If you know only one thing about Tituss Burgess, make it this: There’s a big difference between Tituss, the actor — with two s's — and Titus, the character he plays — with one s. Many fans, even co-workers, sometimes don’t get it.
A breakout star on the hit Netflix series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” Burgess’ portrayal of outrageous, struggling actor Titus Andromedon has earned him three Emmy nominations — and online GIFs galore. The show, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, about that ever-perky doomsday cult survivor Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), her out, loud and proud gay roomie (Burgess), quirky landlady (Carol Kane) and downtrodden socialite pal (Jane Krakowski), with occasional visits from Kimmy’s former captor (Jon Hamm), has been craved, controversial and critically acclaimed. The first half of the fourth — and, it was just announced, last — season premiered May 30.
A native of Athens, Georgia, Burgess, 39, has appeared on Broadway in “Guys and Dolls,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Jersey Boys.” He spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
Say it ain’t so — “Kimmy’s” fourth season is the last?
Unfortunately, true. It came as a huge shock to us all. But the writers are delivering some very pointed, funny material. So, yeah, it is the last one but … we’re doing a movie. That’ll be like a two-hour season five. So [right now] it doesn’t feel as “This is it!” as it sounds.
The role of Titus is often described as tailor-made for you. So … what’s not so tailor-made about it? What’s challenging?
I think it’s tailor-made to fit my skill set. But … who he is, is very far from me. So it’s been. … You know, I’ll be honest with you: The most difficult thing is having new directors every week come to set thinking that I’m going to be that man. Which has often made for a difficult working process. When I get a note to change something, I often don’t respond right away. And I probably won’t look you in the eye when you’re giving it to me. I’m mostly trying to integrate as rapidly as I can what you’ve just told me … and undo the performance I just did. But some people have seen me through the lens of Titus Andromedon, and think I’m being a diva or combative or unruly, and it’s just not so. It makes the process so labored.
You must rue the day they named your character Titus.
Oh, it’s just the worst. Some people think it’s so easy to play because they think it’s me. That’s what’s been hardest.
So where is Titus — one s — headed this season?
I don’t know. We haven’t finished shooting. So far he’s still trying to get Mikey [Titus' construction-worker former boyfriend, played by Mike Carlsen] back. They don’t tell me much.
And Tituss — two s's — where’s he headed post-“Kimmy”?
I’ve written a musical. I bought the rights to the film “The Preacher’s Wife,” which starred Whitney Houston. We’re bringing it to Broadway, hopefully in the near future.
Will you be in it?
Oh, no, no, no, no. I want to give other people jobs. There are a couple of movies I’m doing this summer that will be announced soon. One is very exciting, with a huge, huge, huge star I’ll be playing opposite.
I could talk to you all day about your “Kimmy” colleagues. How about we do one of those “first word that comes to mind”-type games. First: Ellie Kemper.
[There’s a long pause — then he laughs.] Umm … vixen.
What have you learned from her?
She zooms out and zooms in simultaneously. I’ve never heard her speak ill of anyone. And she’s the most generous collaborator I’ve ever worked with. She knows how to get what she needs out of your performance and lets you do your own thing all at the same time.
Nice. One last thing — how are your dogs?
Oh, thank you. I love that you asked. It’s the closest thing I’ll ever get to being a parent. I will not bring children into this world.
Yes. Really. But my dogs are wonderful. They seem more in tune with me than ever. I came home last night, exhausted, and they usually rush me at the door. But … they waited till I settled down on the couch under a blanket, and they gently crawled up and put their heads on top of me. I started crying. It’s like they know. They’re rescue dogs. My oldest, Micah [who looks part dachshund], is very intuitive, a little cantankerous. Hanz [white, fluffy] is younger, about 3 years old. He’s like a dude bro, full of love [but] needs more attention.
Must be sad when you’re away from them.
Honestly, it really is torture.