The Texas native, who stepped into the role of Simba, arrived at the Minskoff Theatre after starring in multiple companies of Hamilton around the world—including the Puerto Rico production alongside Pulitzer Prize-winning creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Hooper, it should be noted, has played multiple roles in various productions of that hit musical, including Hamilton, Burr, Lafayette/Jefferson, George Washington, and King George
Off-Broadway, Hooper was recently seen in Michael R. Jackson's White Girl in Danger, while his screen credits include Chicago Med, Shots Fired, and American Crime.
In the interview below for the Playbill series How Did I Get Here—spotlighting not only actors, but directors, designers, musicians, and others who work on and off the stage to create the magic that is live theatre—Hooper shares details about his first night on Broadway, the "day job" that kept him working through the night, and that time he played Mario Kart with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Where did you train/study?
Vincent Jamal Hooper: I attended college for one year, but the vast majority of my training and study was done independent of any formal educational institution. It’s an ongoing process. Largely it consists of just remaining curious, asking questions, studying people, putting myself in a position to be challenged, etc.
Was there a teacher who was particularly impactful/helpful? What made this instructor stand out?
I’ve had so many mentors over the course of my life. Ginger Morris, Allen Robertson, and Kristie Copeland are a few that come to mind most immediately. Honestly, I’d love to take this opportunity to give credit to Kristie Copeland; she was my theatre teacher in high school—where this journey started for me—and, in addition to teaching me so much, was such a great example of how excellence is not a destination but a pursuit, that there is no upper limit to your “best.”
What was your initial reaction when you heard you would be making your Broadway debut in The Lion King?
It was such a profoundly surreal moment. It takes so much faith to be an actor in any capacity; you work towards something for, in my case, just over a decade—staying ready as best you can—and in the span of a phone call, it becomes real. It’s monumental. I cautioned myself against indulging in the full magnitude of what I was about to do. So instead, I dove headfirst into what is familiar to me: character work. Research and exploration and discovery. I found a comfort there that I think really helped in the adjustment process.
Tell me about your first night on Broadway. How did/didn't it live up to what you thought it would be like?
I didn’t have any real expectations. I wanted to keep myself grounded and present and open to what would be. And it was magical—just overflowing with love. There were about 30 friends and family members that showed up. Most of them have watched me perform since I was about 16, so it was sort of a beautiful, full-circle moment. Lots of tears, lots of photos, and endless gratitude.
You've spent a lot of time in various productions of Hamilton. Can you share a favorite memory?
There was one day, between shows in Puerto Rico, where I found myself, alongside a couple castmates, playing Mario Kart on Nintendo 64 with Lin and his wife Vanessa [Nadal]. That was a real “what is my life?” moment.
What is the most memorable day job you ever had?
It actually wasn’t technically a day job. I once worked as a package handler for UPS back when I lived in Texas. The work was monotonous, and the hours were pretty brutal. I’d finish performing a show at around 10:30 PM and then would travel half an hour home to try and get a bit of sleep before being at work for my midnight to 10 AM shift. Would not recommend.
Is there a person or people you most respect in your field and why?
Oh, there are so, so many. I have a running list in my phone. For the sake of brevity, I’ll name two that I’ve seen perform fairly recently. Colton Ryan and Leslie Odom, Jr. are two storytellers that I would absolutely love to work with. There’s a spontaneity and honesty and vulnerability to their craft that makes every moment feel completely lived in and distinctly human. With them you get a chance to witness a human experience play out in front of you as opposed to just watching someone perform well. At its best, acting is a flawless magic trick, and those two are magicians who never let you see the strings.
What advice would you give your younger self or anyone starting out?
Keep your head down and be honest with yourself, curious in your study, generous with your kindness, and consistent in your work ethic.
What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
That nothing that is meant for you will ever pass you by. Ever. It sounds like an empty platitude, but it is something that I stand by, and that has brought me a lot of long-standing peace in my career. As actors, we can spend a lot of time reading into why this or that thing didn’t go our way. Our minds get plagued with questions that we can’t answer and assumptions that we can’t verify. I’ve found freedom in the acceptance that I am on a singular journey and am being directed. Every place I land is purposeful.
What is your proudest achievement as an actor?
I’ve been privileged in that I’ve had the pleasure of doing a fair amount of cool things with some cool people. It’s hard to say what my proudest achievement would be. I think still being here is a pretty big one. Frankly, that’s enough. Actors are presented with a lot of opportunities to become disheartened—I know I’ve had my fair share—so I’m proud that, despite the knocks, I still believe in the art form and I still love it. And also, I’m blessed to do it in a way that feels purposeful and fulfilling.