Elijah Malcomb talks ‘Hamilton,’ Music, and More

Taylor Keitt

Fandomize recently had the chance to speak with Elijah Malcomb from Hamilton! He plays John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in the Philip Tour. This past December, I was personally fortunate enough to see the Hamilton Philip cast perform in Providence, Rhode Island. It was quite special.

For a while, Elijah Malcomb was posting “Freestyle Friday” rap videos with his castmate, Warren Egypt Franklin (Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson). When I saw Elijah perform in Providence, I was sure to notice the was he carried himself as Philip Hamilton from a young kid, to an adult, as he grows up throughout the Act II of the show. Check out the interview below!

SH: So, you play both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton. Are you more drawn toward either one of those characters more than the other?

EM: I wouldn’t say that I’m more drawn toward either one. I think I have a lot of fun with both of them. I know I do, because they just feel like different versions of myself. John Laurens is a little more brash and unapologetic, and he just goes after what he wants with a bit of reckless abandonment, which I admire and love about him. I also think about how hard it must have been for him in those days to be one of the few people advocating for the freedom of slaves. So to have that kind of strength and resilience and bravery to be unashamed and say, “This is wrong,” and fight against it and fight against the norm, and for the rights of someone else that doesn’t look a lot like him or benefit from the same privileges, that’s something that stands outside of himself. I think that that’s beautiful. So I really find and connect with that, and I have a deep appreciation and admiration for that side of him.

Then, with Philip, it’s a lot of fun. I enjoy kind of playing with the physicality of a nine-year-old. I have nieces and nephews who are just getting to the ages of teenagers. When I first booked the show, they were around the ages of eight and nine, so I thought a lot about them and their mannerisms and how they carried themselves, which helped me apply that to younger Philip. Playing with how he ages throughout Act II is something that I really enjoyed exploring. I love that by the time we get to “Blow Us All Away,” he’s just this fully formed adult who’s just confident, striving to make his way in the world a lot like his father. It’s fun to play with that kind of braggadocious, confident swagger. So I have a great time with both of them.

SH: Nice! I like what you said about how you can play with Philip in different ways as he ages. While not all of our readers have seen you perform, I will say that I LOVED the way you did the whole, “My name is Philip, I am a poet…” because I thought it was just genuine, nine-year-old mannerisms that you were using. So, I completely understand what you were just saying, because, trust me, I noticed it when I saw it!

EM: Thank you!

SH: Is there any part of these two characters that you identify or connect with?

EM: Yeah. I think on a personal level, I can connect with Laurens a little bit more. Especially with all the things that have gone on in the world in the last couple years, standing up for what you believe in is extremely important and has always been something important in my life, so I deeply connect to his desire and his need to make a difference and stand up for what he believes in. Even though people may look at him crazy or hate him for it, he’s literally risking his life. That’s something that I love about him and that I connect with and that I cherish about the character. I would say that he’s a little more bold than me, so I love that aspect of it. In that, I’ve found my own ways in my own personal life to be a bit bolder and step out for things that I believe in.

SH: What’s the chemistry like in the Hamilton Philip cast, both onstage and off?

Courtesy of Elijah Malcomb

EM: Oh, man, it’s amazing. We’ve had, we’ve had a bit of turnover in the past few years. So, I’ve been with the company since we started rehearsals at the end of 2017. So from that point to now, we’ve had quite a bit of turnover. Even with new people coming in and stepping in, taking over roles for people who have left the show, or gone on to other shows – most of them are in the Broadway company now. I feel like the creative team is really careful about making sure that – energetically – the people that they bring in fit and mesh well within the company. So it’s a beautiful time. Everyone is super loving, especially with being on tour – we’re a family. So we have to look out for each other and take care of each other.

We’re always constantly joking backstage, laughing. It’s very interesting when a swing goes on because their perspective of the character is completely different than somebody who’s on every night. So that brings a whole new energy to the show that you can play with in the moment, and I love that. Personally, I think it translates well both on and off stage because we have such a cohesive group of people.

I truthfully think that with this show, nobody’s personality is too big or too wild for the most part, because we all understand that the show is bigger than any one individual, and it couldn’t happen without all of us. That’s including the dressers backstage, stage management, company management, the costume team, the music team, we all have to work together to make this thing happen every night, and I think everyone in the building has a deep appreciation for that.

SH:Nice. I like how everyone recognizes that it’s a collective effort.

EM: Absolutely.

SH: I also interviewed your castmates, Stephanie Jae Park and Pierre Jean Gonzalez. Is there anything you want to point out in regards to this historical family? After all, they are your onstage parents.

EM: They’re both such caring people outside of the show, and such generous actors, so they’re very engaging when it comes to the material and being in the moment and in the scene. We’re constantly playing off of each other and feeding off of each other’s energy and the way that we deliver a line or the look in someone’s eyes. I just think they’re both so smart and beautifully talented individuals, and it’s a pleasure to work with them every single night. I love both of them immensely, and we just have fun. Stephanie and I have so much fun when we’re at the piano playing at the top of Act II. Pierre and I have different funny moments all throughout the show, more so in Act I, because that’s when we’re more together. We laugh and we play and just have a good time.

I feel like we have a beautiful support system, not only with Pierre and Stephanie, but with everybody in the company. We all know how to get together really well. So if anything goes wrong, for example, if the turntable misses a cue or anything like that happens, we all kind of click in. Knowing that you have those people on stage with you is just another step up, it’s another relief. You kind of feel like no matter what happens, you’re going to be safe and it’s going to go well, and we’re going to make this thing work and do a beautiful show.

SH: Hamilton is all music for the most part. What is it like to make singing/rapping and acting go hand in hand?

EM: It’s very interesting. It’s a lot of fun, especially for me because I sing and rap outside of the show. It’s just something I’ve always done, so to put it in the context of this show, telling a historical story is a lot of fun.

When the show was first introduced to me, I was like, “What? That makes no sense. That should never work.” Then listening to it, it makes so much sense, because of the nature of the storytelling of hip hop, and not only that, but the energy behind it. I believe I read an article where Lin was saying, it just makes sense that this would be the music to drive the revolution because that’s just what hip hop is, that’s what it was birthed from. It was birthed from kids in New York who didn’t have much of an outlet, so they started finding ways to be creative and release and talk about the things that they were seeing in their communities and in their neighborhoods, and talk about those things healthily a lot of the time. So I find it exhilarating and fun to be able to bring that to the theater and to be able to bring that into acting. I don’t think when I started my journey as an artist that I was ever going to bridge singing and rapping and acting all in one. I figured I would act and then sing and rap as well, but to have it all be one cohesive thing is a lot of fun.

Sometimes I’ll get a note for it, but I like to find different cadences and rhythms to play with sometimes, because for me personally, that’s a part of the acting as well, because one night if I’m feeling a little more confident, I might lay or not syncopate the lyric a little bit. I might change up how I say something, a cadence of something, because I’m in the moment and I feel like, “Oh, I’m a little more confident.” I don’t need to give this so on the beat because the way that we talk and the way that we communicate, a lot of times when you’re a little more confident, you might say something and let it sit for a little bit and then follow it with something else. So I find a lot of joy in playing with that, the musicality of it.

SH: Do you have a favorite song to sing in Hamilton?

EM: My favorite number in the entire show is “Wait For It.” I think it is just beautifully written. It’s one of the first times where we really get a peak inside of Burr’s mind without his guard up. You’re getting a look inside of his internal struggle and the things that he battles with and deals with on a daily basis within himself. In most cases, people are afraid to be that vulnerable.I love that we’re allowing the audience into his perspective and his thought processes and his emotion and kind of showing people that it’s ok. It’s ok to have these thoughts. It’s ok to be timid. It’s okay to want to think things through first. It’s okay to have these internal struggles because we all go through it.

On top of that, with everything that’s happened the past year and a half, the lyrics just hit me differently. The lyric, “If there’s a reason I’m still alive when so many have died,” hits me so much differently. It hit me before, but not in the same way. I think that number represents an appreciation of life for me, and not to take the little things for granted, not to take your victories for granted, however small or big they may be. A small victory is going to carry you to the big one. You know what I mean? So take pride in it, own it and accept where you are. Don’t be like, “Oh, well, it was just this.” No, don’t undersell yourself at any moment in time because that victory is yours for that moment to carry you and give you the juice to be, “Yeah, I can do this because I conquered that. So what’s next? What’s the next step.” I just love that number. It just brings out so many emotions for me as you can see.

SH: Is there anything else that you’re working on that you have coming up that you’d like our readers to know about? Any more Freestyle Fridays?

Courtesy of Elijah Malcomb

EM: We are coming with some more Freestyle Fridays. Warren and I were just talking about that.

While we had this three week layoff, I was actually in the studio, and I recorded five songs. So those will be coming soon. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I don’t release things if I’m like, “Nope, this needs to be tweaked. That needs to be tweaked.” So I’m now trying to get out of my own way with that stuff. But the music is coming, I’m working on that.

I’ve been working with friends on writing web series and different things like that. I’m also actively working on booking film and TV because I still have a love and a passion for film and TV as well. It’s something that I want to explore and play with and strengthen because it’s a whole different skillset from acting on stage. And I would love to be great at both. So, it’s constantly working and turning out new things and great content.

Elijah Malcomb can be found on Instagram @elimusic1.

The Hamilton Philip Tour cast is currently performing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at the Benedum Center, until March 20th. Visit the Hamilton website to find out where and when you can experience the show near you; get your tickets to see Hamilton today!