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Tituss Burgess struggles through Hollywood before landing 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'

Emmy nominated actor Tituss Burgess stars in Netflix's
Emmy nominated actor Tituss Burgess stars in Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"
Eric Liebowitz/NBC

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Actor Tituss Burgess has a lot in common with his character on Netflix’s hit comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” They both have theater backgrounds and know what it’s like to be a struggling actor, and both have the same first name.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt song

But for the Tituss in real life, he’s now an Emmy-nominated actor for his role in the comedy about a group of women who have escaped a religious cult. This is Tituss’ second time working with actress and executive producer Tina Fey. Tituss’ breakout role was on “30 Rock,” where he played a reality TV star named D’Fwan. 

30 Rock D'Fwan

One thing that his two characters also have in common is their confidence, which is something Tituss shares.

"I was not afraid to be ugly, I was not afraid to be overweight, I was not afraid to be black, I was not afraid to fail," says Burgess. "I fail upwards and my comfort in not always winning has allowed to me stretch out and be the 'me-est' I could be."

Growing up, Tituss had a difficult time trying to be himself.

"I got called names," says Burgess. "And I hear them and in the back of my head, I would think, Well that's OK. In a couple years this will all change. And that's literally what I would say to myself in a bizarre sort of way."

But it was in elementary school where Tituss found his passion for acting. He was in fifth grade and performed in a musical version of "Rumpelstiltskin."

"I had a little solo and the reaction from these people was so overwhelming," says Burgess. "I was like, I'm never letting this go. This feels good." 

Tituss went into theater and made his Broadway debut in the 2005 musical "Good Vibrations." He later performed at the Tony Awards in 2009 for the revival of "Guys and Dolls."

Tony Awards

While he had a good run in the theater community, Tituss was having a difficult time breaking into television and film.

"I was on faculty for one day at Marymount Manhattan College, about to teach voice and quit," says Burgess. "Because I felt like, You're not supposed to be here. This is going to turn out badly. At the end of today, you need to leave."

Tituss eventually got his break in his mid-thirties, playing Titus Andromedon, Kimmy's best friend in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt":

I was at home when I found out in bed. I was convinced I didn't get the role of Titus on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." I was in home in bed with a gorgeous extra large, extra cheese pepperoni pizza. Once I got the call, I tossed it onto the floor accidentally and was devastated, so much so that it trumped my happiness for getting the role. I pulled myself together after I cried the tears and politely dialed that number again and ordered me another one with even more pepperoni, 'cause I could afford it! 

Tituss Burgess is nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for the 2015 Emmy Awards. 

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