The Untold Truth Of Hamilton Star Denee Benton

If you're a fan of musical theater, chances are, you're already familiar with the name Denée Benton. Benton burst onto the scene with her Tony-nominated debut in the 2016 Broadway musical "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812." Benton's appearance in "UnREAL" as Ruby also became a fan favorite. And her career is only getting better and better. In 2019, she appeared in "Our Friend" alongside Jason Segal and Casey Affleck. In 2021, she took over the role of Eliza in the Broadway musical "Hamilton." Then, in 2022, she starred in HBO's "The Gilded Age" as Peggy, a young writer and secretary (per IMDb). Talk about having a great start to your career!

Benton's career might still be in its early stages, but she's already had more success than most people could hope for their whole lives. So, how did Benton climb the ranks of Broadway and Hollywood's elite so fast? To give you a better idea, here are some things you never knew about Denée Benton.

Denée Benton was obsessed with Wicked as a kid

Denée Benton may be a huge Broadway star now, but when she was young, she was just a fan — and a big fan at that! "The first musical I saw on Broadway was 'Wicked,'" she told Stephen Colbert. "You know, basic girl from the suburbs," she joked.

As she went on to explain, Benton was seriously obsessed with the musical. Apparently, she forced her parents to listen to the cast album constantly. At one point, she recalled, her mom "accidentally" broke the CD. "It's still a conspiracy in our home," she said. When Benton finally got to see the show on Broadway, she was around 12 — she even went to the show in costume. "I'm very sad to say that I was the person that sang along the entire time," she said with an embarrassed smile. "I apologize to the people who may have been there." Wow, Benton is more similar to her fans than we realized!

As a young girl, she dreamed of being a cowgirl

While Denée Benton was obsessed with musical theater as a kid, she also had another somewhat surprising obsession — cowgirls! In an adorable photo that Benton posted on Instagram in 2020, she can be seen as a young girl in a full cowgirl outfit sitting on a pony.

In the caption, Benton explained her cowgirl obsession. "When I was this age I was really into country music and really focused on being a cowgirl when I grew up," she wrote. Benton explained that she hadn't seen many cowgirls other than Jessie in "Toy Story" — and that she certainly hadn't seen a Black cowgirl. But that didn't stop her. "I like to think that my cowgirl dream was my little inner self's big L.O.L and F.U. at all of societ[y's] BS rules that [I] had no say in creating," she wrote proudly. Sounds like Benton's cowgirl obsession is a lot deeper than we would have initially guessed.

Here's what Denée Benton kept in her dressing room for her first Broadway show

As many Broadway fans will know, a star's dressing room is rather a sacred place. Many actors like to fill their space with meaningful and personal objects and photos to enjoy before and during the show. Denée Benton's dressing room during "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" was no different.

Her "[No. 1] favorite thing" was a plaque celebrating her Tony nomination for her role in the show. "I'm gonna cherish this forever," she said in an interview with Benton also showed off her so-called "village of the Natashas" where she showcased some of the art that fans sent her. Then, she showed off a poem that her brother wrote her for the opening night of the show. "It was just really special ... When I'm feeling low, it's a nice reminder of who I am," she said with a smile. Benton also had a succulent plant her hair supervisor gave her — and, finally, her trusty vocal steamer to keep her voice healthy for the show.

The Brandy-Whitney Cinderella was a big deal for Denée Benton

As a young Black girl obsessed with musical theater, Denée Benton didn't have many role models in the industry — that is, until she saw Brandy and Whitney Houston's version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Cinderella." For the young Benton, the movie was life-changing. "I remember movies like the Brandy-Whitney Cinderella, which I would watch over and over again," Benton told Interview Magazine.

When she was young, Benton didn't realize why this film spoke to her. "Now I know why: it was this beautiful story, I saw myself, I saw so many people in it," she explained. "Those stories slowly but surely gave me the confidence to subliminally see myself in things being possible." After that experience, as she told Harper's Bazaar, it wasn't until she saw the 2013 film "Belle" that she "saw a Black woman in a period drama." No wonder "Cinderella" was so special for her.

The actor received a Tony nomination for her first Broadway role

Every Broadway actor's dream is to be nominated for a Tony Award, as it's like the Oscars of theater. Denée Benton received her first Tony nomination for her very first Broadway role. Needless to say, it was a pretty overwhelming experience for the Broadway newbie.

The night before the nominations were announced, the nerves got the better of Benton. "I was hoping for it," she told Playbill. "I had a dramatic night, I watched 'Funny Girl,' I cried, I sang 'Don't Rain on My Parade' to myself and it was like a beautiful night where I kind of got to reflect over my journey up to this point." In the morning, Benton tried to stay relaxed. When she found out about her nomination, she turned off her phone, meditated and "soaked it all in," as she put it. Sounds like getting nominated for a Tony was one of the most emotional experiences Benton's ever had — and who can blame her!

Denée Benton is proud to be bisexual

In 2021, Denée Benton posted a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a white shirt printed with the words "I'm not interested in being polite or heterosexual," in honor of Pride Day. In her caption, Benton explained she was bisexual, and she included a poem she had written about her sexuality: "I used to be so long winded/ Felt like I had a lot of explaining to do/ Finally realized I owe no one an explanation / (She Smiles in Sweet Release)."

It sounds like Benton took a while to be open about her sexuality and to feel comfortable expressing who she is. We are happy to see that she's finally embraced her sexual identity publicly and has stopped caring what others may think, because we don't need to explain ourselves to anyone. What a total inspiration to queer people everywhere!

Doing TV helped her learn to let go of her need to prepare

Denée Benton got her start in theater. She grew up acting on stage, studied musical theater in college, and got her first big role in a stage musical. So, when she transitioned to TV with her role in "UnREAL," it was a bit of a shock to her system.

The main difference, Benton explained to Vox, is that with theater roles, preparation is everything. "On stage, the whole rehearsal process, there's so much preparation that by the time opening night comes, you can really be free in the homework that you've done," she said.

With TV, on the other hand, the preparation process is completely different. Instead of preparing with her fellow actors, Benton found herself preparing alone and guessing what her scene partners would do. "I had to start letting go of what I had planned in my mind should or shouldn't happen, because there isn't a rehearsal process really ... You have to adjust and trust that maybe what's happening in this moment is actually better than what you planned," she said. It may have been a different experience for Benton, but whatever she was doing, it clearly worked.

In 2020, Denée Benton married her college boyfriend

In 2020, Denée Benton tied the knot with Carl Lundstedt, a fellow actor whom she had met during college. As Lundstedt told Vogue, "It was a very small program, so you get to know each other very quickly and well." As Benton recalled to the publication, Lundstedt had proposed out of the blue after five-and-a-half years of dating.

When it came to the wedding, Benton went for a natural look. "I didn't want this caked-on, contoured different version of me that I'd never seen before," she said. She even did her own hair and wore flats on the day to accessorize her low-back Pronovias dress covered in detailed beading.

Benton walked down the aisle to John Legend and Cynthia Erivo's cover of "God Only Knows." For a "communal" feel, the ceremony was arranged with their guests surrounding the couple in a circle. And, apparently, by the time they got to their vows, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Sounds like these two really did have the perfect wedding!

She turned down a role in The Lion King so she could finish college

One thing's for sure — Denée Benton was destined to be a star. In fact, even when she was in college, the opportunities were rolling in. In her second-to-last year at Carnegie Mellon University, where she studied musical theater, Benton was offered a role in the national tour of "The Lion King." She was obviously keen to take the part. However, it would have meant missing a whole year of school. "My teachers were like, 'If they let you go for a semester, we'll let you do it,' but they wouldn't, so I passed on it because I wanted to graduate," Benton told Interview Magazine.

It's probably a good thing she did! Just one year later, right before graduation, Benton was offered an internship with the cast of "The Book of Mormon." "I didn't get to do my showcase with my school, which is how you get an agent and things like that, and so I wanted to make sure it was an opportunity that would still lead me in a similar direction," she explained. And, by the sounds of things, it did. Soon, she made her Broadway debut. Apparently, some opportunities are worth missing out on.

Audra McDonald is Denée Benton's idol

It's no secret that Denée Benton has always been obsessed with musicals. So, it should come as no surprise that someone like Audra McDonald was one of her idols growing up. McDonald is famous for her roles in Broadway shows such as "Carousel," "Ragtime," and "Porgy and Bess." She's also a six-time Tony Award winner.

While many people love McDonald, Benton's adoration for her goes above and beyond. "You all can guess what Audra's excellence has meant to me as a Black girl in musical theater," Benton wrote on Instagram. When Benton played McDonald's daughter on "The Gilded Age," it was a dream come true. "Every moment on set with them [McDonald and John Douglas Thompson] made me a better actor," she gushed.

We're so happy Benton got the chance to work with one of her biggest idols — she definitely deserved it!

Denée Benton feels she manifested the role of Peggy in The Gilded Age

Getting cast in HBO's "The Gilded Age," basically the American version of "Downton Abbey," would be any actor's dream come true. For Denée Benton, who played Peggy on the show, it was extra special. Peggy is one of the first upper-middle-class Black characters in a period drama in television history.

For Benton, the role felt like something she'd wanted her whole life. When she was in "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812," Benton had started an Instagram campaign called the "Black Princess Project." The idea was to spread the word about Black women from history who had royal backgrounds. So, when Peggy came along, it was exactly the kind of thing she had been looking to promote. "It felt like I got to manifest Peggy in a way, 'cause I carry this time period so well, clearly, but I want to tell my own stories," she said to Harper's Bazaar. "Finding Peggy felt like I got to connect with this spiritual ancestry."

She knows how to make herself feel beautiful

Over the years, Denée Benton has clearly created the perfect beauty routine for herself. For Benton, keeping her natural hair is an important part of her identity. "I think it's important for me to figure out what it feels like to feel beautiful in my own skin and my own hair," she told W Magazine. To keep her natural hair looking great, she uses DevaCurl No-poo Shampoo and Conditioner and Curls Brand Edge Control Paste, which, as she told W Magazine, "can turn any [fifth] day frizzy twist out into a good hair day."

For Benton, hydration is another key part of her beauty routine. "I've always got my 32oz Nalgene with me," she told the magazine. "I also love coconut water. I feel immediately hydrated after and it's also great for my singing voice." When it comes to makeup, Benton likes to keep it simple. Her only essential, she said, is Eos lip balm — but every now and then, she added, she is partial to a brow wax and bold lipstick "if I want to feel like Beyoncé," she said.

Her dream is to star in a rom-com

Denée Benton is clearly a super versatile actor — musicals, drama, comedy — she can do it all. But there's still one genre she's desperate to try: romantic comedy. "It's always been my dream to be in, like, a romantic comedy," she said in a 2017 interview. "Those are the movies that I love. Like, 'The Holiday' and 'The Notebook' and 'Titanic' and all of those sort of epic romance stories. I would love to get to do something like that."

However, as Benton added, it's still very rare to see people of color in rom-coms. "In all of those movies that I just listed there are no people of color that are the main source of that story," she said. But, knowing Benton, this isn't going to hold her back. Here's hoping she gets to take on a rom-com ASAP!

Denée Benton is passionate about opening up the industry for women of color

Denée Benton has a platform — and she's using it to help even the playing field for other young Black girls who might be coming up behind her in the industry. In "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812," she played a Russian aristocrat because the casting team "didn't allow society's standards to limit them for what they could see was possible," as she told Vogue. So, when young Black girls saw her perform, they realized that anything was possible for them. "I actually get to influence the conversation in some way with representation and little Black girls can see themselves," Benton said.

Benton has continued to choose roles that defy stereotypes about Black women and show young girls of color that they can be anything they want to be. "They can be princesses, they can be royalty, they can be loud, they can be soft, they can be fierce, they can be afraid," she exclaimed. "They can be all of these things." Not only is Benton an amazing actor, she's also an incredible activist, too.