Harriett D. Foy explodes onto the scene early in Act II of the new musical Amazing Grace. The Mamma Mia! alum plays Princess Peyai—an African royal who sells her own people into slavery and acquires Josh Young's John Newton as one of her slaves—and she is serving you fierce-as-hell diva villain; it's a real treat.
Below, BroadwayBox chats with the Amazing Grace star about creating this memorable character, her own research into slavery and remaking What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.
1. Princess Peyai is quite fabulous and grand. What’s your inspiration for her?
My inspiration for her are the powerful women in my life: my mother Doris, my grandmother Minnie, my mentor Lynda Gravatt, my second mother Dr. Henri Edmonds; they all have overcome great challenges to create successful lives. And all of the great Queens of Africa, especially Queen Nzinga, who was a great warrior and power player in negotiating with the Portuguese regarding slavery and land rights.
Was there someone you wanted to walk like or carry yourself like?
I loved the physicality of Henry Cele who played Shaka Zulu and Yul Brynner in The Ten Commandments. They were both very sexy, yet commanding in how they stood or walked.
What about pre-show? Do you listen to anything special as you prepare?
Yes, my dressing room mate Laiona Michelle and I listen to quite a bit of gangster rap (usually my request—Laiona is the DJ in our room), a little disco, some funk, James Brown, on Sunday a little old school gospel, and at 5 minutes to places we play meditation music.
2. As Mamma Mia! prepares for its final performance, what is your fondest memory from your time as Rosie?
I had the best two Dynamos ever—Dee Hoty and Tamara Bernier! During one particular show, we are in the bedroom scene and Dee (Donna) is telling us about what is going on, and as she is talking her mic goes in and out in several places; and without missing a beat, as we repeat what she says, Tamara and I say the lines as if our mics went out in the same places—for some reason it was the funniest thing ever. The three of us could not control ourselves for the rest of the scene, but it worked because seriously we were about to sing into blow dryers. Being in Mamma Mia! is like being a rock star!
3. What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research for your one-woman-show, My Soul Looks Back in Wonder?
My Soul Looks Back in Wonder is a piece about slavery from the mouths of slaves...the most surprising thing that I learned were the depths to which slave holders would punish slaves. One owner made his newly purchased slaves walk from South Carolina to Texas and when one of the older women got sick and fell down, he just shot her, kicked her and left her by the side of the road...no burial. The slave owners would also take a barrel and drive nails or spikes into it and when a slave was unruly or tried to run away, they would place the slave in the barrel and roll them down a hill.
4. As one of the founding members of Howard University’s D.I.V.A., what would you say is the biggest reward and the biggest challenge about being a woman of color in the arts?
The biggest reward is that because of my well-rounded arts education at Howard University's College of Fine Arts-Department of Drama, I have been able to travel the world as a performer, and I am able to share those experiences with my sisters of Divine, Intelligent, Versatile Artists Inc.—The Society for Women in the Arts. My career thus far has been a blessing, as I have mostly done new work and have been able to work with some of the most incredible artists. The biggest challenge is maintaining my artistry while honoring myself as a businesswoman.
5. What movie do you love so much you know every word?
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?! "We could've been friends all this time!" "Oh Blanche, there are rats in the basement." "You wouldn't treat me like this, if I weren't in this chair!" "But, cha' are Blanche, you are in that chair!" I could go on and on... I see another remake with me as Baby Jane and Adriane Lenox as Blanche...
See Harriett D. Foy in all her fabulousness as Princess Peyai in 'Amazing Grace' at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre.