'Tiny Pretty Things' Star Damon J. Gillespie Has His Eyes on This Broadway Show

Kristyn Burtt

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Photo credit: Netflix.

Damon J. Gillespie is ready for his second close-up. That's because Netflix's "Tiny Pretty Things" is the breakout role fans thought would happen with NBC's "Rise" in 2018. The show, which showcased Gillespie's triple-threat skills and heartthrob good looks, never grabbed hold of viewers and was canceled at the end of its first season. Now he's getting a second chance with "Tiny Pretty Things," and this series has already made a buzzworthy debut on the streaming network.

The show is a soapy drama that revolves around an elite ballet academy and the mystery of who pushed dancer Cassie (Anna Maiche) off the roof. The 10-episode series is a whodunit storyline with exquisite dance scenes, choreographed by Jennifer Nichols, dropped in to help move the drama along. Gillespie plays Caleb, a dancer at the Archer School of Ballet, who is carrying on a secret affair with the artistic director (Lauren Holly) of the academy. That illicit affair will have major consequences for both parties involved if it ever comes to light.

The mystery had everyone in the cast wrapped up in a guessing game of who the murderer was. The writers and producers kept them in the dark until they received the final script, “We had our suspicions. We were doing our investigative work, Gillespie told US Weekly. "Everyone had a hunch. We were talking about it and would be like, ‘I bet it’s this.’ ‘It could be you!’ We had no idea. And then we got episode 10 and we found out, and then everything else started to happen. There were so many different twists!”

News Break has learned the "Tiny Pretty Things" has been picked up for a second season, although Netflix has not made the official announcement yet. For Gillespie, this is a role he's been born to play because it showcases the performing arts skills he honed in his childhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which eventually led him to his Broadway debut in "Newsies."

Gillespie hasn't looked back ever since his rise to fame, but "Tiny Pretty Things" is guaranteed to take him to new heights in his career — and he told News Break the idea of where he would like to go next. Paging Lin-Manuel Miranda...

When did your dance training begin?

Damon J. Gillespie: My mom put me in Karate and Taekwondo when I was two years old because I was obsessed with Power Rangers. She was afraid I was going to hurt somebody.

I started dancing when I was three because my mom did it when she was little. I then took two years off and came back to hip-hop. It grew from there with jazz, tap and ballet.

As I got older, I was more into jazz. I found out I needed ballet to improve on the jazz because I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting any better. So I had to study ballet, too.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?

Damon: I figured it out during my freshman year of high school. I went to a performing arts school. I chose to do musical theatre in my school and every year, the musical theatre department came to New York to see Broadway shows.

That year we came to see "Billy Elliot. It was my first time in New York, my first time seeing a Broadway show and I saw "Billy Elliot." I said, “I have to do that. That is what I want to do. This is it.”

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Photo credit: Sophie Giraud/Netflix.

Did you decide to go to college or did you go straight to New York after high school?

Damon: I had my first professional audition when I was 17. I had been invited, but I was just a kid from Tennessee. I flew to New York, I did the whole audition and they told me that night that I didn’t get it. It crushed me immediately.

They liked me, but they said I needed to work on my technique. I went back to high school and I started training more. I told myself that I wasn’t ready for New York.

I went to college [Roosevelt University in Chicago] for a couple of years and came back to that audition and ended up booking it. And a few months later I was on Broadway for the first time. The show was "Newsies."

It took me three years of training to book that job. I drove my family and roommates crazy because I wouldn’t stop practicing the choreography I had learned in the audition. I was practicing my double tours in my basement.

Two years later, I stepped into "Aladdin." I am just so thankful I had the blessings that I did. I try to never take it for granted.

What was the most surprising thing about working on Broadway?

Damon: I never expected to feel it physically — all of the emotions, all of the dancing, all of the stress, all of the exhaustion. Here I was on Broadway and I still wanted to go home and sleep. I never thought it would ever happen.

My put-in (final dress rehearsal for a replacement actor in a long-running show) was the day of my Broadway debut, so I had to do it twice. Then we had two shows the next day. It essentially was a six-show week for me. I was exhausted.

Do you have your eyes set on another Broadway show? What’s your dream role?

Damon: Oh my gosh, yes! I am itching to get back to Broadway; you have no idea… first off, any role in "Hamilton" — even the ensemble — because the dancing is so awesome. I’ve known about the show for about two years before it opened. I’ve been in love with it for years.

I would love to do "Dear Evan Hansen" again. I would love to do a revival of "Next to Normal," "Avenue Q," "Aladdin." There are so many shows on Broadway that I am very open to. I want to get back to my roots.

"Tiny Pretty Things" is now streaming on Netflix.

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Kristyn Burtt is a commercial dance journalist, TV host and producer. She was the West Coast correspondent and host of "To the Pointe" on Dance Network for five years. Her coverage of "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing With the Stars" and "World of Dance" is popular with dance fans across the globe. Kristyn's love of dance began early in her life. She trained at the Boston Ballet School, danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in "The Nutcracker" and won a dance scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She currently serves on the American Dance Movement’s Marketing & PR Committee and is a member of the Television Academy and SAG-AFTRA.

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