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Interview: Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Corey Hawkins Discuss Their Roles In The Broadway Production ‘Topdog/Underdog’

The play began previews on September 27 at the John Golden Theatre, with production officially opening on Thursday, October 20.

Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Corey Hawkins are going head-to-head to see whose top dog in the Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog, which Tony winner Kenny Leon directs.

The play follows the story of two brothers, Lincoln (Hawkins) and Booth (Abdul-Mateen II), whose names were given to them as a joke by their father, who is haunted by the past and their obsession with the street con game, three-card monte — the brothers come to learn the true nature of their history.

BET.com chatted with the actors and Parks’, about the most significant message showgoers will take away from the film and how they brought their characters to life after mirroring themselves.

BET.com: The brothers' dynamic is rocky. How did you embody the roles of Lincoln and Booth, respectively, and how did you build chemistry with each other to bring the story to life?

Yahya Abdul Mateen II : These words were a gift because they were the first words I read in a play I got to perform about 15 years ago that felt like myself. When I’m reading my lines for Booth and exploring the character, I’m secretly sharing parts of myself nobody gets to see — it’s my job to bring myself to Booth and see what’s there. Then, I look into the world to see what else I can steal and borrow to turn into Booth’s habits, mannerisms, and wants. Another part of my job is being open to what Corey brings to the table, which will influence my performance.

Corey Hawkins: It starts on the page  — if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage. You can only build on what you have; if your foundation is rocky, you can’t build anything substantial from it. The groundwork is there, and this play is a classic for a reason. When it comes to timing and how the universe works, everything happens how it's supposed to. When taking on new characters, there’s a reason you’re drawn to them, and you won’t figure it out until you get into the process. The play will take you on a ride, and all we have to do is get out of the way.

BET.com: What’s the most significant message you’re hoping audiences grab from the play?

Lori Parks’: I've been saying, you know, to wake up to the love, it's time to wake up to the love. If you haven't woken up yet, it's time. If you think you woke up to the love this morning, wake up again. You know, wake up again, continue to wake up. If you think you can wake up to one aspect of your community, want to try waking up to the other? This isn't about no more than, as I've been saying, no more than Hamlet is just about some dude from Denmark, you know, I mean, this ain't about just two black brothers in a room although specifically, that's who I wrote it for. I wrote it so that Black men could shine and have a banquet they could sit around and enjoy. With Black men enjoying this beautiful banquet of joy, laughter, lots of jokes in this play, lots of funny moments, and some despair, we're looking at the real deal. You have to look at the actual real deal as James Baldwin said — nothing can be changed until it's faced. So, we're going to chase; we're going to face some of the real deal in this play, along with having a lot of good laughs along the way. The brothers will share this experience and ripple effect out into the audience so that it can resonate.

The play has a limited 16-week engagement and began previews on Tuesday (September 27) at the John Golden Theatre, with production officially opening on Thursday, October 20.

Tickets are still available for purchase here.


*This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Ty Cole is a New York-based entertainment reporter and writer for BET.com who covers pop culture, music, and lifestyle. Follow his latest musings on Twitter @IamTyCole.

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