RENT’s Mimi Marquez is one of musical theatre’s most iconic roles. Played on Broadway by Daphne Rubin-Vega, who earned a Tony nomination, the role was subsequently inhabited by Rosario Dawson for the 2005 film adaptation. But when Fox’s live musical adaptation airs, people will get another version of the character, this time interpreted by R&B chanteuse Tinashe.
The “2 On” singer sat down with Out as well as journalists from a few other outlets to discuss her earliest memories of RENT, whether she and Mimi are similar, and which of her songs would be Mimi’s favorite bop.
Obviously, “Out Tonight” is one of RENT’s most iconic songs, so what was that like, getting the role and knowing you were going to sing it?
It was so exciting, such an honor, both just to be a part of the cast and to be a part of the legacy of RENT. And yeah, I’m aware that Mimi, in particular, is a lot of people’s dream role. And I’ve heard that feedback from a lot of people, like “Oh my gosh! I would die to play that role.” So for that, it’s a big honor, it’s a lot of pressure. I love pressure, so it’s exciting.
What’s your first memory of RENT?
I always remember listening to the music, for as long as I can remember. There are such great, iconic songs, but I think the first time I saw the production in full, I’m pretty sure it was the movie, I’m not 100% sure, but I think it was the movie and then shortly thereafter, I saw a college theatre production of it. I loved the movie. I fell in love with the music and everything about it. But getting to know it even more during the rehearsal process has made me love it 20 times more.
Have you ever had a desire to be in theatre?
Interestingly enough, my dad is a theater professor, and I think he would’ve always wanted me to be more into it, especially growing up. So it’s kinda nice to be in the theater. I did one musical when I was like 13 or 14 years old and it was a really great experience, and so it’s great to be back. But it’s totally different than like performing my own live show. That’s both refreshing and a learning process.
Speaking of different, this isn’t just theatre, this is a huge production. Talk about your feelings.
I didn’t know what to expect and I’m still figuring it out every day. So much is going on, there’s just so many layers to what we’re doing here. Because we’re not only putting it on as if it were a musical, there are cameras, there are all the elements that have to do with where we’re being shot and how we’re moving throughout the sets and then the microphones and then the live element and then it’s just like a lot to juggle and it can be overwhelming but exciting. I’m just taking it in as it happens and enjoying.
Mimi is the heart of the show — that’s why you watch. What was it like to have to access that emotion and have to go to it again and again during rehearsal?
Honestly, that was a challenge for me and I still don’t think I’m as good at that as other, maybe more seasoned actors in terms of getting to that emotional place every rehearsal. Because it is so heavy that sometimes if I get to that emotional place, it’s going to ruin my entire day. The rest of the day, I’ll be like in my feels. But some of our cast members are so talented at turning it on and turning it off. And so that’s just something that I’m working on — how to deal with these deep issues as a character and still be able to like, go about my day.
Mimi’s character is a little risque. How much will we be seeing of that?
Honestly, I’m very pleased with how risque they’ve allowed us to be. It still has a lot of the topics that are not necessarily children’s topics. But it’s important because they’re very relevant and we deal with them in a beautiful, awesome, fun, exciting, youthful way. And I don’t think it’s bad or dark at all.
What do you think would be Mimi’s favorite Tinashe song?
Oooh, good question! I think it would be like one of my badass like stripper vibes songs, like “Vulnerable,” where she’s just like “Watch me!” That’s kind of her vibe, yeah.
The first time you rehearsed “Light My Candle,” was it hard to get away from — everyone knows that song and how it’s done — was it hard to make it your own?
Yeah, it’s been a learning process to do the stuff that has been done so many times, to stay true to what’s been done so many times, because that’s a lot of the times what people love about it, and then to keep it and make it fresh. So we’ve just kind of been playing with that balance the entire time.
How do you work on chemistry with Brennan [Hunt, RENT’s Roger]? Do you hang out outside of production?
Yeah, a little bit. Obviously, it’s like, “Nice to meet you! Now make out!” And it’s like — *record scratch* —
Which happens to all of us!
Right! [laughs] So we would just get to know each other like anybody else would. On our lunch breaks, we would go together and get to know each other like, “What are you into? What kind of music do you like?” We bonded over our love of Michael Jackson and things like that. And that’s how you naturally build that chemistry and that trust. But it’s hard to not build that chemistry because we’re all together all the time.
All the cast kind of brings a separate fan base to the show that probably would not know anything about RENT or may not have been into theater. How are you hoping Tinashe fans will come to this?
Well, I’m kind of interested to show everybody a different side of me. I feel like a lot of people just have never seen me in the capacity of playing a role, playing a character and I hope, also, vocally, I hope people are a little surprised with … I think people have heard my recorded vocals and now doing this, it gives you an opportunity to perform differently. So I’m just excited about people seeing it. I hope they’re pleasantly surprised. I hope they like. I don’t know how they can’t like it, because the music is good. So I hope that people just like, fuck with it.
How would you say you and Mimi are similar and different?
I think we’re similar in the sense that we have this, “I will not take no for an answer” attitude. If we know what we want, if we want something, we will make sure that we get it. And that confidence level is there. I think one thing about Mimi that I really admire is that she’s able to wear her heart on her sleeve and be really vulnerable. That’s something that I am not good at. That I’m personally working on. I don’t know if that’s a good quality, but I admire it in Mimi. I’m sure it’s probably overall a good thing, but my guarded self is like, “No! Hide your emotions forever!” The way she’s able to be vulnerable is exciting.
I can remember seeing the trailer for the film and hearing “Seasons of Love” giving you chills. Has there been any moment in rehearsals or anything where you were just like, “Oh my God!”
I think a couple of different moments. I think it’s the first time we had the cast all together singing it, the first time we heard it top to bottom and everyone sang all the songs, it just gave you chills. And we were like, “Wow, everyone’s so talented. And we haven’t even rehearsed yet and it’s already this good.” And I think the second time was when I put on my outfit on the set for the first time and then I just felt like I was like … it came to life! That was cool.
Can you talk about your queer fanbase and what they mean to you? Everyone I know is obsessed with you.
Honestly, they’ve been so supportive of what I’ve done throughout my career and I hope to give back that support in any way that I can even if it’s in being a part of just like great art that celebrates queer people and culture. I think it’s so amazing and beautiful. It’s been so much fun to bring that into 2019.
The interview has been lightly edited and condensed.