Alexandra Shipp Holds the Power of Storytelling

Alexandra Shipp Holds the Power of Storytelling

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Alexandra Shipp Holds the Power of Storytelling

The actress gives the full rundown on the production of her newest film, Tick, Tick...Boom!, including what it was like to work with such an all-star cast.

The actress gives the full rundown on the production of her newest film, Tick, Tick...Boom!, including what it was like to work with such an all-star cast.

Photography: Doug Inglish

Styling: Yael Quint

Text: Addison Aloian

Alexandra Shipp has never doubted her dreams of becoming a famous actress. She’s never doubted her hard work, and she’s never doubted her audition skills – until she hopped on a Zoom with 59-time award-nominated Hamilton composer, producer, and actor Lin Manuel-Miranda to audition for his next directing and producing project, the film adaptation of Tick, Tick...Boom!.

“‘We want you to sing the big finish of ‘Come to Your Senses,’” Alexandra Shipp says Manuel-Miranda requested over the phone on a rainy Tuesday in October. “And I was like, “Oh? The big finish? You don’t want me to build to it? You just want the last 16 bars? Got it.’” 

Shipp has an extremely charismatic, bubbly personality and possesses an unbelievable ability to tell stories, recounting every detail and nuance – it’s like you were right there with her when they happened. You might know her from her portrayals of Aaliyah in Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B or Kimberly Woodruff in Straight Outta Compton, but make no mistake – she’s making a difference in the acting industry by choosing to tell the narratives of others who have made our world a significantly better place, people with whom we should all be familiar.

Alexandra wears shoes Arielle Baron, dress RTA

A singer with more power in her soulful voice than that of a traditional Broadway vocalist, Shipp gave the casting directors her best R&B rendition. “I really tried to sell it – this is Lin Manuel-Miranda [and] I’m going to give him some sauce.”

She was called back to read with Andrew Garfield and the experience couldn’t have gone better. “Lin was crying,” she said of her callback audition. “For me to be able to affect Lin in such a positive way on a computer means that I feel like I’m doing something right. I’m moving towards something in my life and in my career and in my work, and I was just so proud of that audition that when I got it, I was just like, ‘Wow. Magic is real.’”

Shipp landed the role of Susan, a former professional modern dancer and girlfriend of the Broadway composer, Jonathan Larson. Tick, Tick...Boom!, the Broadway-musical-turned-Netflix-film tells the story of Larson’s life and the process of writing his very first musical in the days leading up to his 30th birthday. The late playwright wrote the musical Rent, and sadly passed away the day before its opening night – Tick, Tick...Boom! was created with his original music in his honor.

They began filming in February 2020 before pausing due to the spread of COVID-19. In preparation for shooting films, Shipp has a multi-step process for getting into character. When playing a real-life person, she always tries to either meet them or meet people that they’ve known.

“Lin got together an insane group of friends who were originally very, very close to Jonathan and talked to them about his relationship with Susan, who Susan is, and how their relationship was. To be able to kind of go back and forth with them and learn more about her really helped me to kind of shape who Susan was.”

Alexandra wears all clothing Miu Miu.

Every time Shipp takes on a new role, she also tries to find nuanced pieces of each character and parts to which she can relate. In Susan’s case, Shipp analyzed her slightly tumultuous relationship with Jonathan due to their work lives.

“I really related to Susan in that regard of being in love with someone who’s an artist and understanding that their art comes first and that their love for what they do on this earth comes first. That’s their first love, that’s their main relationship. So to really kind of embody that and put that into words and physicality, it was really important to me and also understanding that Susan has her own first love, Susan loves to dance and had that taken from her.”

To say that Shipp worked hard to perfect this character would be an understatement. The process wasn’t just warming up and learning lines – her biggest challenge was hours of strenuous dance training – it took just as much physical acting work as mental.

“For me, it’s all about the body and embodying that character, how they walk, how they stand, how they hold themselves, how they hold their head, you know?” says Shipp. “Also, I don’t identify as a dancer, but I really worked my butt off training for this job, and so, now I can definitely say with a little bit more confidence that I know how to dance.”

Originally dancing for just one hour a day and working up to six hours a day, Shipp admitted that it was a grueling but rewarding process: “I want to train because I’m representing an entire group of people who have spent their life perfecting this craft.”

Alexandra wears Chanel top, Eytys jeans and Roger Vivier shoes

Compared to the stage show, there were little tweaks made just for the movie – like “Come to Your Senses” being sung as a duet between Shipp and co-star Vanessa Hudgens – all stemming from Manuel-Miranda’s non-traditional approach to musical theatre.

“It’s not regimented, it’s not biased, it’s very open-minded, and it’s very creative, and collaborative,” she said. “He is allowed to enact that change in a real way, for people to trust his vision, and in doing this film, I knew that Lin knew exactly what he was doing and exactly what he wanted, and I was just hungry to give it to him and to bring his vision to life.

Among Manuel-Miranda was a star-studded cast of experienced theatre and film actors: Andrew Garfield, Vanessa Hudgens, Robin de Jesús, Bradley Whitford, and MJ Rodriguez, to name a few.

“There’s something so rewarding when you work with actors who love what they do and show up and come correct, it just makes for magic,” she said. “It was one of those films where everyone just wanted to do a good job.”

Overall, Shipp is grateful for the experiences the film gave her, including stepping into her full potential as a singer and inspiring her to release music.

Alexandra wears snowsuit Miu Miu.

“I’m just really excited for the world to see a different side of me through this film and for this world to see this movie and understand Jonathan Larson that much more,” she said. “This movie means a lot to so many people in so many different ways. It’s all really layered and special, and I think that that’s what magic is. I think that we were able to create just a little bit of magic in Jonathan Larson’s honor.”

From Aaliyah in Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, to Kimberly in Straight Outta Compton, the actress is passionate about telling the important stories of those who might not be able to. By telling the stories of significant Black women, and others, she is making strides for women of color in Hollywood, and she will continue to do so. 

Check out Alexandra Shipp in her starring role of Susan in Tick, Tick...Boom!, out in theatres today and streaming on Netflix Nov. 19. And be on the lookout for the musical number “Sunday” – you might see some cameos from your favorite Broadway stars.

Credits:

Photography: Doug Inglish

Photo Assistant: Brian Stevens

Production assistance: Denise Solis

Digital Tech/ Retouching: Maxfield Hegedus

Stylist: Yael Quint

Stylist Assistant: Karla Garcia

Production: Lisa Perkins

Makeup: Cherish Brooke hill

Hair: Mitchell Cantrell

Nails: Amber Studer

Production Design: Isaac Aaron

Production: Lisa Perkins

Special Thanks: Initiative PR

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