been working consistently since you graduated from college. Did you ever have any survival day jobs?
I sure did. Right after school I panicked, because every college graduate panics, especially in this business. All my graduation money went to paying for bartending classes so I could have a side gig. I bartended for two months before I was supposed to move to New York and then two months later I got the job as an understudy in Sister Act and haven’t looked back since. It doesn’t happen like this very often, so I’m so grateful and happy that it worked out.
And now you probably make an awesome drink too.
I don’t know if I make awesome drinks these days [laughs]. I can tell you how to make a screwdriver, but that’s about it.
After Sister Act, do you worry that fans or casting directors will have a hard time seeing you in roles other than Deloris?
That’s always the fear, when you’ve done something as big as this you think, “What could you possibly do next?” This role has been so big for me. It’s my moment. But hopefully casting directors will see that within the show I do a lot of different things. There’s drama in my show as well. I’m not just cracking jokes and being funny, so I hope they will see I’m a well-rounded actor and will be able to lead another show.
Well, you earned a Tony nomination for your Broadway debut. When Broadway.com joined you to prepare for the Tony luncheon, you mentioned you were going to take your mom as your Tony date. Did she end up coming?
She totally did. The night was great. I flew my parents up from Augusta, Georgia, and they had never been to anything like it before. My mom and I went shopping for dresses for her, and it was a great experience for her too. She’s the reason I get to do what I do. She really pushed me to do this and not let anyone tell me no. She’s inspired me so much, so for her to have her there for the big day and all of this is amazing.
Did you have a deal growing up that she’d be your Tony date?
She told me! When I was in London she came to the Oliviers and she said, “I’m coming with you to the Tonys. You will go.” So I was like, “Well, I guess you’re coming.”
You may have been lonesome in London, but I love that you and Jonathan Groff always seem to be in the same place at the same time.
I know! He’s one of my best friends. We really just get each other. Ever since Hair, we’ve been so close. We were on the West End for six months and then he moved to L.A., but now he’s back doing [off-Broadway’s The Submission] so we're together again. It’s great.
Will you get a chance to see him in The Submission?
I get to go on opening night because it’s our night off from Sister Act! I will be there supporting him.
Did he come to visit Sister Act when Lea Michele and the Glee cast showed up this spring?
He sure did! Amber Riley actually tweeted that Sister Act is her favorite musical. How cool is that?
She’s got good taste. Who’s been your favorite guest at the Broadway Theatre?
I think [the Glee] guys were really cool. Having Obama at our show was pretty amazing, but crazy. Everybody was on edge. Joan Rivers came to see the show too. She loved it and had nothing but nice things to say.
Co-star Sarah Bolt’s Broadway.com video blog has shown off your new puppy. How is she doing?
She is a star! She’s the sweetest thing ever. I got her about a month ago. I’ve always wanted a Maltese-poodle, but I’ve always been really busy. So I said once I’m back in the city, and the Sister Act stuff dies down, I’m going to get a puppy.
Is she picking up any diva qualities from Deloris?
She knows what she wants, that's for sure. If she wants something she’ll just start barking and you know immediately what it is. She’s a little diva dog.
It seems like the Sister Act crew had a lot of fun during the recent cancellation of shows due to Hurricane Irene. How did you spend your hurrication?
I took a little trip, but it was really fun to just rest. I haven’t missed a show yet. I’m really proud of that. People always seem amazed that I haven’t had a break, but you know what? If I can get out of bed, I’m going to go do my show. I love what I do.
What are some your other tips to stay healthy?
I just take care of myself. I’m having a life, but it’s not getting in the way of my job. I don’t go out to clubs and go out drinking. I drink a lot of tea and water. I live alone, so I don’t really talk to anyone once I’m home. I have some silent nights.
Do you feel like you’ve become a different performer because of Deloris?
Totally. Everything about me has changed. Being alone in a different country for that long I wasn't only finding the character, I was finding myself as a performer and who I want to be. I’m older now and I have a sense of who that is and what I want. I’ve definitely changed in a good way.
See Patina Miller in Sister Act at the Broadway Theatre.