It’s been over 10 years since NFL legend and Heisman trophy recipient Eddie George packed up his cleats and dimmed the bright lights on the football field. Now he’s slipping on a pair of dancing shoes and is ready to flicker those lights back on, this time in a different arena. George recently made his Broadway debut as Chicago the Musical’s newest leading man at the Ambassador Theatre in New York City. The 6 ft. 3 in. former Tennessee Titan running back is tackling all defendants as he calls the shots portraying the witty, sharp-tonged lawyer, Billy Flynn.
Despite Chicago marking his inaugural performance on Broadway, Eddie isn’t the slightest stranger to life as a performer or TV personality. In fact, his career represents the highest standard for retired athletes looking to transition their talents in a different field, particularly entertainment. George’s extensive list of credits range from starring in both title roles as Othello and Julius Caesar in Nashville’s Shakespeare Festivals to hosting The Quad on the Big Ten Network and judging NBC’s American Dream Builders.
Sitting in Sardi’s, George spoke with EBONY.com about preparing for his latest role.
EBONY: How excited are you about your new residency in Broadway’s most popular show?
Eddie George: I’m so excited that I’m actually missing it in this exact moment and I just started. It’s been a fascinating process, and it’s one that I’m being stretched in every possible angle. A lot of hard work goes into it and that’s expected. I met with the other cast members who were already on a well-wooded machine that’s accelerating on 100 miles per hour. I had to insert myself while finding the correct rhythm.
EBONY: Chicago is known for having very outspoken characters. What attracted you to Billy Flynn the most?
EG: The challenge of narrating all three components: the acting, the dancing, and the telling of the story in a very fun, unique way. Billy is very quick on his feet and shifts from nice to very direct to very professional to seducing to fun to loving to manipulative, all in a matter of a few seconds.
He’s not one color; he’s a multitude of colors that makes the total picture. Sometimes you might see a little hint of red in him, but not a lot. It’s very nuanced and forces me to be very detailed. Every word that I say, every song that I sing, and literally every move that I make has much purpose.
EBONY: Both Brandy and NeNe Leakes garnered rave reviews for their roles as Roxie Hart and Mama Morton, respectively. Does that add any pressure to exceeding expectations?
EG: There’s always going to be an element of pressure when you walk on the stage. Usher played this role before, and so did Wayne Brady. To be given this opporuntity, you have to show some level of chops to it. I figured that I’m going to bring my own version of Billy Flynn and do my very best with it and let it go. Can I dance like Usher? No. Can I hold a nine-minute note like Usher? No. (laughs) But what I will do is tell my truth through this character.
EBONY: Has your wife, Taj of SWV, given any advice or helped you with your vocal warmups?
EG: Listen, Taj is the singer in my family. So whenever I would be practicing my warmups in the house, she would let me have it. I could be on the other side of the house doing my voice lessons and she would scream, “Drop your jaw for those long notes.”
She’s been extremely supportive in this process, and when doubt creeps in, she’s there pushing me along. She’s helped me move up here, get all of my furniture and brought all my groceries. That’s what marriage is about: supporting each other and helping each other reach our fullest potential.
EBONY: You have a very rigorous schedule: eight shows, seven days a week, with a total amount of 57 shows. This is no joke! Are there any similar components in terms of preparation that you regularly endured as a football player?
EG: This is very equivalent to training camp. I’m not talking about how they do training camp now, where they do all this cutesy stuff with water breaks and messages. I’m talking about three-a-days. Back in the day, we worked out for three hours in the morning, then rest, practice in the afternoon, then did it again two more times before the evening is over.
That mental grind is the same, and this show has to be approached with the same mentality. Rest is paramount. Taking care of my voice and making sure I have the right foods in my body is paramount. Making sure I’m doing my technique work and staying in the script is all substantial. Continually pushing myself to find different nuances in the character on a nightly basis. This is definitely boot camp for me all over again, and Broadway in general is a boot camp for all actors.
EBONY: Not only have you achieved major success on the football field, you’ve been able to find a new identity as an established thespian. Have you passed on any advice to your other fellow athletes in regards to life after sports?
EG: I work under three umbrellas: entertainment, education, and entrepreneurship. Of course the entertainment fragment speaks for itself because I’m in Chicago. However, a lot of folks may not know I teach courses at Ohio State University that covers life in professional sports.
It entails lessons on what to expect once you enter the business, the different players you need to know, the language you need to understand, the situations you might encounter once you come in. As a result of that, I’ve established a company—The Edward George Wealth Management Group—which facilitates in helping players maintain their finances, and more importantly, maintain their lives during the duration of their careers and beyond.
EBONY: That’s extremely imperative, especially for young African-American men entering the world of sports.
EG: I’ve seen young men in college going into the NFL and then bite the cheese that’s in the trap. They’ll throw you a pair of Jordans or a moneybag for their services. It’s in that moment where most compromise. This business is unforgivable, and you got a bunch of sharks out there. It’s mind boggling that universities don’t prepare athletes for what they’re going to experience. And then, the universities will ask for money back so they can put their name on the side of a building without fully educating them.
There’s so much there to cultivate an opportunity to change the mindset of how these players think, in terms of not lending their power over to just anyone. I’ve been a victim of that, and it’s difficult to rebound from. After going through that, I often think about what I want my sons to fully comprehend in regards to how this industry unfairly operates.
EBONY: Are there any other roles that you want to pursue or speak into existence?
EG: Nothing is speaking to me right now. I know that I want to do my one-man show eventually, and that would talk about my life and about how football inspires me. I would love to do Shakespeare again, but in London this time. I’m pretty much open to receive the right opportunities with the right people.
Eddie George performs as Billy Flynn in Chicago the Musical at New York City’s Ambassador Theatre now through February 28.