Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton opened on Broadway in 2015, but it still feels like yesterday. In some ways, “My Shot” feels like the theme song for 2020—a year clouded by health crises and tragedy, yes, but also social and political upheaval. It’s in the midst of that crowded landscape that the Hamilton movie, an expertly-crafted film of the stage show, is premiering on Disney+ this Friday. For Phillipa Soo, who plays Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—the role she originated on Broadway—the timing couldn’t be more perfect. “I think Hamilton asks tough questions. It makes us come to terms with the flaws of our country and it reminds us of what’s really great about it,” she said from her home in Brooklyn over Zoom last week. “Now more than ever, we want to watch something that can not only give us some sort of hope, but at the same time give us the tools to keep fighting.” It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Soo has been actively engaged in the Black Lives Matter upswell taking place in New York and across the country—and when Soo isn’t hitting the streets, she spends her time meditating, giving her medicine cabinet an eco-friendly makeover, and taking care of a furry new addition to her family. I caught up with Soo to discuss revolution, puppy-rearing, and her clean beauty essentials.
How are you? What have you been up to lately?
Well, I’ve been basically raising this very small puppy dog, so my life has been dog-rearing, which has been very fun. We’ve been going to some smaller protests in Brooklyn, some vigils that have been happening in our neighborhood, and at the same time trying to celebrate all of the projects I’ve been working on… you know, just the day-to-day quarantine life. [LAUGHS] I’ve recently been promoting this great Netflix animated film that I worked on called Over the Moon. It’s about a little girl who builds a rocket ship to the moon, and it’s a wonderful cast of all-Asian actors and I’m super proud to be a part of it. Then there’s another film called the Broken Hearts Gallery that I did last year with Geraldine Viswanathan and Molly Gordon. I’m super proud of it, and I just love them to death. I feel so lucky that I constantly get to be in things where I feel like I’ve formed a sisterhood.
Let’s talk about the Hamilton movie. I think it’s really interesting that, at a time when it isn’t safe to attend live theatre, we’re seeing the largest-scale release of a recorded stage show ever.
I mean, on a very basic level, more people will see this show in the first three days of it having been launched than have come to see the show the entire time that it’s been open. And on another level, you have a cast of black and brown actors who are retelling this American story, so I think it has relevance in that way because of the way that Black Lives Matter and racial justice are very much on everyone’s front burner right now. I think that, more than ever, we need to see a story that’s being represented according to what American society really is now. Yes, back then, it was a bunch of white people who were “making” our country, but there’s a line in the show: “Revolution is messy, but now’s the time to stand.” Like, it was always messy. So, yes, the world’s imperfect right now, and it may feel daunting, but we need to push through, we need to take action, we need to accept our flaws and then move forward from there. My experience with getting to know these characters is that we look at them, their paintings, their statues, but they were people, and they were young people. Young people have always been the people who shaped this country.
The performances in the movie were filmed several years ago. What is it like to be promoting a new project that’s based on a period of your work that you’re so distanced from?
Well, I forgot about this, but it was filmed almost a couple weeks before I left the show in 2016, so it’s really a gift, because it’s such a celebration of the time that we had cultivated there. We were all so deep in our performances at that point that, really, the best part was just showing up and taking the ride. I think it’s much more nuanced than the cast album, even, because the album we recorded shortly after we opened, and here we have the filmed version, which is almost a year after that. I think it just goes to show you how amazing live theatre is, because it’s never the same. If anything, this time has really taught me that I will never take for granted being able to gather in a space and have a collective experience with people ever again.
How has your routine changed since everything started shifting to being mostly at home?
Um, it was interesting at first. There’s a level of not knowing what’s going to happen next that this job requires of you, so at the beginning I was like, “I’ve had practice with this, this sort of all makes sense,” but it felt strange because that sense of FOMO just didn’t exist—like, we’re all doing this. Nobody’s missing out on anything, or we’re all missing out at the same time. So that was a new feeling. Personally, I’m so grateful for my husband, who’s kept me from going insane, but you can go a little crazy and be like, oh my god, is this it? We’ve tried to make sure we’re exercising, like, I have been taking Pilates classes over Zoom. I’m cooking a lot, obviously, which has been great. Um, and then we got this dog and that all changed completely. And then on top of that, after George Floyd was murdered and the world turned upside down, all we wanted to do was get out there and be outside, and we had to make sure that we were here for this dog, because she’s just a baby.
You said you’ve been to a few smaller protests. How else has the BLM upswell changed things for you lately?
I think the Asian community has certainly been coming to terms with what it means to be Asian-American. Prabal Gurung wrote this really amazing article about what it means to be the model minority and how Asian-Americans now need to stand up for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Certainly, for myself, I think there are things that people of color who are not Black in this country need to accept about how they’re perceived in this country and what position they can take to be helpful, even if that comes from a place of understanding that might be a little hard to swallow. I’m so grateful that as a whole I’ve seen the Asian community come together because of that, and I’ve just been really interested in analyzing how much my role right now is about using my voice and also how much of it is about listening, negotiating my output versus my input, and trying to make sure that’s level and balanced.
What are you doing to take care of your mental health and stay grounded?
Well, I see a therapist, which is I think the best thing that anybody can do for themselves. Whether you think you need therapy or you don’t, I feel like it’s always beneficial. I’ve been making sure that I take designated time away from my phone—I think that also goes with that balance aspect of all this. Since quarantine has happened, we’ve tried to check in through FaceTime with people and really connect personally, checking in with all of our friends on a week to week basis. And being kind to ourselves and to each other, my husband and I—I think there’s times when the weight of the world can be a lot, and we both feel very lucky that we have each other. We’re so lucky that we’re cohabitating so well in this time, because spending a lot of time with one person, even if it’s someone you love, can be crazy-making.
I feel like once people can be out and about again everyone’s going to either get married or divorced. There’s not a lot of middle ground happening.
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the pandemic happened and then the Black Lives Matter movement resurged in this way. We’re all home, we’re all having to come to terms with ourselves and the world that we live in and really absorb it, and it’s like, “Oh, actually I’ve been sitting and listening to all of this and I cannot take it. Enough is enough.” I just hope that after the pandemic ends, we don’t turn the lights back on and everything goes back to the way it was. I hope that this time of reflection sticks with people. We just need to make sure that we get people voting—we just can’t be discouraged, even during this time. We gotta use our vote and use our voice.
What else do you do for self-care?
I took a transcendental meditation course back at the beginning of the year, and it’s been really, really awesome. Ideally, I’m meditating for 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon. It can’t always be that, but just making the effort is a new thing. For me, personally, I was like, “Oh I can’t meditate, my brain’s just going too fast, I feel like I’m failing at it,” and it’s taught me a lot about myself and letting the mind do its thing. I feel great after 20 minutes of meditating.
Another thing is that I recently went to the doctor and he was saying, “Oh, you’ve got some aluminum levels that are a little bit high. What are you using?” So I started looking at all my makeup and deodorant and all that stuff, and I was like, oh my gosh, there’s aluminum in everything! So I’ve made a transition into some clean beauty products, at least for my everyday use. There’s this great website called Credo, and they have a lot of clean beauty products. And I’ve been making an effort to try to do a little less plastic, a little less waste, seeing if I can do shampoo bars and soap bars instead of plastic bottles—which is hard, ‘cause you wanna find stuff that you like, but since there’s been time during quarantine, I’ve been trying to use all my stuff up and switch over to less-plastic products. I just feel like as an American I am constantly feeling like a hypocrite: “I want to make sure that I don’t use plastic, but at the same time this thing comes in plastic, and aaah!” I feel like you just need to make the effort. It won’t be 100% perfect—or maybe it will one day, but don’t put the pressure on yourself to make everything 100% perfect, eco-friendly, waste-free right from the get-go. It’s a real process, I think.
What does your beauty routine look like right now?
Well, I switched my moisturizer completely. I’ve just been using pure organic jojoba oil on my skin as a moisturizer, and it’s been amazing and really simple. I’ve been using this great cream deodorant called Routine, which has got charcoal or something in it, and I’ve been loving that. Makeup-wise I’ve been using a lot of Ilia products. I really like their stuff; it’s very natural and light and simple. A part of me feels like the more I fret and fuss, the more irritated my skin gets. I have issues with eczema, and I feel like for so long I’ve just been trying different things, and when I don’t worry about it—when I meditate more and I’m freaking out less about my skin—for some reason it’s always better, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.
So, de-stressing is your beauty routine, basically.
Yeah, I think that stress can cause a lot of that stuff as well. I feel like it’s important that your routine in the morning is therapeutic also, whether it’s meditating or working out or making sure that you’re taking a nice cold shower or hot shower. It’s not just like, “Oh I have to do this.” It’s also an opportunity to practice self-care and not be on my phone while I’m walking my dog and take a me moment.