Daniel J. Watts, who was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of Ike Turner, is back at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. The musical reopened on October 8 with Nkeki Obi-Melekwe taking over the title role from Tony winner Adrienne Warren. Broadway.com correspondent Charlie Cooper met up with Watts at the Renaissance Hotel to talk about the emotional burden of playing Ike Turner, his love of painting and more.
The complexity of the role is what initially drew Watts to Tina. “Ike Turner is a hurt person,” he said. “I think that’s what attracted me to it. I hadn’t thought about Ike Turner, ever, since watching What’s Love Got To Do With It. I did a deep dive of who he was. I resonated with him in terms of there’s an artist in there who is trying to deal with a lot of things and sometimes art isn’t enough. I felt that I had something interesting and sensitive to bring to the role that helps people look at not only Ike but any individual like that—differently with just a little bit more color and a little bit more nuance.”
Audiences see the life of Ike Turner through the eyes of Tina Turner from their intial meeting to their troubled marriage. After bringing playing the character eight times a week for over a year, Watts has learned how to shed the emotional weight of the role when the curtain goes down. “Playing Ike is heavy. I have to take it off, you know?,” he said. “I didn’t know how to do that before the pandemic. Now I know what the depths are. I know what is too deep and I can just put it on long enough to tell the story and then take a shower after the show. People say, ‘Hey, I’m outside [after the show]’ I’m like,’I’ll see you when I get done taking this off.’ I realized the importance of that.”
During time away from Tina, Watts paired his passions for dancing, acting and painting into new projects. In February 2021, he performed Letting Paint Dry at a TEDxBroadway event and during the 74th Tony Awards he performed with Jared Grimes in a spoken word tribute to the Special Tony Award-winning choir Broadway Inspirational Voices. “I think for a lot of people, the pandemic hit them right away. It didn’t really hit me until September and that was when I started painting. I finally had this thing to release and I realized that taking on Ike was a part of it. In my Ted talk, I share that I didn’t know whose trauma was whose. What colors were mine, what colors were Ike’s. Painting has now become a thing. It’s very therapeutic.”
Watch the interview below, and head here to check your local listings for The Broadway Show. Hosted by Emmy-winning anchor Tamsen Fadal and powered by Broadway.com, it is the only nationally syndicated weekly theater news program.