While famous for his snarky impressions of Matthew McConaughey and Brad Pitt on Saturday Night Live, Taran Killam is now busy taking on his biggest real-life persona: King George III in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, taking over the role from Rory O’Malley and following Jonathan Groff, who was nominated for a Tony for his performance.
The Broadway debut is a welcome turn for the actor who spent six seasons earning laughs on NBC’s long-running live sketch comedy series and often brought a musical theater flair to his many popular sketches.
In August 2016, it was announced that Killam, who was busy filming his directorial debut Why We're Killing Gunther, was not returning for season 42, to the surprise of fans and the actor alike. "My gripe, if there's any -- and I really don't have many -- [is that] I'm a sentimental guy and I would have liked to have been given the chance to do some proper goodbyes and thank yous to all the people I worked with for six years," he explained to ET in September.
But the actor has since been busy putting the final touches on Gunther, an action comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Killam’s wife, Cobie Smulders -- who is preparing for her Broadway debut in Present Laughter opposite Kevin Kline -- and turning his attention to his Hamilton, which he joined on Jan. 17.
“It is a big crown to fill,” Killam tells ET at BroadwayCon, tipping his jewel-encrusted cap to O’Malley and Groff as well as Andrew Rannells and Brian d’Arcy James. “The alumni I share the role with is pretty impressive and I don't take that lightly.”
In a conversation with ET, Killam opens up about the pressures of Hamilton, why exactly that crown is so heavy and how he and Smulders are supporting each other’s Broadway debuts.
ET: You've got a lot of big shoes to fill. How are you making the part your own?
Taran Killam: This is the debate I'm in: It's wanting to find new things and putting your own identification on the role. These 1,300 people [seeing the show every night] have an expectation. So, in terms of going too far off course -- it's been interesting to pick and choose what things work and what things don't.
What's the pressure like knowing people are paying a lot of money for the tickets?
I haven't thought of it until you just brought that up. Oh my God, I need to be doing such a better job! It’s the highest pressure, without a doubt. People reserved these tickets a year ago and [have been] waiting for this moment. So no one in the cast takes this lightly.
I hear the crown is heavy.
My mic pack is in there.
How do you manage it?
Here are the factors I'm dealing with: heels, a crown and a heavy cape. And I'm 6-foot-1. The stage was not built for a king who’s 6-foot-1 in heels with a crown. So, [during] my third performance, I smashed the crown on the beam in the middle of the song and it came falling down and crashed on stage.
Did you pick it up?
It was during the “Da da das” [in “You'll Be Back”]. So with a celebratory jig, I did a little scoop and learned to duck whenever I enter stage.
Past King Georges have done a lot of reading backstage since there is a lot of down time in your role. What are you reading to pass the time?
Jimmy Stuart's biography.
What page are you on?
I'm deep -- like 302. I am also doing some busywork. I directed a movie this last summer, so I am approving stock photos and special effects animatics. You know, grown-up stuff.
Who's the most famous person to come backstage since you started?
Paul McCartney was there. I think he is famous incarnate. So that was impressive.
Your wife is about to make her Broadway debut in Present Laughter. How have you been supporting each other before taking the stage?
We have a family, so the real support comes in being there for each other to study, memorize and train. My wife moved out here after How I Met Your Mother, and her only creative goal was to do a Broadway show. I am unbelievably excited for her and proud. I can't wait to see her on the stage with Kevin Klein -- it's going to be really cool.
Are you going to take a day off to go see her?
I am. We overlap for a little bit and then I will be free in time for her opening.
As an SNL alum, what do you think of President Donald Trump's opinions of the show these days?
That thing is a whole mess. My opinions about all things Trump are fueled through Anthony Atamanuik, who does the best Trump impression out there. I wish [Trump was] more focused on important things like humanity and compassion. But it's flattering. We'll take the ratings.
Do you think he'll ever go on the show again?
There is nothing about Donald Trump I'd say he'd never do. Would anything surprise you at this point?
Would you ever reprise your Trump impression on SNL if Alec Baldwin isn't around?
No. I went from a president to a king and I prefer it that way. I definitely prefer monarchy.