As the theater world looks ahead to the Tony Awards on June 10, there’s one Broadway actress who’s still enjoying her status as a recent Tony winner. Nikki M. James won more than just hearts with her starring turn as Nabulungi in The Book of Mormon; the New Jersey native took home the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 2011, a well-deserved win for the girl at the heart of Broadway’s most outrageous musical.
EW chatted with James–who’s currently in pre-production for a film adaptation of the off-Broadway musical Lucky Stiff–to find out more about Mormon life and her year with Tony.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you think of when you think back on this past year since you won the Tony?
NIKKI M. JAMES: Well, my birthday is June 3rd, so my year with Tony starts around my birthday. Since my birthday was June 3rd and the event was a few days later, there were all these celebrations happening. I hadn’t planned anything for my birthday, but I walked out of my theater, the way you always do, and thirty of my friends and family were standing at the stage door singing. It was really amazing that my friends and family weren’t going to let me ignore my birthday in the midst of all this craziness about the Tonys. The thing that you could imagine is that it becomes the only thing you think about, so it was nice to have a night where my friends were like, “There are other things happening in your life as well!” I think the best part about the experience, besides my friends and family being incredible, was being with my three co-stars. The four of us getting to do [the Tonys] together, and the lead-up to it, was amazing. We’re really bonded together I think for the rest of our lives because of it.
What was your first post-Tony show like?
I don’t want to sound sour grapes, but this is the thing that nobody tells you: it’s terrifying to go back onstage. It was for me, anyway. You get the award, it feels amazing, and you’re on top of the world, and then Tuesday night, you have to go back and just do it again, and the world doesn’t put this pressure on you, but you have this pressure on yourself. On Sunday afternoon I was a Tony Award nominee and I was just me, and on Tuesday I was a Tony Award winner, and that means something to me, and so I felt… not scared, but as if the crown didn’t fit. Like I was wearing shoes that were slightly too big for me. If you win an Oscar, that performance is finished, it’s done, and you never have to do it again. It took me probably two weeks after the awards to feel like I gave a good performance again. To get less self-conscious before I could let go of the jacket a little. I feel like that’s the thing nobody admits.
Do you ever re-watch your speech?
It’s a really humbling experience—I use that word a lot—I did not expect to win, and I don’t know what kind of person goes into an event like that feeling as though they deserve it. I certainly didn’t feel that way, as anyone could see from the speech. I only watched [it] once afterwards, because as much as people compliment me and talk about it, for me to watch it feels like an out of body experience. To see yourself in that level of emotion, that Sally Field type of emotion. [laughs] I’m like the Sally Field of Broadway.
Where do you keep the award?
For the first couple of weeks, I carried it around with me. I would bring it into my bedroom when I would go to sleep, and then I would bring it into the living room when I would be watching TV. I just didn’t know where it was going to live, and so finally it ended up on this side table in my living room. There’s a lamp and a Tony, and also they give you the envelope, so the envelope is there as well, and a single rose that was in one of the bouquets that my mother had given me that night. So that’s how it’s sort of displayed, kind of cheesily. I’m sure some day I’ll move to a nicer apartment, and in my dream world, I’ll have a baby grand piano and I’ll have more than one trophy, so it can have a partner of some kind! I don’t care what it is.
NEXT: “Don’t you know that I have a Tony Award!?”