Fans know musical theater superstar Phillipa Soo for her award winning and ground breaking performances on hit productions like Hamilton and Into the Woods. In those productions, Soo, who is half-Chinese, played Eliza Hamilton and Cinderella, respectively, making the first time many audiences saw an Asian performer in those roles. Her performances are not only exceptional, but have inspired countless Asian fans who have rarely seen themselves in musical theater. Soo herself shared a viral video of a little Asian girl watching Hamilton and excitedly saying “It’s me!”
While Soo is best known for her musical theater work, she is a multi-talented creator who has performed in film and television, and has written an upcoming children’s book as well. Another area where Soo has expanded her vocal talents is in the world of voice-overs and audiobooks. Soo previously voiced the Audible originals, The Stand-In and The Comeback, by author Lily Chu, and teamed up with Chu again for her latest book, The Takedown.
I had the opportunity to speak with Soo about her inspiring work and her latest project. Soo talked about what it means to her to have so many girls look up to her. “It means everything. It’s the thing that feeds me and inspires me in the moments when, you know, this industry and this profession is so crazy, there’s so many ups and downs. And hearing stories, hearing from fans, the positivity is just overwhelming and I’m so grateful for it,” Soo said.
Soo graduated from the prestigious The Juilliard School in 2012 and landed the role of Eliza Hamilton in 2014. In the last decade since she graduated from Julliard, the entertainment industry has rapidly been changing, and she discussed the ways that the industry has improved with regard to diversity.
“Especially since I first started out, and since being a kid and seeing what’s on television and what stories are being told in the movies and on stage, I think that we’ve come a long way. I think that we still have a lot of work to do, but I think what’s very clear is that not only are we striving to tell diverse stories with diverse characters and diverse actors, but that we’re honing in on a new generation of storytellers; of directors and set designers and editors and [directors of photography] and people coming at it from all different angles, that we’re really educating young people to be able to do this job and tell their own personal stories,” Soo said.
Considering that The Takedown is Soo’s third collaboration with author Lily Chu, we talked about what makes Chu’s stories resonate with Soo. She mentioned that she really connected with Chu, who is biracial Chinese-Canadian, and her characters.
“It started out with her first book The Stand-In, which I was immediately charmed by. I loved that there was a half Asian, half Chinese writer, who is also writing Chinese characters and mixed-race characters in her stories. I just felt seen in a way that I hadn’t felt for a very long time. There was a sense of humor to it and a very specific voice to the main character that I thought was so charming and interesting,” Soo said. “…I really related to Dee, the main character of The Takedown, and her story. She’s in her 30s and she’s trying to figure out how to navigate difficult things in her life and ultimately has a lot of growing and learning to do.”
Soo also talked about the larger issues of diversity in storytelling and the importance of telling stories that go beyond just visual representation. Soo mentioned that it’s important to tell specific, human stories that elicit empathy and that everyone can ultimately relate to.
“The part of diversity, I bring my own story to something, just my body, my history and my ancestry, there’s your diversity. But the specificity within that, the humanness, the empathy that we can gain from seeing those stories and seeing stories told in very specific and nuanced ways, that’s where the fun, beautiful work happens where we get to see into a soul, and not only see their background and their genetic makeup, but also see who they are as people in the world that they’re living in, and learn something about ourselves because of that,” Soo said. “And I feel like the more specific you can get with your characters, no matter what their racial background or ethnic background is, that you’re seeing humans and you’re seeing a person or character in front of you, that is ultimately, hopefully going to teach something about yourself.”
Watch our full interview below. The Takedown is available now only on Audible.
About The Takedown:
For Dee Kwan, every day is the perfect day, but suddenly she is forced to share her home with her parents and prickly estranged grandmother. Then she’s tasked with cleaning up a scandal for the intimidatingly chic luxury fashion firm Celeste. If that weren’t enough, she discovers her hot nemesis works there, too…and Teddy is nothing like the man she thought she knew. Dee will need to decide whether she’s ready to stop watching the world through rose-colored glasses and instead face the truth: about herself, about her feelings for Teddy, and about what she’s willing to do to truly make a difference.
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.