Alexandra Shipp, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s New Leading Lady, On The Power Of Representation

Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for Netflix
She's portrayed late singer Aaliyah in the 2014 telemovie Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B and played the fierce Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse, but no role of Alexandra Shipp's has been quite like her latest, which has already propelled her to leading lady status on the promotional trail.
The 30-year-old stars opposite Andrew Garfield in Lin-Manuel Miranda's Netflix film, Tick, Tick... Boom – an adaptation of the autobiographical musical by Jonathan Larson who was famous for creating the iconic theatrical production, Rent.
Chatting to Refinery29 Australia ahead of the movie's Netflix release on November 19, Shipp opened up about her vocal talents truly being put to the test in front of Hamilton creator Miranda, how her chemistry with co-star Garfield ignited, and what having a platform as a queer Black woman has done for her career and her fans.

Auditioning For Lin-Manuel Miranda

Branding Shipp's audition for the role of Susan, Larson's girlfriend, as a daunting challenge is a tremendous understatement according to the actor, especially because it was to be seen by filmmaker, Miranda.
"It was just nerve-wracking," Shipp said of recording and sending through a clip of her performing a scene and a song from the musical.
"I'm gonna be honest with you, I was so nervous and I don't consider myself a conventional musical theatre singer."
Susan is a dancer recovering from an injury who reminds Larson in the film that she's an artist in her own right. She becomes caught between her love for him and her craft, and Shipp wanted to inject her individual flair into the audition.
"I just tried to hold true to who I am as an individual and was like, 'OK, I'm going to send him my version of this song. I am going to give him what I would do," she said. "And if he likes it, that's awesome. And if not, it was meant for someone else that had their own self-confidence in the way that they portrayed Susan.
"So I sent it in and I was just beyond when I got the call saying that he wanted me to come in and read with Andrew, because I am such a huge fan of his [Miranda] and I was just so grateful that I even got a chance to send a tape, let alone an audition, and let alone get the job!"

Chemistry With Andrew Garfield

The electricity between Shipp and Academy Award nominee, Garfield, could be felt the moment she did a scene-read with him.
The actor said the tell-tale sign of chemistry between a co-star is when the connection is effortlessly formed.
Image courtesy of Netflix
Andrew Garfield and Alexandra Shipp in Tick, Tick... Boom
"I think that when you feel like you're not acting, or from a viewer's perspective, you feel like you're not watching someone acting... You actually feel like you're intruding on an intimate moment," she said. "That's when you know that there's chemistry.
"It's that feeling between two people where I am not Alex and that is not Andrew, this is Susan and Jonathan. They're both in love with each other and they're trying to figure out what that looks like moving forward."

Speaking Up As A Queer Black Woman

While some actors steer away from social media or keep their personal and professional lives separate, Shipp said she's aware of the opportunity to use her platform to raise awareness about diversity and social issues.
"I think it's really important to use your platform not only for your own self-promotion, but to lift up marginalised communities," she said. "It means a lot to me to do something to do that with my social media."
Back in June she spoke publicly about her sexuality for the first time, coming out as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Using her Instagram account to share this with the world, Shipp spoke about coming out two years ago and what stopped her from coming out publicly until this year.
In her interview with Refinery29 Australia, Shipp emphasised the importance of balance and not oversharing, but also alluded to how speaking about serious topics or experiences she's had can help young people feel heard and in turn speak up as well.
"I love sharing pieces of myself with the world but I don't want to give the world everything... a lot of things in my life are sacred," she explained.
"So instead of talking about myself all the time I get a chance to talk about these incredible organisations or really open up the floor to have heavy- hitting conversations.
"Like it's OK to come out when you're ready. It's OK to be honest about how hard it is to be a person of colour in America, let alone the world.
"We all have our own individual ways in which we walk on this Earth and if I can hand the mic over to someone and really get their voice out there, get their story told out there, maybe, just maybe I can help curate some love and understanding on this planet because we need more of that."
Ultimately, it's more representation on social media platforms, in positions of power and on our screens that's going to help shape the next generation and empower them to follow their dreams. If you see it, you can believe it is the theme of Shipp's mantra.
"It was seeing Black actresses on screen that made me realise that I could do something similar or that I could relate to the character that they were playing," she said.
"She's this boss lawyer played by a Black woman. I could be a boss lawyer. I can be President, I could be a professional dancer.
"It's not just 'Hey, kids, you could be an actor.' No, it's like, 'Hey, you could be a rocket scientist, you could be a doctor, you could be all of these things that you probably don't necessarily see within your own community'," she explained. "That has so much power."
So where will we see Shipp next? She names a "crazy serial killer" or "fighter" character as dream roles for the future. With her stellar performance in Tick, Tick... Boom her next power move is bound to be around the corner and we'll be waiting right here for it.
Tick, Tick... Boom premieres on Netflix on Friday, November 19.

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