Christopher Jackson is used to playing strong leading roles. He played a leader of the animal kingdom (as Simba in “The Lion King” — his Broadway debut), in the ballpark (as Derek Jeter in the drama “Bronx Bombers”) and now on the battlefield, as George Washington in a certain musical playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. “Hamilton” — perhaps you’ve heard of it.
That juggernaut made history recently when it racked up 16 Tony Award nominations, the largest number ever for a show. Jackson admits he’s overjoyed, and not just because he’s up for best featured actor in a musical, as are castmates Jonathan Groff (King George) and Daveed Diggs (Thomas Jefferson). But also because he counts “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda as a close personal friend. (Jackson played Benny in Miranda’s previous Broadway hit, “In the Heights.”)
When not acting, Jackson, 40, writes music for “Sesame Street.” He and his wife have two children, CJ, 11, and Jadelyn, 6.
First things first — what’s the secret password to get “Hamilton” tickets right away?
I promise, I won’t tell a soul.
Right, right. [He laughs.]
You must get people asking for tickets all the time.
I had to place a notice on my Facebook page months ago — an emphatic “I’m sorry, I can’t.” People who I’m quote unquote “friends” with on Facebook kept asking. It’s been crazy. Mind you, the entire company had to post similar messages. It’s hard to say no to people all the time. But they’re just not available.
I heard you lead a prayer with the cast backstage before each performance.
How did that come about?
Well, I grew up in the church — and playing team sports. There was never a game where we all didn’t circle up for the coach’s pep talk. Or before a church service the choir always said a prayer. There’s a special thing that happens when people gather to perform. With “Hamilton,” there’s a lot we hope the audience will get from the experience. We never lose sight of the fact that there could be another Lin Miranda in the audience — another kid whose life trajectory could be forever altered by what he sees. That’s a huge responsibility. So we circle up for a moment of quiet and connection — we hold hands and pray that the intent of our work reaches its target.
You, Diggs and Groff are all nominated for the Tony — the same Tony. Sprinkle cyanide in anyone’s tea lately?
Oh, no. It’s a love fest backstage.
No doubt — just joking. Having several of you nominated must make it all the more special.
Actually everybody asks — [he strikes a suspicious tone] —“SOOOO, what’s it like backstage.” [He laughs.]
Seriously? People think you’re rivals?
Yeah, like in “Showgirls.” Don’t walk in front of him on the steps, or you’ll end up being pushed! [He laughs again.] In terms of nominations . . . I’ve been doing this work for 18, 19 years. This was the pinnacle for me. What an actor aspires to. This kind of recognition — that’s a win. That’s the win.
It must be gratifying, given that I know you’ve had a tough haul in recent years, ever since your son’s autism diagnosis. You and your wife have worked hard to promote awareness.
Our whole personal agenda is to raise awareness, not just for the kids dealing with it but their siblings, too. It can be tough for siblings. “Sesame Street” is gearing up to do an outreach program. They’ve added an autistic character to the show. So we’re all really excited.
Have your kids seen “Hamilton”?
They have. It’s crazy. I’ve spent more time in the Rodgers Theatre than any other theater in my career. I know the box office guys, the ushers. I did “In the Heights” there, and the ladies in the cast threw my wife and I a baby shower when she was pregnant with Jadelyn. CJ was 3 and running around. So to be back there and see my kids in the audience — it was a big moment for Dad. You know, the full-circleness of it — if that’s a word.
Did they give you a good review?
CJ was pleased. “Good job, Dad. Can we go to Toys R Us?” And my daughter was immediately ready to put on a Schuyler sister costume and get onstage. Renée [Elise] Goldsberry and I are the only members of the company with children, but everybody is so loving. When my kids come to the theater, they know they’re home. This is where daddy spends all of his time. [He chuckles.] They know everyone there is family. That’s how we do it at “Hamilton.” That’s just the way it is.