Joan Marcus
Aubry D'Arminio
June 08, 2011 AT 02:00 PM EDT

South Carolina native Patina Miller has always been a Sister Act fan. Now, thanks to the film’s recent stage adaptation, she is Sister Act‘s star — playing the role made famous by Whoopi Goldberg — as well as an Olivier winner and Tony nominee. The 26-year-old actress called EW recently to chat about taking the show from London to New York and competing with Broadway darling Sutton Foster.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You once said that you and your siblings used to act out the Sister Act films. Truth?

PATINA MILLER: We didn’t really act them out; we just knew all the words. We knew the films by heart. My sister and I used to sing “His Eye is on the Sparrow” from Sister Act 2 together.

This may be your Broadway debut, but you’ve been with this particular show for quite a long time.

I started out as the understudy in 2006 after graduating. That was my first job right out of school. I moved to the city in 2007 and did Hair in Central Park. Then, in 2008, I was asked to come to London to do a reading of the show. I’ve been the lead from then on.

Is there really a big difference between the London and New York audience?

American crowds just go with it. They loved it in London, but in New York I’m seeing people that just don’t care, you know? They express themselves and they don’t care who’s sitting around them. If someone wants to stand up in the middle of a song and they’re feeling it, they do it. Never did anyone [in London] clap and sing along with the show as much as we’ve had here.

Can you see those people from the stage?

Of course. We were doing “Raise Your Voice” [which Patina will perform live on Tony night] and this lady got up during the part when the girls learn to sing. She just started clapping along and, by the end of the song, she was sobbing. It’s a lovely feeling. You can’t pretend like you don’t see how it’s affecting people. Especially during a scene like that, which is really emotionally charged. I do love performing that song every night.

There’s one moment in the musical that always seems to get a gasp from everyone — when the police officer, Sweaty Eddie, changes from his police uniform to a leisure suit and then back again instantly. How do you do that?

He’s dressed in three layers of clothing. So they’re just taking it off. Audiences love it. They go crazy over it. They’re like, “Oh my, we didn’t see this coming.” I feel kind of bad because I’m telling the surprise of it all.  It’s a nice trick moment.

Do you have any dream roles?

Diana Ross. People always say that I favor her. I love her.

What would you say to those that think your category, Best Actress in a Musical, is a two horse race between you and Sutton Foster?

Do they say that?! I’ve followed her career since I was in school and I admire her. I look up to her a lot [because of what] she’s done with her career and how she’s viewed in the Broadway community. To be up against someone like that is pretty great.

Who’s going to be your date to the big show?

Oh my gosh. My mom. She always said, “If you ever make it to the Tonys, I’m gonna be your date.” We didn’t know I’d be making it this soon. I’m pretty excited about it and she’s over the moon about it, so she’s coming up.

Read more:

Tonys 2011: Daniel Radcliffe, Alec Baldwin among presenters

Tony Awards: ‘Book of Mormon’ leads with 14 nominations

EW Photo Gallery: The lessons we learned from this year’s nominations

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