Condola Rashad wowed Broadway audiences in a Tony-nominated debut performance as the resentful, college-bound Cheryl in Kenny Leon's 2011 production of Stick Fly. After earning rave reviews as Shelby in Lifetime's 2012 remake of Steel Magnolias (also directed by Leon), Rashad joined acting legend Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr. in The Trip to Bountiful and earned her second Tony nomination. Her next stop? Juliet—as in Romeo and Juliet—the heroine willing to die for love. Rashad stars alongside film star Orlando Bloom in David Leveaux's contemporary, interracial adaptation of William Shakespeare's iconic play. The super-stylish rising star recently chatted with Broadway.com about why she couldn't turn down the chance to do Shakespeare on Broadway, what she learned from working with Tyson and if fans can expect to see her in Leon's Tupac Shakur musical Holler If Ya Hear Me.
You're just coming off your second Tony nomination for The Trip to Bountiful. Why were you eager to jump into the role of Juliet?
Juliet is a huge challenge, and that’s what drives me in my career. If I see something that’s extremely challenging, I’m like, “That seems really hard. Let’s try it.” It’s just my personality. When I read Romeo and Juliet in high school, I didn’t really believe it. I didn't understand why and how she got to that point. Even as a 26-year-old, I was like, “Man, why didn’t she just do this instead?” William Shakespeare was a brilliant writer and he only wrote the truth. So, if I don’t believe it, I have to work really hard to see what that truth is so that I do; that’s the only way I can make it believable for the audience. There was a huge challenge in that. Shakespeare teaches you how to act. You come out of this process as a better actor. It’s just the nature of the words he writes.
Juliet is such an iconic character. How much did you think about that before taking on the role?
I had to think about it for just a little bit, and I then had to throw it out the window. When you’re on stage, you can't think about how many actors have played the role before, and you can’t think about how iconic it is. You have to throw away all the outside influences. All I can think about is how much I love Romeo. At the end of the day, the play is iconic only because of how great a story it is. The best thing that I can do is to tell the story the best way I can, and as if people have never seen it before. And that’s a huge challenge, too, because it’s Romeo and Juliet! [Laughs.]
What will surprise audiences most about this contemporary revival?
What’s so brilliant about [director] David Leveaux is he’s not making it overly contemporary. He’s not trying to dumb it down, if you will, with all of us wearing bell bottoms or something. It’s not that contemporary, and it’s not set in our society—it’s a society that we’ve created. When people watch it, they know where they are but it’s such a different world. There are artifacts and hints of an ancient time, but then there’s also modern graffiti. People are surprised by how much they're understanding the actual lines. We’re speaking to the truth of the language and people are actually understanding what we’re saying, which is a really great thing. It’s not some distant, cold, rigid production of Shakespeare.
Juliet has so many gorgeous lines and famous moments. Do you have a favorite?
I do! Juliet is speaking to Romeo about her love for him, which she discovers in this moment, and she says, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.” I think that’s beautiful: the idea of finding someone, and that no matter how much you give to them, it actually fills you up in the giving. It’s a beautiful line. I love that line.
Tell me about Orlando Bloom! Is he just as much of a dreamboat in person?
Oh yeah! He’s a heartthrob, that one! The thing about him that is even more appealing is that he’s also a wonderful actor and a hard worker. I don’t know if there are people out there who think that he rests on the fact that he’s a gorgeous man, but he doesn’t. I think he’s so great, and I love working with him.
What is it like being the Juliet to his Romeo?
Oddly enough, we had chemistry the very first time we met, so we didn’t have to work too hard at it. We hang out sometimes afterward, but we’ve built the relationship we have just by being around each other. It wasn’t necessarily about trying to find chemistry, it’s just about deepening the one that we already had. We have a lot of fun and trust between the two of us.
It's obvious that this show has such a distinct style, as do you! Where does your sense of style and fashion come from?
You like my style! Thank you. I admire fashion and I respect it greatly, but I don’t necessarily follow trends. I never really have. I just wear what I like to wear. I really like colors, and there are some things I wear and don’t care what anybody says about it being in style or not. I wear it anyway.
Tony winner Cicely Tyson is a legend. What was it like getting to know her while working on The Trip to Bountiful?
I love her! She’s just amazing. She became a dear friend of mine, and I consider her a great teacher. Being on that stage with her every night was such an honor. Some nights I was like, “I’m sitting next to Cicely Tyson. This is really happening right now.” She’s phenomenal, and her energy on stage is just effortless. You learn just by watching her. She not really the kind of woman to teach you things by telling you, “This is what you do.” You learn by just being around her.
Speaking of legends, did your mother, Tony winner Phylicia Rashad, ever discourage you from acting?
She didn’t discourage me and she didn’t encourage me. She let me find out on my own if that’s what I wanted to do. And once I decided it was, then she encouraged it because she encourages me. She would have been fine if I decided to be anything.
In Lifetime's Steel Magnolias, your character, Shelby, has a big wedding and your mother [who played Clairee] was there to watch. What was that experience like?
Oh my gosh, it was so crazy! It was really, really trippy. Walking down the aisle with my mother being in the room...but she’s not [playing] my mother. It was like I was having one of those dreams. And not only did it happen once, but it happened over and over and over again. We had to do like 16 takes! I mean, we had to redo the whole ceremony with the flower girl, the bridesmaids and everything else in a real church. It’s really hard to get married 16 times in one day [laughs].
So many of us grew up watching you mother in The Cosby Show when you were a child. Which Huxtable girl do you relate to the most?
I guess I’d have to say Rudy because people always thought I was Rudy anyway. When I was little, I looked like her [actress Keshia Knight Pulliam], so people thought that Rudy was my mother's real daughter. They thought that was me!
Tony-nominated director Kenny Leon has been such a champion of your career. Will you two be working together soon?
I really hope we’ll be collaborating on something again soon. There are some things that I would love to collaborate with him on, but I had to do Romeo and Juliet first. I couldn’t turn it down.
A few of us have our fingers crossed for seeing you two come together for the Tupac Shakur musical Holler If Ya Hear Me...
[Laughs] We’ll see, we'll see!
When you appeared on Show People, you told host Paul Wontorek that you were working on an ablum and writing your own musical. How are those projects coming along?
Well, we just finished recording the album with my band. We’ve been recording all summer and it’s the longest process I’ve ever gone through. I had no idea it took so long, but we’re mixing it right now and we’re going to release it in the fall. We’re having our next performance in October and we hope that it will be released on the same day. As for the musical, my best friend and I have a pot full of concepts right now, but we're both so busy.
Classic Stage Company is doing an off-Broadway revival of Romeo and Juliet later this month. What does your Juliet have over Elizabeth Olsen's?
Oh my gosh, I have no idea. I wish her the best. It’s a hard role, so we’re in it together!
The stage door crowd at Romeo and Juliet's first preview was huge, and the frenzy continues. What is it like to come outside and see all of that?
That was so crazy! What I really was moved by was how international the audience was. I mean, we had people from Japan, we had people from Croatia, we had people from Australia, and they were all in the same audience. I’ve never seen an audience that international on Broadway. That was amazing. Black, white, everybody was there. It was a really beautiful thing.
See Condola Rashad in Romeo and Juliet at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.