His lovable characters – Gus in USA Network’s “Psych” and Charlie in NBC’s “The West Wing” – have endeared Dulé Hill to his fans. But if you look closely at his work on television, you may notice Hill has another talent: tap dance. (Several Psych episodes worked Hill’s footwork into the plot.) Discovered at 6, the New Jersey native got his break on Broadway. Now that Psych has been canceled, he’s found his way back to the stage.

It’s been a great journey,” says Hill, 38. “I can’t be upset, because the show has gone above and beyond anything I could have imagined. We have Psych-os now [fan club members], and that blows me away whenever I think about it. There are fans who I now know who come up to me at other shows and Comic-Con. I’ve had a wonderful time on the show, laughing and doing the craziest things I could imagine. I have nothing but thankfulness.”

And espresso. Hill attributes his love of his favorite drink to Psych, a diversion shared among the cast and crew. “We had an on-set espresso machine in the camera crew’s truck so throughout the day if anyone was feeling a little sluggish, I would call out to one of the camera crew, ‘Jamie, a little espresso?’ in a drawn out high-pitched voice. Over the years it just evolved. People would look around like, what the heck is happening? The espresso was good – that’s how I got hooked on it.”

Dulé Hill appears in “After Midnight” on Broadway

Dulé Hill appears in “After Midnight” on Broadway

Since wrapping up production on Psych, Hill has appeared in Broadway’s “After Midnight” playing alongside Fantasia Barrino and Adriane Lenox.

“It’s been special being on stage with people with that level of talent,” he says. “This group of singers, dancers and musicians is probably the most talented I have ever worked with. What they can do on the stage is awe-inspiring to me. It’s not just what they do on the stage, but what has brought us to the stage: the music of Duke Ellington and Harold Arlen. It’s such a joy to be there. I love coming to work right now.”

What a long way he’s come. Hill started dance lessons as at age 3 at the Marie Wildey School of Dance in East Orange, where his mother taught. Tagging along with his older brothers and cousins, he was a quick study.

“Being exposed to the arts allowed me to be in a position to receive the blessing of being in ‘The Tap Dance Kid,’” he says of his first role at age 10. “I didn’t have any goal or ambition of being on Broadway – I didn’t know what Broadway was. When the call came out for kids who wanted to sing and dance, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll sing a song and dance.’ The next thing I knew I was in this workshop in New York – myself, Savion Glover and our late friend, Hassoun Tatum.

“It’s kind of like the minor leagues where we learn the show and we’re waiting for an opportunity to be called down. Savion went down first as an understudy, then Hassoun and then me. That’s how I got my start – I really didn’t know anything about show business.”

Hill went to high school in Sayreville, and considered acting a hobby. He enrolled in Seton Hall University, majoring in business, until one day a phone call changed his path.

“Savion called me and said they needed one more dancer for ‘Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk,’” he says. “I was in my junior year of college and when the show went to Broadway, it would have been difficult scheduling class around the show. I had to decide what I wanted to do: get my finance degree and go into finance or be in show business. I ended up leaving Seton Hall University and enrolling in acting class in New York. From there, the rest is history.”

Hill has worked steadily ever since, in theater, television and movies – including playing Sam the Onion Man in the film “Holes.” His big TV break came in 1999 when he got the part of Charlie in “The West Wing.” Though production of West Wing stopped in 2006, reruns keep Charlie alive. During the show’s seven seasons, Hill says he evolved along with his character.

“That was a coming of age, really,” he recalls. “I had just finished acting school and was learning more about my craft. I was like the cast’s little brother, and with Martin Sheen, I was like a son. He helped raise me in how to handle myself in this business. I have nothing but fond memories of the cast and crew.”

The actor still keeps in touch with his West Wing pals and would love to reunite with any of them in a new project.

“When you spend seven years with a group of people, you become a family,” he says. “Mary-Louise Parker lives right across the street from me in New York. I’ll run across the street and give her a hug while she’s signing autographs.”

Hill enjoys the merry-go-round of stage, film and TV, and hopes to continue finding great projects wherever they fall.

“There are different challenges to each one,” he says. “With theater, the challenge is approaching the same material every night, making it fresh and new, and letting the material and how you deliver the material grow. But with film, I like that there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. We’re going to give it our all and do what it takes to get where we need to get, but once it’s finished, that’s it.

Psych’s Maggie Lawson, Timothy Omundson, James Roday and Dulé Hill

Psych’s Maggie Lawson, Timothy Omundson, James Roday and Dulé Hill

“In a series, I really love how a cast can evolve over the years. In West Wing and Psych, the guy who walked through the door in the pilot is not the same person viewers say goodbye to at the end of the series. The character just grows – we all do as human beings.”

As far as what comes next, “I wouldn’t mind doing a musical on film, a feature film where I could sing and dance,” he says. “That would be fun. I’d also like to go back and do another drama on television after doing a comedy for so long.”

Despite his great success, Hill remains humble and grounded – still a Jersey boy.

He remains close with his New Jersey relatives and credits his upbringing with making him the man he is today. When asked what was special about growing up here, he instantly responds, “What wasn’t special? The friendships, riding my bike, playing soccer, running track, knowing that a huge rock star – Jon Bon Jovi – went to my high school. In college I enjoyed taking road trips to Atlantic City.”

During his free time, Hill loves to tap dance, play dominoes, catch a Jets or 49ers football game, or watch his beloved Lakers. Hill was also part of the team that recently developed Nomino, a new phone app that combines photo sharing and trivia.

“The basic premise is that you post pictures and have to answer a riddle with people you follow,” he says. “I also enjoy the business side. It’s a different part of my brain, and I like that type of challenge. It’s allowed me to have something else outside of just show business to put my energies into.”

April 2014
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