Renée Elise Goldsberry On Being TV’s Newest (On-Screen) Diva

Photo: Courtesy of Peacock.
In 2009, Beyoncé crooned “diva is a female version of a hustla,” and instantly reset the narrative around a term that had long been used against powerful women. What once implied a woman seen as being difficult or asking for too much (men who did this were, of course, geniuses), now brings to mind some of the most iconic and musical greats: Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, and Cher. Well now there’s a new diva in town: Wickie Roy. 
Okay, so she’s technically a fictional diva, but in the world of Tina Fey’s Girls5Eva, Wickie — played by Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry — is the queen bee, at least in her own mind. The Fey-produced show, which premieres June 3 on the W Network, follows Wickie and her former girl band mates (played by Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell, and Busy Philipps) as they attempt to make a comeback 10+ years after their '90s girl group disbanded.
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As with any group, there’s a variety of personalities at play, but Wickie, played by Goldsberry with simultaneously frantic and so-over-it energy, stands out. Viewers are initially led to think that the singer is the only one of the group to have come out of their breakup on top. But it turns out that Wickie is actually the one who has fallen the farthest. (FYI, she now makes a living shooting geese on the tarmac at an airport.) It’s this nuance and ability to grow that initially drew Goldsberry, a Tony Award-winning actor and singer, to the role. Well, that, and the character’s risk-taking sense of style (at one point she uses a coke bottle to replace a broken heel. The shoes were $3,000, after all). 
Refinery29 Canada spoke with Goldsberry about what she learned from the role, Wickie’s diva-status, and the very special singer whose music has gotten her through the pandemic.
Refinery29: Did you look to or draw inspiration from any real life artists for the role?
Renée Elise Goldsberry: “There are a lot of huge diva singers who I think Wickie spent a lot of time looking at, I think she was probably very frustrated comparing herself against the Whitney Houstons, Mariah Careys, Celine Dions, and the Beyoncés. She looks at those women and feels that they have a career that she's owed. And honestly, I don't have to find somebody else to understand that pain, [because] I can look at myself. I definitely grew up aware of extremely beautiful and talented women who were having much more success than I was having; still today. So, I feel like I understand her. I think the diva part of Wickie that's different than me is that she doesn't go about trying to bridge that gap in the way that I do. [In the show] she was doing things that kept her estranged from the very people that could help her, and I'm acutely aware of my need for allies. But the pain involved in feeling like perhaps we're at risk of not fulfilling our potential, that’s something that I share with her.”
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What do you think you learned from playing her?
“I've learned that my style was stunted, so I desperately needed to be much more fluid in terms of the way that I style myself. What she doesn't understand in terms of how to make friends and influence people, she definitely understands in terms of the creative ways and the freedom with which she styles herself, and I just found that so fun. I love the different hairstyles, I love the different clothes that she wears. I definitely choose more comfortable shoes. “
You touched on the idea of Wickie being a diva. The concept has been reclaimed from something negative used to describe women in the industry to almost meaning an icon.  Would you classify Wickie as the diva of the group?
Oh 100%. She has that title by herself. The other girls are much more aware and loving of each other. They're being in service to other people in ways that are really charming. Wickie does not have that on her anywhere, she is 100% in service to herself. The beauty is that she's learning throughout the show that that doesn't work. And, and so she’s a little awkward at it, but she's getting better and better at realizing the bigger the spotlight, the greater the success.”

[Wickie] looks at those women and feels that they have a career that she's owed. And honestly, I don't have to find somebody else to understand that pain, [because] I can look at myself.

In one of the episodes, the characters talk about famous icons, like Cher, and alter egos like Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce. As somebody who works on stage as well, do you have an alter ego or persona?
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“No, that's wonderful. I desperately need one. I think it's very helpful [and] I think that's probably why I still get so much anxiety before I do big shows. What gets me out on the stage is the music and the joy of singing and performing. I don't have an alter ego, because I think what’s most interesting when people come to see me perform is me being most authentically myself. I got really good advice from my manager, and that is: ‘You shouldn't be so focused on singing every note perfectly. When the show's over, people should feel like they spent two hours with you in your family room.’ What's most important to me when I'm performing is being 100% open so that people feel like they actually spent time with me. And if I put on another persona, I don't know that that would be their experience. 
That's why I love Wickie’s sense of style, because if I could add her sense of style to my authentic self it would be even better.”
Maybe you can steal those shoes with the coke bottle in the heel for your next time on stage. 
[Laughs] “Yes.”
This is obviously a music-focused show. Is there a song or an artist that's particularly meaningful to you, or that you find yourself returning to often? 
“In this particular show when we talk about the mid-'90s era and what really moved me as an artist, I loved the emergence of Lilith Fair and the fact that all of these women that were solo artists recognized the strength of coming together with other solo artists. It was this time when these really powerful women didn't see other women as competition, but [saw] the strength of ‘let's spend the summer opening for each other.’”
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Is there a song or an artist who's been your go-to throughout the pandemic?
“I'll definitely give props to Sara Bareilles. One of the great joys I had from being able to work with her is to be near someone who is such a brilliant songwriter, such a brilliant storyteller, such a brilliant singer. [It’s like] art mimicking life. Wickie is aware of [Bareilles’ character] Dawn’s power in that way, and Renée has always been aware — even before I met Sara — that she is that example.”
This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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