Ephraim Sykes plays Seaweed J. Stubbs in NBC’s production of “Hairspray Live!” airing Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 8 pm ET. Seaweed J. Stubbs is a hip and kindhearted dancer who befriends Tracy Turnblad in detention and teaches her some new moves. He is also the son of Motormouth Maybelle (Jennifer Hudson) who falls in love with Tracy’s best friend, Penny (Ariana Grande). Ephraim was an original cast member of “Hamilton” from back when the 11 Tony Award-winning musical opened on Broadway in August 2015. Prior to that, he appeared in four other Broadway musicals — “Motown the Musical,” “Newsies,” “Memphis” and “The Little Mermaid.” His television credits include “Vinyl,” “Smash” and the Emmy Award-winning comedy “30 Rock,” and he can be seen in the upcoming Woody Allen series “Crisis in Six Scenes.”
Kam Williams: Hi Ephraim, thanks for the interview.
Ephraim Sykes: No, thanks for having me, Kam.
KW: What was it like working on such an historic show like Hamilton?
ES: Omigosh! It was a trip! An incredible journey, to say the least. I started working with it two or three years ago when it was just a reading, all the way though Off-Broadway and then on Broadway. It’s an honor and a blessing to be a part of something that’s become a part of American culture, changed theater and touched so many people
KW: Tell me a little about your character in Hamilton, George Eacker?
ES: He’s the guy who killed Alexander Hamilton’s son, Philip, in a duel close to the same spot where Hamilton himself was slain by Aaron Burr.
KW: Wow! What a coincidence!
ES: Yeah, it’s kind of weird.
KW: Why did you leave Hamilton?
ES: I needed to take a break because my body was kind of beaten down from having done such a strenuous show for almost two years. I’d been on Broadway non stop for almost a decade. so, my body was kinda tired. And literally, on the day that I started my medical leave, I heard about Hairspray.
KW: Seems like you’ve done a lot on the stage. How did you get from St. Petersburg, Florida to Broadway. What’s your background?
ES: To be honest, I came more from a concert, dance and music background. I did ballet, jazz and modern dance in a performing arts high school. I also studied a musical instrument and grew up singing in the church choir. After high school, I entered Fordham’s Alvin Ailey program, so I was really concentrating on dance. After I got my degree and finished dancing with the Ailey Company, I got my first Broadway audition, which really altered the trajectory of my career.
KW: Which is your preference, the stage, TV or film?
ES: There’s nothing like live theater where you can actually feel an audience react to you in real time. But I really do have a love for the film and TV worlds as well.
KW: Tell me a little about your approach to playing Seaweed in Hairspray? Did you watch a video of the original Broadway production?
ES: Absolutely! But I have to approach it differently, just because I’m a different person. However, I did study Corey Reynolds, Elijah Kelley, Clayton Prince and everybody else who’s played Seaweed in order to better develop my version of him.
KW: What’s it like working opposite a couple of powerhouses like Jennifer Hudson, who plays your mom, Motormouth Maybelle, and Ariana Grande, who plays your love interest, Penny?
ES: I have to admit it’s a bit nerve-wracking coming into the studio with some giants like them, but it’s exciting overall to be a part of it, because they are not only talented but down-to-earth, sweet loving people who love their work. I’m excited to see what we all cook up together.
KW: It seems like this production has the most star-studded cast of all, including a return of Harvey Fierstein who originated the role of Edna Turnblad on Broadway.
ES: I think it’s going to be a fun time. The great thing about Hairspray is that, like Hamilton, the show’s the star. The story itself is extremely timely and relevant.
KW: What message do you think people will take away from Hairspray?
ES: The power of the story is that sometimes, when our words fail, music prevails. Music can breakdown barriers!
KW: Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?
ES: Walking into the doors of the church where my father was pastoring. I got to experience God at a young age.
KW: Was the church a meaningful spiritual component of your formative years which shaped you?
ES: Yes, and it remains a driving force in my life to this day. It’s a constant that’s helped me combat anything that’s come against me, especially my own fears.
KW: Who loved you unconditionally in childhood?
ES: My family, my parents, my sisters, my grandparents, and even my church family, my first dance teachers and my theater family .
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
ES: I see Ephraim. Someone who’s never been before and will never be again. Something that’s perfectly and uniquely me. Something that God created on purpose.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
ES: I’m not that great a cook. [Laughs] But I do really enjoy my own spaghetti.
KW: The Morris Chestnut question: Was there any particular moment in your childhood that inspired you to become the person you are today?
ES: Watching my father unite a city with love during a race riot. I still really admire and look up to him, and try to be like him. That brought out my heart for the community.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
ES: Oh, that’s easy. I’d like to see Michael Jackson perform live while in his prime.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
ES: It’s somewhere between eating really good food and binge-watching really great movies and Netflix type of stuff.
KW: The Viola Davis question: What’s the biggest difference between who you are at home as opposed to the person we see on the red carpet?
ES: I try to be as funny and extroverted both places, but I can actually be introverted and pretty shy on the red carpet. At home, I’m always cracking jokes and saying ridiculous things. I can be my full self at home.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
ES: That’s another great question. What comes to mind is one of my favorites, West Side Story.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Do you have a favorite movie monster?
ES: Wow! The flying dog from The NeverEnding Story. And the huge, monster dog from The Sandlot.
KW: Judyth Piazza asks: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
ES: Self-assurance. They know how unique and special they are.
KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
ES: When I’m around great live music.
KW: The Dana Perino question: What keeps you up at night?
ES: My goals. My big ideas and my dreams.
KW: Teri Emerson asks: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
ES: I had a really great one last night with my girlfriend.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
ES: Find what it is you love to do and run non-stop at it, and the doors will open up for you.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
ES: As somebody who tried to bring people together.
KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
ES: Not much! [LOL] An MTA Metro card for New York City that takes up too much of my money.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Ephraim, and best of luck with Hairspray Live!
ES: Thank you very much, Kam.